Sugar 101: Good or Bad? All You Need To Know

Sugar 101: Good or Bad? All You Need To Know

Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that can be found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy products, etc. Sugar beets and sugar cane contain very high amounts of sugar, which makes them the primary choices for sugar extraction. 

There are many misconceptions and myths about sugar (glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, and so on). It is known that it doesn't have many health benefits, but at the same time, it's not as harmful as some think. 

However, there is a difference between foods with added sugar and foods containing only natural sugar. The nutrients found in nature, which didn't undergo any processing, are always the healthier choice. For example, fruits do not contain only fructose and glucose, but plenty of other nutrients as well. This makes them superior to foods that contain sugar, but lack vitamins, minerals, and bioactive compounds.  

What about sugar substitutes? Are they healthier?

Will I lose weight if I cut sugar out of my diet?

What's the difference between added sugar and natural sugar?

This article contains all the information you need to clarify everything.



What's The Difference Between Sugar and Sugars?

Sugar and sugars are two different things.

  • Sugars are simple carbohydrates, which can be monosaccharides or disaccharides. Glucose, fructose, and galactose are monosaccharides. Lactose, maltose, sucrose, and trehalose are disaccharides. 
  • Sugar, or refined sugar, is an ingredient, also known as sucrose, which can be found in any supermarket. It is made from sugar beets and sugar cane. 

What about added sugars?

Added sugars are simply any type of sweetener, including sugar, honey, syrups, etc. that are added to food during the manufacturing process.  

Added sugars can be found in sweetened beverages, candy, breakfast cereals, spreads, dips, salad dressings, and other foods. People are not usually aware that savory foods (foods that are not sweet) can contain added sugar. When someone consumes a variety of these products, it is almost impossible not to surpass the calorie limit and maintain a healthy weight. 

Some examples of added sugars include: 

  • Agave Nectar
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Brown Sugar
  • Coconut Sugar
  • Glucose
  • Sugar
  • Fructose
  • Honey
  • Invert Sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Dextrose
  • Corn Syrup And High-fructose Corn Syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Maple Syrup
  • Molasses



Are All Types Of Sugar Bad?

It is known that reducing sugar intake is beneficial for health. But the focus should be on added sugar because it does not provide the nutrition your body needs.

You should definitely have a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, even if some have more sugar than others. The problem is adding a bit more sugar to your desserts, topping your pancakes with syrup, or adding honey to your yogurt.

Foods containing natural sugar provide energy and aid overall health, and foods containing refined sugar lead to excess calorie and sugar intake.

The body metabolizes refined sugar and natural sugar differently. Refined sugar has a high glycemic index (GI); therefore, it leads to insulin spikes. Fruits and other products containing natural sugar have a lower GI and allow your body to feel full longer. 

The catch is that your body doesn't make the difference between the two. This means that if you already ate a lot of fruits, and you have plenty of sugar in your system, you shouldn't also eat a candy bar (even if it is a small one). The same thing applies the other way around. 

Sugar is sugar, and it will be converted to glycogen or fat. The excess you have is usually stored as fat, and it is easy to consume more than your body needs regardless if the source is healthy or not.



Can Sugar Cause Health Problems?

Yes and No. Sugar isn't toxic, but too much can be detrimental. 

The problem is that sugar doesn't contain nutrients; it's extra empty calories in your diet. But, you do feel the need to eat something sweet from time to time. Why is that?

When you are under a lot of stress, you have the tendency to treat yourself with something sweet. This is because, whenever you eat it, it makes you feel good. Studies support the link between sugar consumption and increased dopamine levels. They also show that it has an impact on the homeostatic neural system, which regulates energy intake. When you consume sugar, your hunger and fatigue issues get resolved temporarily because of the insulin spike. But, after a short while, your blood sugar levels drop suddenly, leaving your body wanting more calories than before. 

Here are 7 reasons why sugar harms your health.

1. Sugar Is Not Good For The Heart

Most people think that a diet high in saturated fats, trans fats, or anything that comes from fat for that matter, impacts the heart. However, when you opt for a low-fat diet, you tend to replace your favorite fatty foods with high-carb foods that contain sugar. This can trigger undesired LDL, HDL, and triglycerides levels. All these can lead to an increased risk of heart issues. 

Also, fructose has a higher impact on human metabolism and might be more dangerous than glucose. Diets high in fructose can cause metabolic syndrome and atherosclerosis. Limiting sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup as much as possible reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.

How Much Sugar Can You Eat?

According to the American Heart Association, you shouldn't eat more than 25g of added sugar per day if you are a woman, and 37g of added sugar per day if you are a man. 

On the other hand, the USA dietary guidelines state that you should "consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars". Therefore, if you are eating around 2000 calories per day, you could go up to 50g of sugar. 

Both sources refer to added sugars, but as above-stated, your body doesn't make the difference between the two when it metabolizes food. Better advice would be to stay away from added sugars as much as possible and consider that these guidelines are for all types of sugar. 

2. Sugar Makes You Gain Weight

Experts worldwide linked sugar consumption to obesity and other chronic diseases. This is because most people tend to resort to quick snacks, ready-made meals, processed foods, and beverages, which cause them to exceed their caloric needs. 

Moreover, as previously mentioned, fructose has a different impact on your body than glucose. Fructose promotes appetite, and too much of it can cause leptin resistance. This condition doesn't tell your body that it should stop eating, even when it's had enough.

3. Sugar Can Cause Diabetes

Contrary to common beliefs, eating sugar once in a while doesn't lead to diabetes. If someone tells you not to eat dessert because you might develop diabetes, they are either jealous or uninformed. This chronic condition is the result of insulin resistance, not sugar consumption. When the pancreas cannot make the amount of insulin your body needs, it's because of your genetics, stress levels, and/or weight and activity level.

If you consume sugar regularly or drink sweetened beverages, you have a high chance of becoming overweight and developing insulin resistance. As a consequence, your risk of developing diabetes increases. 

4. Excess Sugar Increases The Risk Of Cancer

Regular sugar consumption can lead to excess weight because of the high-calorie content. If you reach a stage where you are at risk of obesity, meaning your BMI is close to 30, your risk of cancer increases. 

If you consume more than the recommended values, sugar can cause inflammation in your body. Research shows that if your diet contains plenty of refined carbs and sugars, your inflammation levels increase.

Experts cannot fully explain the connection between sugar consumption and cancer. Even so, findings show that sugar can promote the initiation of cancer formation the same way it can lead to other chronic diseases. Experts found connections between added sugars and esophageal, pleural, and duodenum cancer. Moreover, women who consumed high amounts of sugars, and didn't add nutrient-dense foods to their diets, were more predisposed to leukemia and bladder cancer. 

5. Sugar Can Affect Your Teeth

Kids go more often to the dentist because they can effortlessly develop a sweet tooth. Eating sugar increases the risk of cavities and other dental issues, but it's not the only menace. To avoid unpleasant trips to the dentist, you need to exercise proper oral hygiene, oral health education, and abstinence from added sugars. 

6. Sugar Can Cause Acne

When you consume foods with a high GI, you increase your insulin levels. In its turn, high insulin triggers the production of androgen and oily secretions, which can lead to undesired red pimples on your skin. 

Nowadays, teenagers tend to eat a lot of junk food and processed foods. Most of these products contain added sugars, regardless of their savory taste. Studies show that teenagers who adopt this type of lifestyle are predisposed to acne.  

7. Sugar Can Lead To Depression

Eating sugar gives you a feeling of pleasure, and it also increases dopamine levels. So, how come it might cause depression?

When you consume sugar, you experience a spike in your insulin levels. This boosts your mood for a short while. After that, your blood sugar goes back down, and you start feeling cranky and tired. Then, you resort to some more sugar to improve your mood. The shift in blood sugar levels, the sugar addiction that impacts neurotransmitters, and the increased inflammation levels, have all been linked to depression. 

Many studies show the connection between high sugar intake, high GI foods, and the risk of depression. 

Apart from those previously mentioned, sugar can also lead to a bunch of other health issues. They are mainly a side effect of excess weight and body fat, excess sugar consumption, and increased inflammation in the body. Just to mention a few, sugar can cause fatty liver disease, memory impairment, gout, kidney disease, fatigue, and premature senescence. 



Is Honey Healthier Than Sugar (Table Sugar)?

Honey has more nutrients than sugar, and it is also less processed. You also have the option to consume raw honey.

Sugar contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose. 

Honey contains 40% fructose, 30% glucose, and 30% pollen, water, and trace amounts of minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes. So, it's a more complex ingredient than sugar. 

Nonetheless, some people think of honey as a miracle cure. It does indeed have health benefits, but not to this extent. Dark honey seems to have more nutrients than the light version. Moreover, each type is used for different purposes, having different textures and tastes. 


  • Both are a source of energy. 
  • Both increase your blood sugar levels.
  • Both should be avoided by people with diabetes.
  • Both contain fructose and glucose.
  • Both can cause weight gain and cavities. 

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Differences and Individual Characteristics

  • Sugar has a higher GI than honey.
  • Honey might help relieve allergies
  • Honey can work as a cough suppressant
  • Sugar can lead to a variety of chronic diseases.
  • Honey is dangerous for babies during the first year of their life. 
  • Honey gives less trouble to the digestive system than sugar because it contains enzymes. 
  • Sugar is much cheaper than honey. 

In conclusion, honey is not the way out for those who want to lose weight. Sometimes it might be quite the opposite. It isn't an ingredient that can be added guilt-free to your fruit salad, yogurt, muesli bowl, etc. It isn't the same as adding an extra piece of fruit. Honey is loaded with calories. One tablespoon has 63 calories, out of which 98% are from sugars. 



What Are Polyols Or Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are found mainly in fruits and vegetables. They are carbohydrates that are harder to digest, having a similar function to fiber. 

Sugar alcohols, or polyols, are sweet, do not contain ethanol, even if they contain alcohol molecules, and can be used to replace sugar. The most common processed polyols are erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol. These are made from the glucose found in cornstarch. 

The main differences between polyols and artificial sweeteners are the calorie content and taste. Sugar alcohols contain fewer calories than sugar, but more than artificial sweeteners. 

Erythritol is the only sugar alcohol that appears on the food label with zero calories per gram. Erythritol does contain a low amount of calories, but it is eliminated in the urine; it reaches the bloodstream, and only 10 % reaches the colon, without any alteration. 

The good thing about sugar alcohols is that they provide the sweet taste without increasing blood sugar levels. Therefore, those who have diabetes can safely consume them. 

They can also save you from going to the dentist. Studies show that the use of xylitol is linked to a decreased risk of cavities. If you use chewing gum, make sure to choose the one that contains xylitol. The same applies to toothpaste. 

Apart from this, xylitol might also have a good impact on collagen production and bone health

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Overall, sugar alcohols have been proved to be safe for humans, but they are a high FODMAP. This means that they might have unpleasant side effects on people who have IBS or other digestive issues. 

Polyols are not meant to be consumed in large amounts because they have laxative effects, and they are hard to digest. Sorbitol and maltitol might give you more problems than erythritol and xylitol. 



Tips To Limit Your Sugar Intake

Many people are addicted to sweets, chocolate, and sugary products. Here are some helpful tips for those who want to reduce or avoid sugar intake. 

  • Avoid drinking sweetened beverages, including fruit juices and smoothies. Try replacing them with sparkling water with or without lemon, detox water (water with mint, cucumbers, ginger, etc.), tea, and coffee. 
  • Replace desserts that contain sugar with fruits, Greek yogurt with or without honey, dark chocolate, dates, or dried fruits. Also, you can have from time to time desserts that do not contain table sugar.
  • Avoid breakfast cereals, pancakes, waffles, granola, etc. Most of these products are loaded with added sugar.
  • Try consuming products that have sugar alcohols instead of table sugar.
  • Make sure you read the list of ingredients. Added sugars are hidden under different names. The most common ones are high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, maltose, cane juice, invert sugar, dextrose, molasses, caramel, rice syrup, fructose, agave nectar/syrup, carob, maltodextrin, and galactose. 
  • Try to remove sugary foods from your grocery list, and remove the temptation from your environment as much as possible.  
  • Download the Munchlog app from the play store and start logging your calories. It is the only precise way to see if you are overdoing it. Almost anything that contains carbs contains sugar. When you realize how easy it is to exceed the recommended daily limit, you will find the willpower to make changes in your diet. 
  • Last but not least, make sure you get enough sleep. If you are tired, you're going to favor tasty foods (sweet, salty foods) over healthy and nutritious meals. 


Did You Know…

  • Cats don't fancy sweet foods. On the other hand, dogs are crazy after sweets
  • Sugar is as bad for the liver as alcohol
  • Sugar can be found in savory foods
  • Sugar can cause wrinkles
  • Lemonade contains more sugar than 100% orange juice