The Truth About Sugar

coffee cup full of sugar cubes

What is sugar or sugars?

“Sugars” are a group of carbohydrates that sweeten our food. 

  • They have different names such as “glucose,” “fructose” and “lactose.”
  • The sugar we usually talk about is white or brown table sugar, which is “sucrose.”

Are some types of sugar better than others?

All sugars, whether they occur naturally or are added to a food, have the same nutritional value and are used by your body in the same way.  All sugars provide 16 calories per teaspoon (4 calories per gram).  
Choose foods that have naturally occurring sugar, such as what is in fruits, vegetables and milk, over foods with lots of added sugars – what food manufacturers add to foods to provide sweetness and flavour and to increase the item’s shelf life.

Did you know that:

  • Brown sugar is not more nutritious than white. Brown sugar is usually white sugar with molasses added to the sugar crystals.
  • Honey is not better for you than white sugar. All sugar provides energy but no significant amounts of other nutrients. 
  • All sugars are “empty calories”, meaning they provide no significant amounts of nutrients. 
See the table below for sugar amounts found in some common foods.

Food

Serving Size

Amount of Sugar grams/teaspoons

Calories from Sugar

Instant apple-cinnamon oatmeal

1 packet

12 g   

48

Doughnut, chocolate coated (8 cm in diameter)

13 g  

52

Sports drink (fruit flavour, ready-to-drink)

250 mL (1 cup)

14 g   

56

Sweet and sour meatballs

6

19 g   

76

Gelatin dessert (Jello TM)

125mL (1/2 cup)

19 g   

76

Grape Juice (ready to drink)

125 mL (1/2 cup)

20 g   

80

Commercial, 2 crust apple pie (23 cm in diameter)

1/8 slice

20 g  

80

Cola

250 mL (1 cup)

24 g   

96

Yoghurt, vanilla or fruit

175 mL (3/4 cup)

25 g   

100

Chai latte

250 mL (1 cup)

26 g   

104

Chocolate cake from mix with icing (23 cm in diameter)

1/12 slice

47 g  

188

Soft serve ice cream with Oreo™ cookies

Small

68 g   

272

 Source: Health Canada Nutrient Value of some Common Foods external link  

How much sugar can I eat in a day?

• There are no clear recommendations for sugars in the diet. The suggested maximum intake of added sugars is 25% of calories

What should I look for on a food label?

“Sugars” is one of the core nutrients listed on the Nutrition Facts table, and includes both added and naturally occurring sugars. It is listed under carbohydrates and include:   

  • Sucrose, sugar, liquid sugar, invert sugar
  • Words that end in “ose” such as glucose, fructose and dextrose
  • Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrin
  • Honey, molasses, maple syrup
  • Concentrated fruit juice

What do sugar claims on packaged food mean?

Sugar-related Claim

What it means

“Sugar-free” or “Sugarless”

Each reference amount (a standard serving decided by the manufacturer) contains less than 0.5 g of sugar or less than 5 calories.

No added sugars

The product contains no added sugars (such as honey, molasses, concentrated fruit juice, glucose, fructose, etc).

Reduced or lower in sugar

Compared to a similar product of the same portion size, the food contains at least 25% and 5g less sugar.

Unsweetened

The food contains no added sugars or artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame or sucralose).

Source: EatRight Ontario external link

Is excess consumption of sugars related to disease?

Excess consumption of sugars poses several health risks. Sugars are a carbohydrate and increase blood sugars quickly. Eating foods high in sugar will not cause diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes may be prevented with good nutrition habits and regular physical activity.   Ensure a healthy diet by consuming lean meats and alternatives, low-fat milk and alternatives, and foods that are rich in fibre.  Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented.

Added sugars are called “empty calories” because they provide no nutritional benefits. Excess consumption of added sugars may contribute to an increase in weight.

Sugars also feed bacteria and germs on teeth and produce acid that may permanently break down the enamel.


Additional Resources: