The Sour Side of Sugar

Fructose, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup – sugar is sugar, right? Not exactly! Not all sugar is created equal and not all sugar is bad. In this blog, we will explore the different forms of sugar and how they affect our bodies.

Even though sugar gets a bad rap, it is actually key for making sure that our body is up and running properly. Most foods contain carbohydrates which are made up of various sugars – that includes vegetables! Carbohydrates serve as the body’s main energy source and help to fuel our brain, kidney and liver.

Our diet is made up of two main sources of sugar, those that are naturally occurring and those that are added. Naturally occurring sugars come from whole food sources such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and whole grains like quinoa, oats and brown rice. Sugar is naturally part of these foods – no additional processing has been done to sweeten up an apple! On the other hand, added sugars are not naturally occurring and are added to foods during processing. Added sugars provide a lot of calories but little nutrition. Major sources of added sugar in the American diet include sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and some grains.

So what does added sugar do to our health? On average, U.S. adults are consuming far too much added sugar, which has been shown to increase risk of heart disease. What’s even scarier is that children are affected as well. Research has shown that children who eat too much added sugar have increased weight gain, blood pressure and triglycerides.

Many studies show that added sugar is bad for our health and that we are eating too much of it but how much is too much? And how can you make more informed food choices? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per day for women and children and 9 teaspoons per day for men. Fortunately, it is becoming much easier to interpret nutrition labels. By 2020, the nutrition facts label must indicate the amount of sugar that is being added to a product – many companies have already adopted this change.

In addition to looking for the amount of added sugar, you can also look for sugars on the ingredients label. Hidden added sugars can be tricky to identify, some of the most common names found in the list of ingredients include:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Rice syrup
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Agave
  • Molasses
  • Anything that ends in “-ose”.

So what’s the bottom line? When we think of added sugar or naturally occurring sugar in our diet, the key is to think big picture. What do our dietary patterns generally look like for the week? The month? Or even the year! Added sugar can negatively impact our health if consumed excessively over time. Don’t worry about sugar from whole foods but be aware of how much is in processed foods and treats. By reading nutrition facts and ingredient lists, it’s easier to make more informed choices about what you’re consuming!


Written by Madeline McDonough, dietetic intern