Is sugar bad for you? It depends on the quantity and the source of the meal.


Health and sugar have a nuanced connection. On the one hand, a lot of nutritious whole foods naturally contain sugar. The amount of refined sugar that is often added to processed meals, however, is of more concern.

According to Dr. Frank Sacks, a professor of cardiovascular disease prevention at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, sugar is a carbohydrate that gives the body energy, playing a significant function in nutrition. The issue with sugar is that individuals often eat too much of the incorrect sort.

Two sugars in one story

Examining the source of sugar is a good approach to think about it. Whole fruits, vegetables, milk products, and grains all contain natural sugars. Fructose, glucose, and sucrose are types of sugar found in fruit and certain vegetables, whereas lactose and maltose are sugars found in milk and grains, respectively.

It is wise to consume these sorts of entire foods; current recommendations call for six ounces of whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa, as well as two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables per day.

The fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and numerous vitamins and minerals that you need for optimum health are also present in whole fruits, vegetables, and grains, according to Dr. Sacks. People should consume more of these items, not less of them, so don’t avoid them to reduce their consumption of sugar.

Refined sugar, in contrast, is what is added to food goods to enhance flavor (thus, “added” sugar). Cane, sugar beets, and maize are processed to separate the sugar to make refined sugar. Sucrose (table sugar), glucose, and high-fructose corn syrup are examples of added refined sugars.

Soft drinks, fruit-flavored beverages, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, and cakes are the top food items that include added refined sugar. However, most processed foods—including some you would not often associate with sweetness, such soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup—also contain refined sugar.

Numerous health issues

When you consume a meal that naturally includes sugar, your body breaks down that sugar gradually because entire fruits, vegetables, milk, and grains have a variety of other nutrients that slow down digestion, including fiber and protein. Foods rich in refined sugar usually include less of these beneficial elements, causing the body to absorb the sugars more quickly.

This explains why individuals often overeat processed meals and why consuming foods rich in refined sugar often leaves them feeling undersatiated, regardless of how many calories they ingest, claims Dr. Sacks.

A diet heavy in refined sugar is linked to a number of health problems. For instance, several studies have shown a connection between eating additional sugar and an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and unfavorable blood triglyceride levels.

According to a Harvard study, eating a lot of refined sugar increases your chance of dying from cardiovascular disease. Over a period of 15 years, persons who consumed 17% to 21% of their calories as refined sugar had a 38% increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who only consumed 8% of their calories in this manner.

Another research indicated that ingesting too much refined sugar over an extended period of time increases the likelihood of acquiring autoimmune diseases including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or certain types of thyroid disease. This report was published online on March 21, 2022 by Cell Metabolism.

How much is sufficient?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest all Americans to consume fewer than 10% of their daily calories from refined sugar. More specifically, the American Heart Association advises men to limit their daily intake of refined sugar to 150 calories, or approximately nine tablespoons of table sugar.

Unfortunately, the amount of refined sugar used on a daily basis equals around 17 teaspoons, or 270 calories. It’s difficult to keep track of numbers like these. According to Dr. Sacks, reducing (or eliminating) your intake of the following dietary sources is a more direct way to reduce your consumption of refined sugar:

normal soda juice beverages, such as fruit punch and juice energy drinks and “cocktails”
sports beverages
sweet tea and coffee beverages
flavored water.
Being more knowledgeable while reading food labels is a further tactic. You may choose healthier groceries by looking at the types of refined sugar and the quantities per serving in items, advises Dr. Sacks. (See “Read food labels carefully.”)

Observe how much sugar you add to meals and drinks as well. According to one research, two thirds of coffee drinkers and one third of tea drinkers add sugar or sweeteners to their beverages, which accounts for more than 60% of the calories in both liquids. Try to use half as much sugar or another sweetness as you normally would. Your taste senses get used to the shift rather quickly.

Dr. Sacks cautions, however, not to limit your sugar intake too much. “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a chocolate chip cookie or scoop of ice cream,” he asserts. But just consume a few cookies or a single scoop of ice cream in a tiny dish, rather than a dozen.


Observe food labels more closely

The ingredient label of a product will list any added sugars. They are not often referred to as “sugar.” According to the government Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, the following are the ones you should be on the lookout for:

  • agave nectar
  • brown sugar
  • cane crystals
  • cane sugar
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • crystalline fructose
  • dextrose
  • evaporated cane juice
  • fructose
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • glucose
  • honey
  • invert sugar
  • lactose
  • malt sugar
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • maple syrup
  • molasses
  • raw sugar
  • sucrose