Articles » Lifestyle » General Health » Natural vs. Processed Sugar: What’s The Difference?

Natural vs. Processed Sugar: What’s The Difference?

By Marc Perry / April 7, 2018

This week we had a ton of interesting questions from the BuiltLean community. We included 5 of these questions below which range from the difference between natural vs. processed sugar to whether building muscle can get rid of loose skin. Certainly a mix of interesting questions related to exercise, nutrition, body composition, and general health.

Question #1 | What’s the difference between natural vs. processed sugar?

Question: “I have questions about sugar. When articles discuss sugar and how bad it is for you (See: Are You Eating Too Much Sugar?) , are they referring also to natural sugar which is found in almost everything?

This is one area that I’ve always been confused about. When tracking my calories and nutritional info, I always noticed my grams of sugar eaten throughout the day was quite high, although it almost all came from natural sugar.” – Bryce

Answer: Bryce – That’s a great question. In short, processed, or refined sugars are derived from sugar cane, or beets and ideally be avoided. Processed sugar, referred to scientifically as “sucrose”, is not only totally devoid of nutrients, but has added chemicals and raises blood sugar levels faster so you get energy/hunger swings. Think white table sugar, sugar in candy bars, or added sugar in fruit drinks.

Regarding “natural” sugar, all plants produce sugar as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Fruits and vegetables have sugar in the form of fructose, which is broken down more slowly by the body than sucrose. In addition, fruits and veggies boast vitamins and minerals also have fiber to slow down the digestion of their natural sugars, which leads to more stable blood sugar levels.

At the end of the day, fat loss is primarily about calorie intake, but controlling sugar intake can help control hunger and allow fat stores to more readily release fat (insulin is more controlled). Hope that’s helpful! We definitely need to explore this concept of different types of sugars, how they affect insulin and fat storage, so thanks for the question. I’ve added it to our “new ideas” article database.

Marc ( Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

Question #2 | I’m Skinny But Gain Fat Easily. What Should I Do?

Question: Hi Marc. I’m flabby and I don’t know what to do to improve my physique. I’m a young guy, 5’8″ and 155 lbs with 16% body fat. I’m afraid I weigh too little to afford weight loss but when I try to gain muscle I also gain lot of fat in my abdomen and face. When I try to lose weight I get extremely skinny limbs and flabby stomach and chest. What do you think I should do? Cut fat or gain muscles? – Jared
Answer: “My opinion is to focus on losing fat without losing muscle. If you get down to 150lb by losing all fat while retaining your muscle mass (132lb lean body mass), you will be at a solid 12% body fat. I wrote about why you should focus on losing fat first before building muscle in more depth.

A lot of guys are in your position in that they are not satisfied with how much muscle they have, but also believe they have too much body fat. Once you are lean, you can get a better sense of how much muscle you want to put on. Also, consider you can still get very strong at 150lb.

Marc ( Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

Question #3 | Is drinking a lot of fizzy drinks bad?

Question: Is drinking a lot of fizzy drinks bad? – Mahmoud
Answer: “Hi Mahmoud—
It depends on what kind of carbonated beverages you’re drinking. If you’re drinking diet soda or soda/mineral water, these drinks don’t have any calories so they wouldn’t adversely affect your weight loss or fitness goals. Keep in mind, although diet sodas don’t have calories, they’re not exactly healthy either. You can read this article on sugar alcohols to find out more: Are Sugar Alcohols Bad For You?.

If you’re drinking normal soda or other sugary carbonated drinks, you’re getting a lot of unnecessary calories without any nutritional benefit. This won’t help you lose weight or get lean. You can find out more about sugar here: Are You Eating Too Much Sugar?.

As for your last question, drinking a lot of water with your meals could possibly affect your digestion. Some experts have found that excessive water intake during meals (several glasses) can dilute the hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes in your stomach. This could lead to bloating and abdominal distension after meals. It could also cause discomfort because of volume overload. However, if you don’t feel like it impairs your digestion, water is the best source of fluid intake. If you’re concerned about it, try limiting the amount of water you drink during a meal and see how you feel. Instead, try to drink more water between meals. Also, pay attention to how much salty foods you’re eating at your meals. Eating salty foods makes you thirstier, which could explain why you drink so much water at meal time. Hope that helps!”

Kristin ( Kristin Rooke, CPT)

Question #4 | How to Get Rid of Lower Abs Fat?

Question: Hi, I went for my body fat % reading yesterday. The guy who did the reading said I have a lot of loose skin because I lost a lot of fat. He said the only way to get my skin firm again is to build some muscle to replace that part where the fat was. Is this true? – Johan
Answer: “Johan,
Building muscle is not the only way to “”replace the part where the fat was”” but it can help. Something that a lot of people don’t know is that skin is an elastic organ, which can adapt to the shifts of weight going on underneath the skin. In some cases it takes up to two years for your skin to tighten itself back together depending on how much weight you lost, and the amount of time it takes. Finally, how much loose skin you may develop is based on the pace of weight loss (slow and steady is ideal) and your age (the younger you are, the more elastic your skin). Here’s a good article on the subject => “Loose skin”.

Kwesi (Kwesi Peters, CPT, Community Manager)

Question #5 | How to Expose Middle & Lower Abs?

Question: I have been working out hard for the past month, following the workout in the free get lean guide, and while my diet isn’t perfect I eat pretty healthy for the most part. For some reason only my upper abs pop out. Any ideas how to expose the other abs? – Paul
Answer: If you’ve seen some results from the get lean guide, your best bet is to continue working out and dieting smartly. Fat storage patterns (blood flow, alpha and beta adreno-receptors, etc) are different for the top of the abs vs the bottom of the abs. The bottom of the abs take more time and you will need to be leaner overall to see them “pop out.”

John ( John Leyva, CSCS, CPT)


  • uncadonego says:

    Hi Marc, regarding this comment:

    " We definitely need to explore this concept of different types of sugars, how they affect insulin and fat storage, so thanks for the question. I’ve added it to our “new ideas” article database."

    I was wondering if down the road maybe there could be some discussion on fructose being connected to blood pressure as well. There is a lot of contradictory info on this subject on the web.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      We also have an article in our database as well called "Does Fruit Make You Fat" that will explore the role of fructose and how it's digested. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Sam says:

    Hi Marc,

    I did not know where to ask this because the post about carbs has the comments disabled. I am currently on a 2700 calorie maintenance diet. I eat about 85 grams of healthy fats, 330-340 carbs and 160-170 grams of protein. I am having a hard time getting in all the calories I need with school and other things going on. In the morning I wake up at 4:30 and eat some low sugar granola before my workout (abs and cardio or a weight workout). The granola has 23 carbs and 3g of sugar. About an hour and a half later after my workout I have a protein shake and oatmeal which adds up to about 550 calories and about 65 grams of carbs. I am wondering if at breakfast I could eat a larger amount of carbs(75-80) to make it easier to get the rest of my calories in for the day. I eat dinner at about 6:30 to 7:00 and I know it is not a great idea to eat a huge amount of carbs before bed so I want to try to keep the amount a little lower before bed. Is there a limit on how many carbs your body can digest at once without turning them into fat? About how many carbs do you consume at some of your meals? Is it ok if I eat 80-90 at breakfast and then 40-50 at each meal and snack throughout the day? I have done some research but I can't find the answer. I know you are extremely knowledgeable on every aspect of nutrition. All the carbs I eat are complex such as ezekiel bread, oatmeal, whole wheat muffin, apple, carrots, brown rice, etc. I eat my meals about 2-2.5 hours apart from eachother (6-7 meals a day) Thanks so much for all the information on your website!


  • Vince Faraone says:

    An enormous amount of misinformation here. Diet sodas DO get you fat, possibly even more so than regular soda, and are far different than carbonated mineral water. And fat loss isn't simply about calories. Not all calories are created equal. Please don't spread information unless it is correct.

    • Kristin says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights, Vince. I agree - this article could use some updating. More recent research on the effects of sugar alcohols has found that can negatively impact the bacteria in our guts, lead to increased sugar cravings, and can contribute to weight gain and obesity (as well as lifestyle-related diseases). Having a healthy gut biome plays an important role in overall health, body composition, and well-being. That said, most of the research on sugar alcohols has been performed on mice, and the scientific community is divided in their views on whether sugar alcohols are safe or not. While sugar alcohols are controversial, I completely agree with you and will add this article to my list of content to update.
      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor