October 12, 2021

Sugar: The not-so-sweet truth

Learn the facts that will help you separate the myths from the realities about sugar and other sweeteners.

If you are trying to tame a sweet tooth, it can be hard to choose the healthiest options because there is a lot of misinformation out there. To help sort fact from fiction, here’s a reality check on some common questions about sugar.

Are unrefined sugars, such as agave syrup or honey, healthier than refined sugars or high-fructose corn syrup?

Compared to refined sugar, unrefined sources of sugar contain small traces of vitamins and minerals, like potassium in honey or vitamin C in agave syrup. However, the value is quite small. So, honey and agave syrup should not be considered healthy alternatives, nor should they be used in high amounts.

Are there sugars that have fewer calories than others?

The number of calories in sugar is the same regardless of the source. One gram of sugar provides 4 calories.

Are completely sugar-free diets the healthiest?

This is almost never a healthy, long-term diet option. People need carbohydrates in their diets (that then turn into sugar during digestion), and one of the best ways to get those necessary carbs is to eat plenty of whole fruits. A sugar-free diet also often consists of foods labeled “sugar-free,” which does not mean it is calorie-free. Rather, it means those foods usually contain artificial sweeteners, or they replace sugar with other flavor-enhancing ingredients, like unhealthy fats.

Do "natural" sugars affect blood sugar?

Adding any source of sugar to food will contribute to the total carbohydrate content of that food. That, in turn, will impact the food’s effect on blood sugar. It’s important to account for the total carbohydrate content in the food you eat to avoid high spikes in blood sugar. Whole fruits are generally a better source of carbs because they also contain fiber.

Is replacing sugar with stevia or artificial sweeteners a good way to lose weight?

While both are considered safe, artificial sweeteners and zero-calorie natural sweeteners like stevia may be found in foods that are highly caloric, so it’s important to be aware of the total calories and nutrients of a particular food. Also, foods that contain artificial sweeteners may not be as satisfying or provide a sense of fullness, and this can lead to eating too much of the artificially sweetened food or overeating other food.

If you are thinking of reducing the amount of sugar you’re eating every day, focus on trimming added sugars in foods and beverages. Remember that the American Heart Association recommends no more than 100 calories from added sugars per day for women and no more than 150 calories per day for men. Whole fruits are a great option when you’re looking for a sweet flavor because they will be a better source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.