What You Need to Know About Sugar

Is the sweet stuff the worst thing in your family's diet? Here's what we found out

What You Need to Know About SugarNatural vs. Added Sugars

Most of the sugar we eat is broken down into sugar glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy. Naturally occurring sugars are found in carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, fruits, vegetables and milk. Because they also include vitamins and minerals, they are the best bets for sugar consumption — but that doesn’t mean you should overindulge. “Although the sugar found in the food groups listed above is natural, it is still important to eat the recommended amounts as found in Canada’s Food Guide [65 per cent of daily calories from carbohydrates],” says Linda Gillis, a registered dietitian at the Children’s Exercise and Nutrition Centre at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont.

“The sugar that is added to foods is the sugar you want to have less often,” explains Gillis. These include sugar in all its forms, such as brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, honey, glucose, malt syrup, fruit juice concentrate and others, so read product labels carefully. “Added sugar increases insulin in your body. Insulin causes an increase in appetite, so you may overeat,” says Gillis.

How Much is Too Much?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), people consuming 2,800 calories per day should only have 18 teaspoons of added sugars per day. That number drops to 12 teaspoons for a 2,200-calorie diet and 6 teaspoons for a 1,600-calorie diet.

So what does that mean for your child? In order to meet energy requirements, Canada’s Food Guide’s estimates an active child engaged in typical daily activities (plus 60 minutes of moderate activity) should consume the following calorie amounts:

Preschooler (2-5) 1,400-1,650
School age (6-9) 1,700-2,000
Preteen (10-13) 2,050-2,600
Teen (14-16) 2,350-3,100

To calculate the amount of sugar in your favourite foods, divide the number of grams of sugars per serving as stated on the nutrition label by four for your total consumption in teaspoons. For example, ¼ cup of a popular-brand pancake syrup has 32 g, or eight teaspoons, of sugar — almost a day’s worth of added sugar, according to the USDA guidelines.

Gillis recommends that you keep added sugars to fewer than 10 g per serving in foods such as granola bars and cereal. Treats with much more sugar — such as pop, candy or chocolate — should be consumed only a couple of times per week or less.

How to Stop Sugar Cravings

Having three to four food groups at each meal, plus three snacks per day, will keep you feeling full and help you resist sugary snacks. Try to include a fruit or veggie with each snack and include products high in fibre to slow down the sugars from getting into the bloodstream and increasing your appetite. Gillis suggests making it a fun challenge for your child: see how many days she can go Texi-Mexi Egg Soft Tacos. Or put stickers on a chart to keep track of the two treats he’s allowed per week. If he sticks to the limit, then give him a prize such as an extra visit to his favourite park.

How to Read a Nutritional Label

Sugar-free
A standard serving (decided by the manufacturer) contains less than 0.5 g of sugar or less than five calories.
Sugar-reduced
The food has at least 25 percent and 5 g less sugar than the same standard serving of a similar product.
No added sugar
The food contains no added sugars (such as honey, maple syrup, glucose, fructose, etc.).
Unsweetened
The food contains no added sugars or sweeteners (such as aspartame).

Sugar Facts

  • Every gram of sugar has four calories (16 calories per teaspoon).
  • According to a Statistics Canada survey, Canadians are consuming less sugar. We ate 22.3 kg per person in 2006, down from 23.3 kg per person in 2005.
  • Brown sugar is not more nutritious than white sugar. It is usually white sugar coloured and flavoured using molasses.
  • Sugar does not cause or worsen hyperactivity in children. In fact, it may cause a relaxed state or even drowsiness.
  • Sugar itself does not cause diabetes. Eating foods high in sugars, calories and fat can cause weight gain, which is one of the major risk factors.
  • Sugar will cause dental caries (cavities) if you do not take care of your teeth. Bacteria feeds on carbohydrates stuck to the tooth surface and the resulting acid breaks down tooth enamel, which can lead to tooth decay.

Want to know how salt affects your family’s nutritional health? Get salt stats and health facts to make better choices for your family.

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