A Sweet Dilemma: Understanding Sugar and Sweeteners

If you’re reading this, you're (probably) a human. And as a human, you're hard-wired to crave sweet things.

When we think about our evolution, this craving for sweetness makes sense. Sweetness indicates a food source free from toxins and a high source of calories.
Before the agricultural revolution, sugar wasn't a significant part of our diets. If we stumbled upon fruit or honey in the wild, it might be the last sugar hit we'd get for a while, making it a rich reward for our ancestors.

So we’d eat as much of it as we could, as quickly as we could; in order to replenish our glycogen stores and store up energy.

Of course, times have changed. We no longer live in caves, gathering food in the wild and dodging sabre-toothed tigers. However, this transition wasn't too long ago in the grand scheme of things, and our brains are still wired to crave sweetness.

Today's problem is that sugar is freely available everywhere we turn. Soft drinks, sweets, chocolate, energy bars, breakfast cereals, and even fruit juice all contain quantities of sugar that our bodies simply aren't built to handle. So, what do we do about sugar? Some argue that sugar has no place in our diets whatsoever, while others believe it can be consumed in moderation. As with most things, the answer isn't black and white.

This article will explore what sugar is and the different types of sugar and sweeteners available. We’ll aim to provide you with the information you need to decide where you get your sweet fix.

In this article:

What actually is sugar?

Sweet food – what to eat (and what to avoid)

Do we need sugar to survive?

What about sweeteners?

How much sugar is too much?


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What is sugar?

Simply put, sugar is a type of carbohydrate. It can be found in various forms:

Glucose: This simple sugar is our body's preferred energy source. Glucose can be found in fruits and vegetables, as well as honey.

Fructose: This sugar is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables. Our bodies convert fructose into glucose to use as energy.

Sucrose: Commonly known as table sugar, sucrose is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose. It is typically extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets.

Lactose: This is the sugar found in milk and other dairy products. It's a disaccharide composed of glucose and galactose.

Maltose: Found in certain grains and fruits, maltose is a disaccharide that consists of two glucose molecules.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): A heavily processed sugar derived from corn syrup with no nutritional benefits. HFCS is a common ingredient in many processed foods and drinks.

Sweet foods – what to eat (and what to avoid)

In today's world, sugar is present in a wide range of foods and beverages, making it challenging to avoid. Let's take a closer look at some common sources of sugar in modern diets and question whether you should include them in your diet or avoid them completely.

Fruit - eat daily

Whole fruits are nature's sweet treat, offering a healthy dose of natural sugars, primarily fructose.

While there's a growing trend of "sugar-shunners" voicing opinions against fruit, it's crucial to distinguish between the fructose found in whole fruits and the isolated fructose used in many processed foods.

The fructose in fruit comes bundled with fibre, water, and other beneficial compounds, which work together to slow down the insulin response and increase satiety.

Consuming fruit is in no way detrimental to your health. In fact, on top of the many nutrients fruit contains, consuming plenty of fruit can actually decrease the risk of diabetes and obesity. A 2013 study by Muraki et al. found that specific whole fruits, particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples, are significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This suggests that the form in which we consume fruit significantly impacts how healthy it is for us.

White and brown sugar - limit consumption/avoid

Unlike the sugar in fruit, these refined sugars come from sugar cane and provide almost zero nutritional value. They are high in calories and can cause a rapid spike in blood sugar due to their high glycemic index (GI).

It's important to note that brown sugar is not much healthier than white sugar, as both undergo a high degree of processing. An analysis of different studies by Malik et al. (2010) found that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, usually containing refined sugars, was linked to the development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. In moderation, a bit of refined sugar is ok – you don’t have to turn down the odd slice of birthday cake. But it shouldn't be a regular part of your diet.

Natural sugars - eat in moderation

So, what about natural sugars, like those found in dates, maple syrup, sugar, and molasses?

While still high in sugar, these sources are unrefined and come packed with beneficial nutrients, phytonutrients, and enzymes that refined sugar doesn't offer. They also have a lower glycemic index than refined sugar, which means they may cause a smaller rise in blood sugar levels. We use dates in our protein bars for their natural sweetness and as a good source of fibre, B vitamins, iron, and magnesium.

However, it's important not to go overboard with natural sugars, as they are still high in calories and can contribute to weight gain and other health problems.

Agave Nectar - limit consumption

Derived from the sap of the blue agave plant, agave nectar is a potent example of why not all natural sugars are created equal. While some may consider agave nectar a "safe sweetener," its composition tells a different story. Agave nectar can contain up to 90% fructose, making it metabolically and nutritionally similar to high fructose corn syrup, one of the biggest offenders in the food industry. Despite its low glycemic index due to its high fructose content, you should probably consume agave nectar sparingly due to its potential health impacts

What about sweeteners?

In addition to sugar, there are various sweeteners available on the market. Let's explore a few of them:

Xylitol -- eat in moderation

Xylitol is a natural sweetener derived from tree bark and claims to offer a healthy way to reduce your sugar intake. This sugar alcohol contains very few calories and almost zero sugar, meaning it doesn't raise blood glucose levels after consumption. Research has suggested that xylitol's low glycemic response could be beneficial in maintaining steady blood sugar levels. However, it's worth noting that xylitol can cause laxative effects when consumed in large quantities, so moderation is key.

Artificial sweeteners – limit consumption/avoid

The use of artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin remains a contentious topic. These zero-calorie sugar substitutes are frequently used in various food and drink products. However, their impact on health still needs to be fully understood. Some studies suggest they may aid in weight loss, while others indicate potential weight gain or other adverse health effects. It's important to note that the body's response to artificial sweeteners can vary from person to person. While they may not directly contribute to calories, some research suggests they can still impact cravings and overall calorie intake.

Many people avoid artificial flavourings due to limited research on their health impacts. After all, humans have only recently started consuming them.

Stevia – can consume daily

Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant, native to South America. Unlike many other sweeteners, stevia is zero-calorie and doesn't raise blood sugar levels, making it a popular choice among people trying to reduce their sugar intake, lose weight, or manage diabetes. Stevia is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, so only a small amount is needed to sweeten foods and beverages.

Studies have shown that stevia can assist in weight management. In a 2010 study by Anton et al., participants who consumed stevia felt satisfied with fewer calories and did not compensate by eating more food. This supports the idea that stevia can help with weight management, unlike other sweeteners that may stimulate increased food intake.

Furthermore, stevia shows potential health benefits beyond its role as a sugar substitute. A 2016 study by Philippaert et al. demonstrated that stevia stimulates a protein essential for our taste perception and is involved in insulin release after a meal. These findings suggest that stevia could help regulate blood glucose levels, offering an advantage for people with diabetes.

Considering the potential health benefits and its natural, zero-calorie sweetness, stevia is a popular choice for many individuals. That's why it is the sweetener used in most of our products, including Vivo Life PERFORM protein powder. With stevia, you can enjoy a natural sweetness without the synthetic flavourings and potential health risks associated with artificial sweeteners.

Do we need sugar to survive?

The short answer is yes, but not in the way you might think. When most people talk about "sugar," they typically refer to refined or added sugars like the white sugar you might put in your coffee or the high fructose corn syrup in sodas and candies. These types of sugar are unnecessary for our bodies to function correctly and can lead to health problems when consumed in excess. There’s no downside to avoiding these altogether.

However, our bodies do require a type of sugar called glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar that serves as our bodies' primary energy source. It's found in most carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. When we consume these foods, our bodies break down carbohydrates into glucose, which is then used for energy. So while we don't need added sugars to survive, we do need the natural sugars found in healthy, whole foods.

It's worth noting that our bodies have a remarkable ability to adapt when dietary carbohydrates are scarce. This metabolic state is known as ketosis. During ketosis, the liver converts fat, both dietary and stored body fat, into ketones, a type of acid that the body can use as an alternative fuel source when glucose is in short supply.

This is the foundational principle of the ketogenic or "keto" diet. Ketosis, when managed correctly under medical supervision, can help with weight loss and managing certain health conditions. However, it's not for everyone, is often unsustainable, and can have side effects if not properly managed. We’d heavily recommend consulting with a healthcare provider before attempting to induce ketosis.

How much sugar is too much?

Overindulging in sugar can be detrimental to your well-being. Researchers have linked high-sugar intake to several health issues, including weight gain, an increased likelihood of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dental decay. When we consume sugar excessively, insulin production escalates to stabilise blood sugar levels. In the long run, this can lead to insulin resistance, raising the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Moreover, high sugar consumption can cause inflammation and chronic diseases by stimulating the release of cytokines, proteins that trigger inflammation and can damage body tissues. This can lead to severe health conditions like cancer, Alzheimer's, and arthritis.

So, how much sugar is crossing the line? Moderation is essential when it comes to sugar consumption. American Heart Association guidelines suggest that women limit their daily sugar intake to six teaspoons (24 grams). Men should aim for no more than nine teaspoons (36 grams).

Again, It's crucial to recognise that not all sugars are the same—natural sugars present in fruits and vegetables are far healthier than the added sugars in processed foods and drinks.


Not all sweetness is created equal. Striving to avoid artificial and highly processed sugars is essential to prevent a myriad of health issues. Instead, embrace the natural sugars found in whole foods and opt for lower glycemic options to enjoy the sweet side of life while maintaining your health.

That's why our entire product range, including our protein bars and PERFORM protein powder, contains only natural sweeteners – from whole foods and stevia. This means you can enjoy products that taste good and improve your health. It's a win-win situation.

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