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A Guide to the Different Types of Sugar

September 1, 2022
Written by
Team NutriSense

There are many different kinds of sugar that come in all different textures and have unique tastes. We talk a lot about the way sugar affects our body, but how much do we actually know about sugar itself?

Is all sugar bad for you? And how many types of sugar really are there? 

Read on to learn more about the different kinds of sugar, how they’re used, and how they may affect your health. 

What is Sugar?

The type of sugar that you generally think of as “table sugar” and might bake with and stir into your morning coffee is called sucrose. Sucrose is a carbohydrate known as a disaccharide, and it’s made up of one molecule of glucose bound to one molecule of fructose.  

Sugar is produced naturally in plants, including fruits, vegetables, and nuts. It's made during photosynthesis as plants transform the sun’s energy into food. Sugar cane and sugar beets are the two plants that hold the most sugar, so most commercial sugar is extracted from these two plants.

The extraction process for making most sugars involves pressing the plant to release juice. The juice is concentrated and crystalized, then it is spun to separate the liquid, or molasses, from the crystals. The amount of molasses left on the sugar crystals depends on the type of sugar. 

Granulated sugar has no molasses left on it after the refining process, but raw sugars like demerara or turbinado have some molasses leftover. Some varieties, like brown sugar, have the molasses added back in after the refining process.

What are the Different Types of Sugar?

white and brown sugar granules

Sugars can be broken down into various groups. Monosaccharides and disaccharides, which are made up of one sugar unit and two sugar units respectively, are both forms of simple carbohydrates.

Oligosaccharides and polysaccharides are each forms of complex carbohydrates, and they are made up of three to 10 units of sugar, and 10 units of sugar respectively.  Let’s review the two types of simple carbohydrates and which types of sugar fall into each one.

Monosaccharides

Monosaccharides, or simple sugars, are the basic compounds that make up all carbohydrates. Glucose, fructose, and galactose are the three main monosaccharides that make up the carbs we eat. Glucose and fructose are found naturally in plants, while galactose comes from milk. 

Disaccharides

Disaccharides are sugars that contain two monosaccharides linked together, such as sucrose or maltose. Sucrose is a disaccharide because it contains one molecule of fructose bonded to one molecule of glucose. 

Lactose, a sugar found in milk, is a disaccharide that contains one molecule of galactose and one molecule of glucose bonded together. 

Natural Sugar vs. Added Sugar

a peach tart on a table with cutlery and fresh peaches

Sugar that is naturally found in food is called natural sugar. These sugars come from milk, fruits, and vegetables, which also provide all kinds of nutrients that your body needs to function correctly. 

Sugar from natural sources is an essential part of the healthy diet that is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines of America. Natural sources of sugar can also include things like fiber, phytochemicals, and essential vitamins and minerals. 

Added sugar, as we recently discussed here, is sugar that has been added to a food or beverage after it has been produced or prepared. A diet high in added sugars can increase your chance of developing both prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, and obesity. 

Studies have shown that a diet high in added sugar can make you three times as likely to die from heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your added sugar consumption to fewer than six percent of your total daily calories.

Types of Added Sugar

Added sugar comes in many forms. Such examples include various types of sugars and syrups usually used for cooking and baking, like granulated sugar, brown sugar, simple syrup, and powdered sugar. 

Here are some other examples of added sugars:

High-Fructose Corn Syrup

a bowl of high fructose corn syrup on a table

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from corn starch. Starch contains glucose, and when it is broken down into individual glucose molecules, it turns into corn syrup that is 100 percent glucose. 

When certain enzymes are added to corn syrup, some of the glucose is converted into fructose. The end product of this process is high-fructose corn syrup. 

HFCS is found in many products such as soda, juice, breakfast cereal, pancake syrup, jams, and candy. It has been associated with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, obesity, and an increased risk of developing gout and kidney stones in men.

Honey 

Honey is a sweet syrup made by bees from the nectar of plants and flowers. It contains fructose, glucose, maltose, and sucrose, and can even contain other types of sugar depending on what plant the bees have collected it from. 

Though honey is a source of added sugar, it also contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may benefit your health.

Agave Nectar

a spoonful of agave nectar

Agave syrup, also called agave nectar, is a concentrated form of the fluid found inside the agave plant, a cactus that is native to Mexico. It is made up of mostly fructose, with some glucose. Studies have shown that a diet high in fructose may increase your chance of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  

8 Common Forms of Sucrose

Sucrose is a common source of added sugar, but it comes in many forms. Because all of these sugars are made of sucrose, which is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose, they are all metabolized by your body in the same way. 

Here are eight of the most common types of sucrose and how they’re used.

a graphic of 8 different types of sucrose

1) Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar is also known as white sugar, table sugar, or regular sugar and is the most common sugar used in baking. It is also commonly used to sweeten hot beverages like coffee and tea. 

 This type of sugar is made from sugar cane juice. After being extracted from the cane, the juice is filtered to remove dirt and then boiled into a syrup and spun to separate the crystals. 

It is then liquefied again and processed to remove any remaining color. The crystals are separated again and ground into fine, white crystals. 

2) Powdered Sugar

Powdered sugar is also known as confectioner’s sugar or icing sugar. It dissolves easily, so it’s often used in frosting and icing. 

This sugar is granulated sugar that is ground into a powder. Commercial powdered sugar is often mixed with cornstarch to prevent caking. 

3) Superfine Sugar

Superfine sugar is made by grinding granulated sugar into finer crystals. This type of sugar is commonly used in baked goods, desserts like mousse or pudding, and as a sweetener for beverages. It is also ideal for making meringues. 

4) Brown Sugar

Both light and dark varieties of brown sugar are made by mixing white sugar with molasses, which is the syrup that remains after sugar is crystallized. This type of sugar is used in baked goods, oatmeal, baked beans, and sauces such as barbeque sauce. 

5) Demerara Sugar

Demerara sugar is a minimally processed sugar made by dehydrating cane syrup after it’s extracted from sugar cane. It generally has bigger crystals than white sugar or brown sugar, with a light brown or gold tint. This sugar can be used in baked goods, to sweeten beverages, or sprinkled on top of desserts like crème brûlée to add crunch.

6) Turbinado Sugar

Turbinado sugar is also known as raw sugar. Similar to demerara, turbinado sugar is a partially processed sugar that has only had the top layer of molasses washed off. It has large crystals that are light brown in color. 

This sugar can be used in baked goods, as a sweetener for hot beverages, and as a crunchy topping for desserts. 

7) Muscovado Sugar

Muscovado sugar is also known as Barbados sugar. Unlike brown sugar, which is refined white sugar with molasses mixed back in, muscovado sugar is an unrefined sugar in which the molasses has never been removed.

This sugar is dark brown in color and has coarse, almost sandy crystals. It can be used in desserts and savory dishes similarly to brown sugar, but it has a deeper flavor. 

8) Liquid Sugar

This type of sugar is also known as simple syrup. Liquid sugar is made from one part granulated sugar dissolved in one part water.  Because the sugar has already been dissolved, it is perfect for sweetening cold beverages like iced coffee, iced tea, and cocktails. 

5 Tips from NutriSense Dietitians 

The dietitian and nutrition team here at NutriSense recommends the following general tips for anyone who wants to optimize their overall health and reduce their sugar intake.

1) Minimize your consumption of added sugars.

2) Choose whole fruit over processed fruits and juices and avoid fruits with added sugar.

3) Pair your sugar or carbs with protein and even consider eating protein first to help keep blood sugar more balanced.

4) Time your carb or sugar consumption around times of higher physical activity during your day. 

5) Test out different amounts and types of sugar to see what works best for your unique body.

Engage with Your Blood Glucose Levels with Nutrisense

Your blood sugar levels can significantly impact how your body feels and functions. That’s why stable blood glucose levels can be an important factor in supporting overall wellbeing.

With Nutrisense, you’ll be able to track your blood glucose levels over time using a CGM, so you can make lifestyle choices that support healthy living.

When you join the program, our team of credentialed dietitians and nutritionists are available for additional support and guidance to help you reach your goals.

Ready to take the first step? Start with our quiz to see how Nutrisense can support your health.

Click here to listen to the podcast.
Listen to the full podcast:
A Guide to the Different Types of Sugar
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The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cardio and Blood Sugar

Did you know that cardio can help you lose weight as well as optimize your health and blood glucose? Here's everything you need to know about cardio and its relationship with blood sugar.

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The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss
The Side Effects of Unhealthy Weight Loss

Find out what unhealthy weight loss is and learn more about its side effects and what you can do to prevent them.

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The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure
The Relationship Between Low Blood Sugar and High Blood Pressure

Learn about the warning signs of low blood sugar and the relationship it has on blood pressure.

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The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar
The Positive Impact Weight Lifting Has on Blood Sugar

Here is everything you need to know about the relationship between weight lifting and blood sugar.

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The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar
The Relationship Between Cholesterol and Blood Sugar

Cholesterol plays a very important role in the human body, contributing to the structure of the cells, helping with vitamin D synthesis, and also promoting the production of steroid and sex hormones, like cortisol, aldosterone, testosterone, and estrogen. But how exactly is cholesterol connected to blood glucose levels?

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The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes
The Link Between Sleep Apnea and Diabetes

NutriSense dietitian Katrina Larsen, MS, RD,N, LD, CDCES discusses the risk factors for sleep apnea and how this disorder is linked to other health conditions.

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The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels
The Paleo Diet and Blood Glucose Levels

The premise of the paleo diet is that the body can handle a mix of meats, fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, and complex carbohydrates better than processed meats, refined fats, grains and simple carbohydrates because it evolved to eat the first category as hunter-gatherers.

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The Health Benefits of Winter Squash
The Health Benefits of Winter Squash

A common ingredient in cozy winter recipes, winter squash is one of our favorite foods this time of year. Read on to learn more about how it can benefit your health.

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers We Love

Haven't finished your holiday shopping yet? Pick from this list of NutriSense-approved holiday gifts to find some great last-minute stocking stuffers for everyone on your list!

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The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love
The NutriSense Holiday Gift Guide: Health-Focused Gifts They’ll Love

Still haven't bought all your holiday gifts this year? Don't worry—there's still time to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list. Read our guide for some great ideas!

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The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose
The Link Between Inflammation and Blood Glucose

Learn more about inflammation, how it affects blood glucose levels and what you can do to prevent and manage it.

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9
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The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet
The Health Benefits of Adding Fermented Foods to Your Diet

Fermented foods have a range of health benefits. Read on to learn more about what they are and why you should be adding them to your diet.

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The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes
The Health Benefits of Potatoes, Yams, and Sweet Potatoes

Potatoes, yams, and sweet potatoes are similar in usage, but pretty distinct in taste, texture, appearance, and even nutritional content! Read on to find out more about each one.

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The Health Benefits of Living With Pets
The Health Benefits of Living With Pets

Did you know that living with a pet can do more than just put a smile on your face? Read on to learn all the ways living with pets improves your wellbeing.

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The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices
The Health Benefits of Cooking With Herbs and Spices

Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor to dishes, and also have a range of health benefits. Learn more about a few of our favorites.

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The Health Benefits of Beans
The Health Benefits of Beans

Learn about the health benefits of beans and how they can help you live a healthier, longer life.

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The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?
The Guide to Metabolic Diets: What Are They, Do They Work, And Who Should Try Them?

Review our guide to metabolic diets to help get a better understanding of what they are and whether they might be right for you.

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The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa
The Foods and Traditions of Kwanzaa

Learn about the traditions and nutrient-dense food commonly enjoyed during Kwanzaa. 

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The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection
The Blood Sugar and Joint Pain Connection

Have you ever wondered how your glucose levels might be connected to joint pain? We'll take a deep dive into this connection and share tips for reducing pain.

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The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia
The Best Diet for Non-Diabetic Hypoglycemia

This article explores hypoglycemia in non-diabetics, how to manage symptoms through diet, and the advantages of glucose monitoring.

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The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels
The Effect of Aging on Your Blood Glucose Levels

Take a look at how aging can affect your blood glucose levels.

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The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels
The Best Diet to Increase Your Vitamin D Levels

Read on to learn more about vitamin D-rich foods and what you should include in your diet to make the most of this vitamin’s health benefits.

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10
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The Best Diet for Menstruation
The Best Diet for Menstruation

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel. Read on to learn more about the best foods to add to your diet to help during that time of the month.

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The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices
The Benefits and Risks of Popular Ayurvedic Herbs and Spices

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian holistic healing system that dates back over 5,000 years. In the second installment of our series on the practice, review the benefits and risks associated with popular Ayurvedic herbs and spices.

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The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet
The Beginner’s Guide to the Low FODMAP Diet

In this article, we break down what a low FODMAP diet looks like for beginners, and its potential benefits and drawbacks for gastrointestinal health.

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The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis
The 6 Worst Foods for Osteoporosis

When it comes to bone health, good nutrition is absolutely critical. Read on to learn what osteoporosis is and why some foods may increase your risk of or worsen the condition.