The Truth About Sugar

“It’s okay to eat foods that include sugars and carbohydrates, but moderation is key.”

When someone describes a meal as “a heart attack on a plate,” what do you imagine? Steak and eggs with a side of fries perhaps? The more current picture might be a plate of donuts partnered with a 600mL bottle of soft drink.

Sugar. It’s the latest edible to catch the eye of researchers and health reporters. Some say it is a greater risk to high blood pressure than salt and claim it can cause death by heart attack. Those are pretty serious accusations, so we did some investigative reporting ourselves to discover the truth about sugar and your health. Here’s what we learned.

1. Sugar doesn’t cause high blood pressure or heart disease, obesity does. 

“There’s no one food or ingredient that results in obesity and cardiovascular disease," says Jemma O’Hanlon, Accredited Practicing Dietitian at Curves. What we do know, says O’Hanlon, is that obesity can cause cardiovascular disease.  “Sugar isn’t bad,” she says, ”But too much sugar can be. Excess kilojoules are the problem, causing obesity, which raises blood pressure and can lead to diabetes and heart disease.”

2. Sugar does not put more fat on your figure than other foods.

Strictly speaking, a kilojoule is a kilojoule when it comes to weight gain. “All foods contribute kilojoules to the diet, and if you eat excess kilojoules no matter what the source, you will gain weight,” points out O’Hanlon.

With the facts now in front of you, what should your dietary sugar strategy be? 

Though sugar itself is not the devil, that doesn’t give you license to pack your daily menu with cakes and biscuits (keep in mind that all carbohydrates are converted to simple sugars during digestion). It’s okay to eat foods that include sugars and carbohydrates, but moderation is key.  Keep track of how often you include these foods and the portion sizes.  You’ve heard the expression “empty calories”: High-sugar foods have little to no powerhouse nutrients, and when you are counting kilojoules, you want to make sure those kilojoules really count.

1. Eat whole foods.

Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and whole-grain products provides a wealth of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients to keep you healthy.

2. Just choose water.

Soft drink, sports drinks, and energy drinks are the number one source of added sugars in our diets says O’Hanlon, and it’s easy to swallow a lot of empty calories in a beverage. It goes down fast and doesn’t create satiety the way foods do. One 600mL bottle of regular orange soft drink has 1164 kilojoules (276 calories); you’d have to eat 4 navel oranges to get the same.

3. Enjoy sweet treats on special occasions.

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with cake, chocolate, and cookies,” says O’Hanlon, “but portion control and moderation is the key.”

No, that doughnut isn’t going to kill you, but eating too many of them, in conjunction with an unbalanced diet, could lead to more serious health problems.


By Claire Kowalchik