What is sugar?

Sugar, or to be more accurate, sucrose is found in fruit and vegetables, sugarcane and sugar beet. In South Africa only sugarcane is grown. In the different plants there are sugars which include glucose, fructose and sucrose.

Sucrose is made up of glucose and fructose. When we eat sucrose it becomes glucose which is used for energy and this is used in the same way as glucose found in all carbohydrate foods such as bread, rice, cereals and potatoes.

Sugar is a carbohydrate and there are no preservatives, colourants, or any additives. Sucrose is pure.

Is sugar found naturally in foods?

Sugar is a carbohydrate and found naturally in many foods for example:

Sugar components Food sources
Glucose Fruits, vegetables, table sugar, honey, milk products, cereals
Fructose Fruits, vegetables, honey
Galactose Milk products
Sucrose Fruits, vegetables, table sugar, honey
Lactose Milk products
Maltose Malt products, some cereals
Why is there sugar in our food?

Sugar has a number of important functional properties in food production and preparation of foods, such as improving taste and texture, serving as a natural preservative, allowing fermentation by yeast to make bread, used in the production of foods such as yoghurt, and producing colour and flavour to a variety of food and baked goods.

Is brown sugar healthier for me?

Many people may believe that brown sugar is healthier, however nutritionally speaking, brown sugar and white sugar are not much different. Brown and white sugar may taste a little different but they are both sucrose, contain 16.8kJ (4 calories) per gram of energy and are processed by the body in the same way and become glucose.

Brown sugar gets its distinctive colour and differs from white sugar due to the presence of molasses, which is removed during the production of white sugar. Because of its molasses content, brown sugar does contain certain trace minerals, most notably calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium (white sugar contains none of these). But since these minerals are present in only tiny amounts, there is no real health benefit to using brown sugar over white sugar. The real differences between the two are taste and the effects on baked goods. The type of sugar you use should therefore be based on taste and preference.

Does sugar make you fat?

There is no one food item that makes us fat. The cause of weight gain is eating more energy than your body needs to function well. When you eat more food than your body needs, the extra energy is stored in your body as fat. The NeuroFAST consortium, funded by the European Union, concluded that a single food substance cannot account for overeating and obesity.

Fat contains twice as many calories as carbohydrates such as sugars. Fat has 37.8kJ (9 calories) per gram compared with 16.8kJ (4 calories) per gram of sugar. High fat foods are also very palatable and energy dense, making it easier to consume excess energy and put on weight.

Is sugar addictive?

A review that looked for the symptoms of addiction such as withdrawal, craving and tolerance could find no evidence of an association with sugar consumption (Benton, 2010).

Does sugar cause dental caries?

Dental caries or tooth decay occurs in most countries, including South Africa. While sugar has often been exclusively blamed for causing tooth decay, researchers have identified many different factors which contribute to dental caries. Sugar is only one among many factors. All fermentable carbohydrates, including cooked starches, bread and cereals, as well as sugars in fruit and fruit juices, can be used by the plaque bacteria in the mouth to produce acid.

Improved dental hygiene has contributed greatly to reducing tooth decay in most populations.

Is sugar a carbohydrate?

Yes, sugar is a carbohydrate.

Does eating sugar cause diabetes?

The reason why many people think that eating sugar causes diabetes is probably linked to historical diet advice. It may also be due to the colloquial name for diabetes mellitus, which is ‘blood sugar’ or possibly explained as ‘too much sugar in the blood’.

There is no evidence that refined sugar has any unique attributes that result in the development of diabetes.

Contact Diabetes South Africa for further information.

What about fructose?

Table sugar or sucrose is made up of glucose and fructose. When we eat sugar the glucose and fructose are separated before being absorbed. Once absorbed glucose can be used directly for energy. Fructose is converted to glucose by the liver and also used for energy.

Recently, there has been interest on the possibility of fructose causing fat to accumulate in the liver and causing ill health. These concerns are based on studies where rats and humans consumed fructose far in excess of what humans typically consume. Humans rarely consume fructose on its own and when they do it is in far smaller quantities.