brown sugar oatmeal

You’ve probably heard how important it is for you to eat a nutritious, balanced diet, but did you know that sugar can make a healthy diet more palatable?

The U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides food-based recommendations to promote health, help prevent diet-related disease, and meet nutrient needs. According to the most recent guidelines, a healthy diet includes up to 10 percent of calories from added sugars, allowing room for sugars in nutritious foods and occasional sweets and treats. The guidelines say added sugars can “help improve the palatability of some nutrient-dense foods. In fact, the nutrient-dense choices included in the Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern are based on availability in the U.S. food supply and include 17-50 calories from added sugars, or 1.5-2 percent of total calories.”

All About Balance

Sugar is a carbohydrate, a macronutrient (along with fat and protein), that provides your body with energy. Carbohydrates are found in all plant and dairy foods and beverages that provide your body with calories. They are the preferred source of energy for the body because the majority contain glucose, which is the fuel your brain, organs, and muscles need to function.

If you eat more calories than you expend, no matter if the calories come from carbohydrates, proteins or fats, the excess energy is stored as added weight on your body. That’s why it’s important to balance the food you eat with regular physical activity. And, it’s important to remember that foods and beverages that don’t provide significant nutritional value (vitamins and minerals) should not be the centerpiece of your diet but consumed as treats.

Sugar, extracted from sugar beet or sugar cane or in fruits and vegetables you bite into, has been incorporated in the diets of people throughout all of time. Like many other foods and ingredients, sugars have been the subject of countless studies. And while new research will help us better understand how our food choices affect our health, the evidence consistently shows that a balanced lifestyle based on moderation, a variety of food choices, and physical activity tends to lead to the best outcomes when compared to simply focusing on cutting out or adding one ingredient or another.

Simply put: by leading a balanced lifestyle and practicing moderation and portion control, there is room to include an appropriate amount of sugar in your diet.

Remember, making sure that fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other fiber and calcium-rich foods are the centerpiece of your diet is most important. Sugar makes many of these healthful foods more palatable, which helps contribute to intakes of important vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Getting ready for breakfast? Go ahead, sprinkle a little brown sugar on that bowl of nutritious oatmeal. Sugar can make healthy foods taste better, so you are more likely to eat them.

About the Author

Courtney Gaine, Ph.D., R.D., is the President and CEO for the Sugar Association in Washington, D.C. Prior to this appointment in January 2016, Dr. Gaine served as the Vice President of Scientific Affairs at the association. Dr. Gaine previously served as senior science program manager at the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI North America), a public, nonprofit scientific foundation that advances the understanding and application of science related to the nutritional quality and safety of the food supply. Prior to ILSI, Dr. Gaine held positions of project director, nutrition and wellness, at the nonprofit organization Convergence and science manager at FoodMinds, a public relations firm. She began her career in academia as an assistant professor at East Carolina University. A native Washingtonian, Dr. Gaine obtained her Ph.D. in nutritional sciences and biochemistry and bachelor’s degree in dietetics from the University of Connecticut, where she was also a co-captain of the UConn women’s basketball team.

Stay in Touch

Sign Up