Everything you need to know about sugar

Registered Dietitian, Bahar Brocken recently sat down with 630 CHED host Bruce Bowie to discuss the different kinds of sugar and how much should we be eating.

It’s time for another few minutes with one of the experts from the Copeman Healthcare Centre, Registered Dietitian Bahar Brocken is with us. Good morning, Bahar.

Good morning.

What is sugar and are all sugars the same?

Sugar is a carbohydrate found naturally in milk, grains, fruits, and vegetables. There are many types of sugar and they all vary depending on their molecular structure. We have glucose, fructose, lactose, sucrose; which is that table sugar.

All sugars whether they’re natural or added get digested and broken down to an absorbable form to be used by the body for energy. Whether the sugar molecule comes from an apple or from a brownie, your body is still going to use it in the same way. Consuming sugars that are naturally present, so fresh fruits, vegetables and milk, don’t have any reported adverse health effects. The issue lies primarily in the amount of added sugars that we consume, which are often hidden in processed foods that aren’t usually seen as sweets. Think of things like flavored yogurt, ketchup, granola bars and sweetened coffee.

How much of these added sugars should we be having – how much is too much?

Health Canada currently doesn’t have a set target for added sugars, but Canada Food Guide does recommend limiting food and drinks that are high in added sugar.

At Copeman, we like to refer to the World Health Organization that recommends a reduction of added sugars to less than 5% of total energy intake. So for a person who has a 2,000-calorie diet, that means limiting added sugars to no more than 24 grams per day. A teaspoon has about 4 grams of sugar, so that would translate to approximately 6 teaspoons of added sugar in a day.

Wow, all right.

Yeah – to give context to this, a regular can of pop has up to 40 grams of added sugar, which means 10 teaspoons.

That’s unreal, my gosh. So we hear a lot about sugar being addictive, does sugar have addictive properties?

That is a great question – and it comes with a lot of controversy.

When we look at the research, we will see that some studies suggest that sugar addiction does exist, but others suggest that it doesn’t. The reason is that claims about the addictiveness of sugar are generally based on animal findings, and we’re still learning about the implications of this kind of research on humans. There is, however, some evidence to show that in humans, sugar and sweeteners can induce reward and craving which is comparable to those induced by addictive drugs. But we still need to do more research on this.

Do you have any recommendations on sugar-free substitutes or artificial sweeteners?

Sugar free substitutes or artificial sweeteners are used to make food taste sweet and have very few calories. Some that are sold in Canada, as I’m sure you’re familiar with, include: aspartame, sucralose or Splenda and Stevia. They have undergone extensive research to show that they are safe and effective. If consumed in moderation, they can be part of a healthy eating plan. However, generally speaking, I try to encourage my clients here at Copeman to try and limit both artificial sweeteners and added sugars because neither of them are really providing much benefit to one’s health.

What are some of the long-term risks of too much sugar?

Most foods high in added sugars are also going to be high in calories and generally less nutritious. This means that they would replace lower calorie, higher fiber, and higher nutrient foods. For example, instead of having an apple as an afternoon snack, you decide to go for a cookie. Over time, this can result in weight gain. With this comes an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes.

You know, we hear about kids getting cranked up on sugar and I try not to have sugar too late in the evening because I think it keeps me awake if I do. Is that in my head or is there an energy boost that you get if you have too much sugar?

Yes, there’s an energy boost because sugar comes with calories and energy. Sometimes too much of it all in one go could increase some of that energy for a short time until you may find you experience a crash after.

The crash, exactly right. Any final tips or words of advice for our listeners?

I would actually encourage anyone listening to try and track their sugar intake, even if it’s just for a day, to see where they’re getting most of their added sugars from. The best way to do this is reading labels and ingredient lists because that gives you the opportunity to become empowered and know what’s actually in your food. And remember, four grams of sugar is equal to one teaspoon. If your diet is going to be mostly natural, unprocessed foods, it should be low in added sugars.

This has been very helpful, Bahar. Thank you so much.

Thank you for having me.