Are natural sugars better than refined sugars? Can sugar lead to physical dependence? Is sugar really a stimulant? In this article, we take a closer look at some common misconceptions about sugar. The truth may surprise you!
White sugar is a refined chemical
The lowdown: White sugar is an ultra-processed food, but it isn’t a chemical. After being extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, raw sugar undergoes purification, a series of chemical processes that strip away colour, unwanted matter, and almost all nutrients. What’s left is what we call refined sugar! The final product is close to pure sucrose—in other words, 100% carbohydrates.
Sugar can lead to physical dependence
The lowdown: There isn’t enough scientific data to confirm this hypothesis. Experts do agree that sugar has very real effects on the brain: when you eat something that tastes good (like a sweet dessert), your brain releases dopamine. That’s why it feels so good to eat chocolate! If you eat a lot of sweet foods, you’ll start craving them more often for that hit of dopamine. For example, some people like to have a soft drink or fruit juice with every meal.
However, there is no research to suggest that people experience withdrawal symptoms—a key characteristic of drug dependence—when they stop eating sugar. Sugar is therefore not considered a substance that can cause physical dependence.
Sugar makes children hyper
The lowdown: Have you ever heard that children shouldn’t be allowed to eat candy before bedtime? There’s actually no scientific evidence that kids become more excitable when they have sugar. So why do children seem to get a burst of energy after eating sweets? It may have something to do with the context in which they tend to consume sugar. For example, you can expect kids to be more high-strung on Halloween night, at birthday parties, or during visits from Grandma. Their “sugar high” is entirely circumstantial!
Unrefined sugars are healthier than other types of sugar
The lowdown: This one isn’t quite so black-and-white. Unrefined sugars such as honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar do in fact contain several minerals that you won’t find in white sugar. During the refining process, white sugar unfortunately loses the calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, and magnesium it once contained. It’s therefore accurate to say that white sugar is less nutritious than unrefined varieties.
But make no mistake: the mineral content of unrefined sugars is still extremely low, so they shouldn’t be considered a good source of minerals.
Moreover, your body can’t tell the difference between refined and unrefined sugars. They’re all carbohydrates! For these reasons, all sugars, refined or not, should be consumed in moderation to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems.
Note: Pregnant women should avoid sweeteners (sugar substitutes). Unrefined sugars are a better option because of their essential mineral content.
The natural sugars in fruit juices aren’t bad for you
The lowdown: First of all, it’s important to know that so-called natural sugars are the sugars that occur naturally in food. For example, apples, bananas, and oranges all contain natural sugars.
What many people don’t realize is that fruit juice contains nearly as much sugar as soft drinks. Both contribute to weight gain and other health problems. Pure fruit juice is no exception! Like honey and maple syrup, even natural fruit sugars are carbohydrates. It’s best to eat whole fruits, which also contain fibre and other nutrients.
Eating too much sugar can cause diabetes
The lowdown: There is no direct link between sugar consumption and the prevalence of diabetes. However, whereas it was long believed that only fat caused weight gain, we now know that carbohydrates are also responsible. Consuming large amounts of any type of sugar can lead to obesity.
Obesity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
You should cut all sugar from your diet
The lowdown: It’s almost impossible to maintain a diet that’s completely free of sugar (carbohydrates). Sugar is in just about everything—fruit, cereal, dairy products, and much more! In addition, you won’t find any official recommendations to avoid sugar completely.
That said, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the World Health Organization recommend limiting added sugars to 10% of your total calorie intake. Added sugars include any sugars that aren’t naturally present in food. White sugar in bread, for example, is considered an added sugar. One thing is certain: added sugars are not an essential nutrient, and they can even be harmful to your health!
The bottom line
You don’t have to stop eating sugar entirely; it’s not unhealthy as long as it’s consumed in moderation. Nonetheless, it’s best to avoid added sugars because they have little nutritional value, especially when they’re refined. If you want something sweet, grab a piece of fruit instead. It’ll give you a boost of dopamine, fibre, and other nutrients!