Bibliographic review: Are simple sugars worse than complex sugars?

A meta-analysis has been unable to conclude whether simple sugars (sweets, white sugar, chocolate) are actually more harmful to health than complex sugars (vegetables, legumes).

Fattore, E., Botta, F., Agostoni, C., Bosetti, C. “Effects of free sugars on blood pressure and lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis of nutritional isoenergetic intervention trials”. Am J Clin Nutr. January 2017. Vol. 105 no. 1, 43-56.

The aim of the present meta-analysis published in the prestigious “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” was to compare the effects of simple sugars (fruits, sweets, white table sugar, chocolate etc.) and complex sugars (vegetables, whole grains, legumes etc.) on certain cardiovascular risk factors.

The excessive consumption of sugar has been postulated as a risk factor in the development of non-communicable diseases. The authors of this study collected together published research that compared diets with the same calorie count, but importantly differing compositions in simple sugars and complex sugars. The effect of these diets on blood pressure, weight, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, VLDL-cholesterol, triglycerides and apolipoproteins A-1 and B was then analysed as part of the study. 28 publications were selected, with a total of 510 subjects studied overall. The combined analysis of the 28 studies showed heterogeneous results relating to the effect of diets rich in simple sugars versus complex sugars on lipid profile markers and there was no evidence of significant differences between types of diet and the respondents blood pressure and weight.

In conclusion, and according to this meta-analysis, the replacement of simple sugars with complex sugars without altering the amount of calories per day has no effect on weight, nor on blood pressure and the effect on the lipid profile is unclear. As a result it is clear that further work is required to determine if simple sugars are really worse to your health than complex sugars.