Sugar has been a part of the human diet for centuries but recently there has been a lot of media attention focused on sugar, particularly in relation to weight and health. Much of this information is not supported by science and is often misleading and incomplete. It can therefore be challenging for consumers to separate fact from fiction. This page corrects many of the common myths about sugars and health. For answers to additional frequently asked questions, please see:

1. Myth: Canadians eat way too much sugar

Three Surprising Facts about Added Sugars Consumption in Canada:

1. While many headlines suggest that Canadian intakes of added sugars are increasing and "too high", consumption of added sugars in Canada has been declining over the past two decades [1]. 

2. Canadian consumption of added sugars is about 11% of daily Calories (53 g or 13 tsp per day) according to the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey [1]. This is generally considered to be a moderate amount. 

3. Added sugars consumption in Canada is about 1/3 less than US consumption [1]. Much of this difference can be explained by the fact that Canadian consumption of soft drinks is about half that of the US. 

Did You Know?

  • ‚Äč"Added sugars" includes all sugars added to foods at home and by food manufacturers (e.g. table sugar, honey, maple syrup) and sugars in beverages (e.g. high fructose corn syrup). 
  • Small amounts of added sugars are in many nutritious foods like whole grain breads, cereals, dairy products, and tomato-based sauces to enhance taste, mask the bitterness of fibre, balance acidity, and play many other functions. 

       

Download the resource: Uncover the Truth About Sugar - Consumption

References:
1. Brisbois TD, Marsden SL, Anderson GH, Sievenpiper JL. Estimated intakes and sources of total and added sugars in the Canadian diet. Nutrients. 2014; 6(5):1899-912.
2. Data source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM. Adjusted for waste using updated USDA Loss-Adjusted Food Availability  (http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-(per-capita)-data-system/.aspx#26705) . Includes refined sugar, maple sugar, honey and sugars in soft drinks. Note: Variability in sugars and syrups reflects substitution with high fructose corn syrup in soft drinks so total sugars, syrups and soft drinks is an overestimate in some years. Sugars in soft drinks is an overestimate as soft drink data includes non-caloric soft drinks.


2. Myth: Sugar makes you fat and is the leading cause of obesity

Three Facts about Weight Gain and Obesity:

  • Obesity is complex. There are many different risk factors for obesity, including your dietary habits, level of physical activity, environmental factors, sleep patterns, stress, and genetics. 
  • You're at increased risk of gaining weight when the energy (Calories) you ingest from food is greater than the energy you use to perform normal bodily functions like breathing, digestion, pumping blood, and daily movement and physical activity. 
  • Current evidence suggests that added sugars (all sugars and syrups added to foods) do not contribute to weight gain unless they provide more Calories than you can burn [3]. Excess Calories from all food sources - sugars, starches, fats, and proteins - can contribute to weight gain. 

Key Pillars to a Healthy Weight: 

  • Trying to lose weight? Focus on reducing the total Calories you eat and drink from all parts of your diet by choosing a variety of foods from the four food groups, and moderating portion sizes. Getting enough sleep and increasing the Calories you burn on a daily basis will also help maintain a healthy weight. 
  • A healthy eating pattern is one that has the right amount of Calories from a balanced ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, as well as enough of the essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients our bodies need. 

Download the resource: Uncover the Truth About Sugar - Obesity

Reference:
3. Te Morenga L et al. Dietary sugars and body weight: systematic review and meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and cohort studies. BMJ.2012;346:e7492


3. Myth: The sugar found in fruit is different than from table sugar

Added Sugars vs. Naturally Occurring Sugars:

  • Sugar (sucrose) is made naturally in all green plants through photosynthesis, a process that converts energy from sunlight into food energy in the form of sugars.
  • Sucrose is found in your home's table sugar and can be added to foods. This is the same sucrose that is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, along with the other simple sugars, glucose and fructose. 
  • Fruits and vegetables also come packed with many important nutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals, fibre) that our bodies need. 
  • A small amount of sugar can improve the flavour of many nutritious foods like whole grains, breakfast cereals, and flavoured yogurts. 
  • Whether it is naturally occurring (from fruits or vegetables) or added to foods, our bodies use sucrose in the same way, as a carbohydrate energy source for the body. 

Key Facts about Sugar (Sucrose):

  • The sucrose found in your home's table sugar and added to foods comes from the same two natural sources - sugar cane or sugar beets. 
  • Sucrose added to foods could be extracted from fruits such as bananas and mangoes. However, sugar cane and sugar beets are the most economical source because of their high sucrose concentration. 
  • Most sugar in Canada is purified at refineries from raw cane sugar, which is not safe to consume. This process removes impurities from the raw sugar, to reveal naturally white sugar crystals. Nothing is changed in the natural sucrose. 
  • Canadian regulations require that granulated sugar is not less than 99.8% pure sucrose. 

 

 

Download the resource: Uncover the Truth About Sugar - Sources of Sucrose

 


4. Myth: Sugar causes chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease

Reducing Your Risk for Chronic Diseases:

  • Consuming excess Calories from all sources, including fats, carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol, can increase your risk of obesity, a risk factor for chronic diseases. Your level of daily physical activity along with a number of other lifestyle and genetic factors also influence your risk for obesity. 
  • Scientific evidence shows added sugars do not increase your risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes when consumed within a healthy, balanced diet [4-7]. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and managing blood pressure and cholesterol level can help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes [8]. 

How the Body Uses Sugars for Energy: 

  • All carbohydrates (sugars and starches) are eventually converted by the body to glucose, the body's main energy source.
  • Organs like the brain and red blood cells rely primarily on glucose to function. 
  • Glucose is also the main energy supply to support muscle movement.
  • If you eat excess Calories from carbohydrates, your body stores the extra energy as glycogen or fat for use at a later time. Excess Calories from fat and protein also get stored as fat in the body. 

 

 

 

THE BODY HAS SEVERAL MECHANISMS TO ENSURE AN ADEQUATE AND CONSTANT GLUCOSE SUPPLY TO THE BRAIN TO SUPPORT MENTAL WORK. 

Download the resource: Uncover the Truth About Sugar - Chronic Disease

References:

4. Chiavaroli L, de Souza RJ, Ha V, Cozma AI, Mirrahimi A, Wang DD, Yu M, Carleton AJ, Di Buono M, Jenkins AL, Leiter LA, Wolever TM, Beyene J, Kendall CW, Jenkins DJ,Sievenpiper JL. Effect of Fructose on Established Lipid Targets: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Feeding Trials. J Am Heart Assoc. 2015 Sep 10;4(9):e001700.
5. Rippe JM, et al (2015). Fructose-Containing Sugars and Cardiovascular Disease. Adv Nutr. 2015 Jul 15;6(4):430-9
6. Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, Mirrahimi A, Yu ME, Carleton AJ, Beyene J, Chiavaroli L, Di Buono M, Jenkins AL, Leiter LA, Wolever TM, Kendall CW, Jenkins DJ. Effect of fructose on body weight in controlled feeding trials: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Ann Intern Med. 2012;156(4):291-304. 
7. David Wang D, Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, Cozma AI, Chiavaroli L, Ha V, Mirrahimi A, Carleton AJ, Di Buono M, Jenkins AL, Leiter LA, Wolever TM, Beyene J, Kendall CW, Jenkins DJ. Effect of fructose on postprandial triglycerides: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled feeding trials. Athero. 2014;232(1):125-33.
8. Public Health Agency of Canada. Healthy living can prevent disease. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cd-mc/healthy_living-vie_saine-eng.php

 


5. Myth: Sugar is hidden in foods and provides empty Calories

Six Roles of Sugar That Go Beyond Sweetness: 

  • Helps mask bitterness of whole grains:  Small amounts of sugar improve the bitter taste of whole grains and encourage their consumption. 
  • Helps to balance flavour:  Many tomato- and vinegar-based products, such as dressings and sauces, are acidic and need a  little sugar to balance the taste. 
  • Helps add colour to baked goods:  When heated, sugar caramelizes, browning the surface of cakes, breads, and cookies, while giving off a lovely aroma. 
  • Helps create texture and mouthfeel:  Sugar helps provide the   soft structure in baked goods and the smoothness in frozen dairy products. 
  • Helps naturally preserve jams:  Sugar absorbs extra moisture to prevent bacteria from growing in jams and preserves. 
  • Helps bread rise: Sugar feeds yeasts in fermented foods, which is an essential step in making bread and other baked goods. 

Finding Information on Sugars Content of Foods and Beverages: 

  • The Nutrition Facts table lists "Sugars" as part of Carbohydrate (which includes sugars, starches, fibre). 
  • "Sugars" refers to all naturally occurring sugars (such as in milk products, fruits and vegetables) as well as sugars added to foods (e.g. table sugar, honey, maple syrup) and sugars in beverages (e.g. high fructose corn syrup, the main sweetener in soft drinks). 
  • The ingredient list tells you what ingredients are in a food or beverage. They are listed by weight, from most to least. Examples of ingredients you may see that refer to different types of sugars include: 
 Sugars listed in the ingredient list Source of sugar
Sucrose, sugar, liquid sugar, invert sugar, molasses Sugar cane or sugar beets
Glucose-fructose*, dextrose, corn syrup solids, dextrin Corn starch
Honey Honey
Maple syrup Maple sap
(Concentrated) fruit juice Fruits such as pear, apple, grape for example

*Glucose-fructose is the Canadian ingredient name for high fructose corn syrup

Download the resource: Uncover the Truth About Sugar - Functional Roles.