Know your Sugar Sh*t

Make sure you aren't fooling yourself with these common sugar misconceptions. There is no denying we eat too much of the stuff in processed foods and sweetened drinks. But sugars themselves are not 'evil' or 'toxic'. In fact they're a basic nutrient that's found in lots of nutritious foods. Let's clear up some confusion to help focus your sugar reduction efforts where they'll have the biggest impact.

“Brown Sugar is Better than White Sugar”

If you're looking to switch the type of sugar in your coffee for a healthier one, don't bother swapping these two. White sugar isn't bleached, it's pure sucrose which is naturally white. Brown sugar is only brown because is contains molasses, not because it's less processed. This gives it a different taste, so just pick your favourite and use the smallest amount you can.

“ Natural Sugar is Good, Added Sugar is Bad “

Ok, so there can be some truth to this one depending on how you look at it. Let's start off with what these actually ARE:

• Natural Sugar: Technically all sugars are natural (aka derived from plants). When people use this term they usually mean “naturally occurring” sugars found in fruit, vegetables and milk.

• Added Sugar: This is sugar added to foods during processing, like breakfast cereals, flavoured yogurts or cookies. There are over 50 kinds but some common ones include:

  • Sucrose (table sugar)

  • High-Fructose Corn Syrup

  • Agave Nectar

  • Brown Rice Syrup

  • Dextrose

Added sugars aren't inherently 'bad'. For example, most people (especially kids) would never eat plain yogurt because yuck. But with added sugar it's tasty enough that we'll actually eat it, along with all the calcium and protein in there. It's hard to say much as a blanket statement about 50+ sweeteners (so more on the differences in a future article).

On the flip side of the coin, naturally occurring sugars aren't inherently 'good'. The next point will explain why. Like any food, sugar becomes a problem when we overeat it and gain excess weight. Added sugar is easier to overeat than naturally occurring sugar.

"No Added Sugar" Means it’s Healthy

The Canadian government only allows certain messages to be put on food packaging. Unfortunately there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what they mean. Here are the main ones and how to interpret them:

• Sugar Free: The product contains no naturally occurring OR added sugars. Zero.

Caution: This doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Hot dogs and Kraft Singles are sugar free. You still have to use your own judgement. Take a step back and look at the food as a whole.

• Reduced in sugar: The product has at least 25% less sugar than similar products.

Caution: This is great if you’re replacing the original version with the lower sugar version. But keep in mind the original product probably had a LOT of sugar in it. The reduced sugar version is not automatically a nutritionally balanced choice.

• No added sugars: As explained above, no form of sugar is added during processing.

Caution: NOT the same as sugar free! For instance:

A 12oz glass of 100% OJ uses the sugar of about 3 small oranges. Great you’re getting your vitamins in with no added sugar! BUT that juice doesn’t have any of the satiating fiber from the oranges, so you're taking in calories without feeling full, leading to easy over consumption of naturally occurring sugars.

"Sugar Causes Diabetes"

Not directly. Some of my clients are surprised by their new diabetes diagnosis because they 'never eat sugar'. Diabetes is caused by many factors, some we can control and some we can't (like genetics, thanks mom & dad). Diabetes risk increases with excess weight, which is often caused by excess calories. It doesn't matter where those extra calories came from, whether it be desserts, alcohol or greasy fast food.

"The Food Industry Uses 'Hidden' Sugar to get us Addicted to Their Products"

First of all, it's always on the label as required by law. Both in the nutrition panel and the ingredient list. It does go by many names because there are many different kinds each with unique tastes and properties. A trick is anything that ends with '-ose' or 'syrup' is sugar.

Second if all, it isn't hidden in non-sweet foods like bread to get consumers addicted to the product. Sugar does a lot more than sweeten. It's also a preservative, texturizer, tenderizer, caramelizer, fermenter. That's why you might find it in odd places you didn't expect like bread or savory sauces.

In defense of this myth nutrition labels are confusing, so it can feel like a conspiracy to hide things. But don't start making your tin foil hat just yet. Canada is coming out with a new labeling system this year and all sugar ingredients will be listed together under one name. Easy peasy!

Bottom line is you should always limit your sugar to the smallest amount you can manage. If you want to reduce your sugar intake start with sugary foods with little nutrients, like cookies or soda. One sweetened yogurt a day has never made anyone obese or diabetic. Remember the big picture! And don't sweat the small stuff.

Learn more at about the new nutrition labels at:

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