Consumer Fact Sheet

Sugar In Your Diet

1. What Is Sugar?

Sugar (sucrose) is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable. It is a major product of photosynthesis, the process by which plants transform the sun's energy into food. Sugar occurs in greatest quantities in sugarcane and sugar beets from which it is separated for commercial use.
Other nutritive sweeteners (sugars) in the diet include honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fructose, and fruit juice concentrates.

2. The Health Story

Over the last twenty years, scientists and researchers have thoroughly examined the nutrition and health aspects of sugar consumption. The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) 1986 review, "Evaluation of the Health Aspects of Sugars Contained in Carbohydrate Sweeteners," was a comprehensive assessment that formed the basis for the agency's reaffirming sugar as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) in 1988.
The report concluded:

"Other than the contribution to dental caries, there is no conclusive evidence on sugars that demonstrates a hazard to the general public when sugars are consumed at the levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced."

Specifically, FDA affirmed that as currently consumed, sugar does not cause diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypoglycemia, childhood hyperactivity or nutrient deficiencies.

Several major nutrition policy statements have accepted and incorporated FDA's conclusions. These include:

3. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advise, "Use Sugars Only in Moderation." How Does This Apply To My Daily Diet?

The key to eating sugar, or any food, in moderation is to observe the two fundamental Dietary Guidelines which recommend variety and moderation:

According to the Food and Drug Administration, Americans consume approximately 11% of total calories as added sugars or about "the amount (10%) recommended by the Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in. . . Dietary Goals for the United States." In other words, most of us do use sugars moderately.

4. What Roles Does Sugar Play In The Diet?

a. Taste - Mary Poppins knew that "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." This principle applies to food as well as cough syrup.
Sugar makes many nutritious foods taste good enough to eat. The brown sugar we sprinkle on our morning oatmeal, the syrup that tops our pancakes, or the granulated sugar baked into a bran muffin contribute abundantly to eating pleasure.

b. Carbohydrates - Sugar (sucrose) is an important source of carbohydrate, the body's primary energy source.
Surveys indicate that we are eating more than enough protein and probably too much fat. Carbohydrates are the only calorie source in which an increase in consumption is recommended. Nutrition guidelines often suggest emphasizing complex carbohydrates, such as starch, because foods rich in complex carbohydrates usually are low in fat and are good sources of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Planning a low-fat diet is much easier if you use a little sugar to add taste appeal to low-fat foods, such as grapefruit or yogurt.

c. Food Technology - Sugar is a multi-purpose carbohydrate that contributes significantly to the flavor, aroma, texture, color and body of a variety of foods.
Sugar helps bread rise by acting as a food for the yeast. In all baked products, sugar contributes to flavor and crust color as well as prolonged shelf life.
In jams and jellies, sugar preserves against the growth of yeasts and molds. Sugar syrups protect frozen and canned fruits from browning and withering.
Sugar is an important contributor to bulk, texture and body in ice cream, beverages, baked goods and other products. Many condiments -- salad dressing, tomato sauce, ketchup, etc. -- rely on sugar to soften acidity, blend flavors and contribute mouthfeel.

5. What Role Does Sugar Play In Weight Management?

We gain weight when we take in more calories from food than we burn up for energy needs. The cornerstones of weight management are diet and exercise.
Carbohydrates are the dieter's best friend. Sugar and other carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, the same as protein. Fats have more than twice the calories -- 9 per gram.
Recent research has found that calories from fats are used differently by the body from carbohydrate and protein calories. Virtually all fat calories are immediately stored in fat cells. But carbohydrates and protein are converted into glucose for fuel, and only those calories in excess of the body's energy needs are stored.
At 16 calories per teaspoon, sugar is not particularly fattening. Fortunately, many low calorie, low-fat sweets -- angel food cake, frozen fruit ices or sorbets, low-fat frozen yogurt and fruit shakes made with low-fat milk -- can be included in a weight management plan.
One popular calorie-saving tip: Substitute one teaspoon of jam or jelly for butter or margarine on your breakfast toast.

6. What Do Alternative Sweeteners Contribute To The Diet?

~ Nutritive Sweeteners - From a nutrition and calorie perspective, the various types of nutritive sweeteners (sugar, honey, maple syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates) are very similar.
Consumers should be aware that recipes or labels promoting "sugarless" sweets frequently contain nutritive sweeteners (sugars) which may be honey, molasses or some highly sweet foods, such as raisins, dates, fruit juices or fruit juice concentrates.
Many food products today are processed with fruit juice concentrates that are very similar in calories and nutrient composition to sugar syrups. Nutritionally, they are equivalent to liquid sugar.

~ Artificial Sweeteners - No studies show that artificial sweeteners are effective aids to long-term weight loss.Weight loss depends on reducing the total amount and kind of calories consumed and/or increasing caloric expenditure through exercise. Artificial sweeteners and fat substitutes will not help dieters lower their calorie intake unless they are used as part of a total diet/exercise regimen.

7. How Does The Body Use Carbohydrates?

All carbohydrates are made up of one or more molecules of simple sugars. Carbohydrates are combinations of carbon (C), hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O), with the latter two components occurring in the same proportion as in water.The basic formula: CnH2nOn.
All carbohydrate foods -- potatoes, broccoli, apples, grapes, sugar, honey -- have the same ultimate destination.They are converted to the simple sugar, glucose, the primary fuel for the body.

8. Do Different Carbohydrates Have Different Effects On The Body?

In recent years, nutrition scientists have reexamined traditional views about the differences between simple and complex carbohydrates. The old view was that any simple carbohydrate raised blood sugar levels very quickly because it was metabolized rapidly, while any complex carbohydrate caused a slower and more moderate rise in blood sugar.
New research on the "glycemic index of foods" shows no easily defined nutritional difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. Some simple sugars cause a slow, moderate rise in blood sugar levels; some complex carbohydrates cause a rapid rise. Sugar (sucrose), itself, gives a medium blood sugar response, less than either bread or potatoes.

9. What Is Hypoglycemia?

Hypoglycemia is a medical name for a condition in which the level of blood glucose is too low to meet the immediate energy needs of the body. True hypoglycemia is a relatively rare condition. It is not a disease but is considered a sign of an underlying ailment that requires the diagnosis and treatment of a physician.
The belief that hypoglycemia might be related to sugar consumption stems back to the time when it was thought that the insulin response to complex carbohydrates was slow and steady, while simple carbohydrates were thought to encourage a "rush" of insulin that caused a sharp drop in blood glucose. Research on the "glycemic" effects of carbohydrates (see above) demonstrates that sugar does not affect insulin levels this dramatically and provides additional evidence that hypoglycemia is not caused by eating any carbohydrates, including sugar.

10. What Does Research Say About Diet And Diabetes?

Though all the causes of diabetes are not known, genetic factors play a major part in the development of this disease. Diabetes is not caused by carbohydrate, including sugars, consumption, but the composition of the diet becomes important once an individual develops this condition.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that some diabetic individuals can consume a diet similar to that recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.The total calorie content of the diet should be appropriate to achieving and maintaining desirable body weight.
As a result of recent studies, the American Diabetes Association changed its policy on the use of nutritive sweeteners in ADA recipes. The new policy permits 1 teaspoon of sugar or other nutritive sweetener per reasonable serving size in a recipe. Recipes marked "for occasional use" may contain up to 1 tablespoon of sugar per serving and should be limited to one serving per day. Individuals with diabetes should contact their physician or registered dietitian before changing diet or meal plans.

11. Is It Possible To Be Addicted To Sugar?

No. Addiction is a specific medical condition characterized by compulsive behavior and severe emotional, mental or physiologic symptoms. Eating sugar or any carbohydrate, (or proteins or fats) does not produce these symptoms.
People do like and desire pleasurable foods. But this does not qualify as addiction.

12. Is There A Relationship Between Carbohydrate or Sugar Consumption And Behavior?

Numerous carefully controlled studies show no relationship between sugar consumption and childhood behavior problems such as hyperactivity. In its comprehensive evaluation, FDA found no solid evidence that sugar consumption contributes to behavioral changes. The U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health agrees, as does the National Academy of Sciences Diet and Health report.
A small percentage of the population (from 1 to 5% of school-age children) is affected by a syndrome known as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). If a child is diagnosed as having ADHD, his/her treatment and progress should be closely monitored by a physician.

13. How Does Diet Affect Dental Health?

Tooth decay occurs because bacteria break down carbohydrates (sugars and starches) to form acids in the plaque which then demineralize (dissolve) the nearby tooth enamel. The most significant diet-related factors are:

Tooth decay prevalence in the United States has declined dramatically in recent years. Experts credit the widespread use of fluoride as well as improved levels of dental care. To achieve and maintain optimal dental health the American Dental Association recommends:

14. What Is The Role Of Carbohydrate Foods in Heart Healthy Diets?

Carbohydrate-rich foods often have little or no cholesterol and can be low in saturated fat and calories. Many provide fiber that may help lower blood cholesterol levels.Experts agree that sugar can play a role in heart healthy eating.


Glinsmann, W.H., et. al. Evaluation of health aspects of sugars contained in carbohydrate sweeteners. J Nutr116(11S):S1-S216, 1986.

National Research Council. Food and Nutrition Board. Diet and Health: Implications for Reducing Chronic Disease. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1989.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/Health & Human Services. Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 1990.

U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. Healthy People2000: National Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Objectives. Washington, D.C. 1990.

U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services. The Surgeon General's Report on Nutrition and Health. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans

  • Eat a variety of foods.
  • Maintain healthy weight.
  • Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
  • Choose a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grain products.
  • Use sugars only in moderation.
  • Use salt and sodium only in moderation.
  • If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.


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