What is refined sugar? It is sugar that has been completely stripped of vitamins and minerals using chemicals leaving only straight carbohydrates with no nutritional value. We are unable to properly metabolize this pure carbohydrate and, during the ingestion of the sugars, we accumulate the toxins not metabolized (mainly pyruvic acid). These can accumulate in your brain, in your adipose tissue, and in your blood stream. They act as a poison in your body, much as a drug would.
The most clear-cut reason refined sugar is bad for your health is that it spikes your insulin release quickly. Ingestion causes an insulin dump that, over time, encourages your body to become insulin resistant (diabetic). While it increases insulin, it is not giving you any nutrients. This is wasted insulin for your body to have released. The more rapidly your insulin spikes, the more at risk for insulin resistance you become over time.
The other bad news is that your body is addicted to refined sugars. Spikes in your blood sugar are addictive to your body and during the process of cutting out refined sugar you can actually go into a form of withdrawal that includes fatigue, headaches, and irritability. Have you ever been surprisingly upset when you had not eaten in a while (such as between meals)? That is actually not a normal short-term reaction to being hungry. That is your body in withdrawal from the sugars and carbohydrates. After I had learned all of these facts, I did a 21 day sugar detox (you can read about it in archived posts). Day 5, I actually went through withdrawal symptoms. Things that are good for you should not put you into withdrawal. I finally realized the power that sugar had over me. The greatest thing I learned by cutting out sugar was that I had significantly more energy when I cut sugar out of my diet and also that my hypoglycemic irritability was not a part of me. I no longer felt cranky when I missed a snack or had not eaten for 3 hours. It was a miracle for me.
So, what can we use as a healthy substitute for refined sugars? I prefer agave nectar in baking but many people also use natural honey and maple syrup (the real kind!). You can also buy coconut sugar which tastes like brown sugar and is delicious or even stevia for coffee. There are a lot of great, natural options. You just have to look at the ingredient lists on what you are eating.