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  • Taylor Leahy - Dietitian

Sugar & Sugar Alternatives Unmasked

There is so much misinformation and worry about this simple little guy.

Let's find out what all of the hype is about.

Powdered sugar, granulated white sugar, brown sugar; what's the difference?

Sugar is everywhere! It is in our drinks including flavored teas, sodas, lemonade, mixed drinks, sports drinks, and juices. In our food it not only helps give a sweet taste but sugar acts as a stabilizer and gives our food a good texture. Sugar is in our condiments such as ketchup, BBQ sauce, Ranch Dressing, Italian Dressings, and Vinaigrettes. Sugar (carbohydrate) is in all of our fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and starches and once they are digested they too break down into sugar.

So many choices!

Sugar can go by 56 different names!

White granulated sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, date sugar, coconut sugar, and sugar substitutes such as Aspartame (Equal), Saccharin (Sweet n' Low), Sucralose (Splenda), Stevia (Truvia), and Neotame (NutraSweet) are just some of the options to sweeten with!

How much is too much?

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends only 10% of our total calories come from added sugars. When we read nutrition labels we see the sugar in grams. To get calories we multiply by 4 because 1 gram of sugar has 4 calories.

This nutrition label has 12 grams of sugar.

12g X 4 kcal/g = 48 calories from sugar.

If someone is following a 1800 kcal diet. 10% of the total calories each day for sugar would be 180 calories each day simply from sugar alone.

The fiber in fruits help slow down the absorption of the natural sugar (fructose) so your blood sugar wont spike so quickly. When we juice fruits and vegetables we are taking out the much needed fiber and are left with sugar.
Where the average America gets their sugar from. This image is from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020

Sugar alcohol's can be an option for those with diabetes. Sugar alcohol's do not break down in the digestive tract and are not absorbed so they will not raise your blood sugar. However, they also tend to cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea if too much is consumed due to not breaking down and being digested.

Sugar is ultimately unavoidable if we eat anything other than meat and water. Choosing to get your sugar from natural sources like fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy is a much better choice than choosing the processed, added sugar items like sodas, snacks, and sweets. Gaining the added vitamins, minerals, and fiber from our fruits and vegetables outweighs any 'sugar free' option when trying to make a healthy choice.


1. Keaggy B,. Sugar: Hiding in plain sight. [Video]. TED-Ed: TEDEd Animation; 2014.

2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for americans 2015-2020, 8th edition. Updated December 2015. Accessed March 23, 2019.

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