Sugar & Health

Sugar Basics

Sugar is a carbohydrate. Let's start there.

Sugar is a carbohydrate.

Carbohydrate: a macronutrient that includes starches, sugar and other sugars

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the human body. In fact, glucose (a product of carbohydrate digestion) is essential to the function of the central nervous system. Carbohydrates, including sugar, play an essential role in fueling the body. Sugar (sucrose), whether intact in fruits and vegetables or in the popular extracted and crystallized form, has been incorporated in the diets of humans throughout all of time.

Like many other foods and ingredients, sugars have been the subject of numerous scientific studies, which help people deepen their understanding of the impact that food choices have on health. And while emerging research will always reveal new information, the scientific evidence consistently shows that a healthy lifestyle based on moderation, a variety of food choices and physical activity tends to lead to the best outcomes when compared with simply focusing on cutting out or adding one ingredient or another.1-5

In Sugar & Health, we review a few health outcomes and what we know about the role of sugar. It is important to point out that scientific evidence does not support adverse outcomes of sugar intake when sugar is consumed in moderation and as part of a diet where calories are not eaten in excess.

There has been extensive research focused on soda or other caloric beverages and their role in health outcomes. While these studies provide data on the role that caloric beverages may have in health, these beverages are not a proxy for all the ways that sugar is consumed in the diet, and these studies should not be extrapolated to represent the role of sugar in health.

Scientists are continuously researching the health effects of food choices. It’s crucial to consider the level of evidence each study provides when documenting the relationship between food choices and the development of certain disease states. Separating the contributions of specific foods from related dietary and lifestyle factors is difficult and a constant challenge for researchers. The majority of research suggesting an adverse effect of sugar has involved excessive caloric intake, coupled with high intakes of added sugars.6

To simplify the science:
When practicing moderation and portion control, there’s room to include an appropriate amount of sugar in a healthful lifestyle.


  1. Anderson JJ, Celis-Morales CA, Mackay DF, et al. Adiposity among 132 479 UK Biobank participants; contribution of sugar intake vs other macronutrients, International Journal of Epidemiology, 2016;173. doi: 10.1093/ije/dyw173.
  2. Khan TA, Sievenpiper JL. Controversies about sugars: results from systematic reviews and meta-analyses on obesity, cardiometabolic disease and diabetes. European Journal of Nutrition. 2016;55(Suppl 2):S25-S43.
  3. Jebb SA. Carbohydrates and obesity: from evidence to policy in the UK. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2014. doi
  4. Marriott BP, Olsho L, Hadden L, Connor P. Intake of added sugars and selected nutrients in the United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2006. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 2010; 50:228-58.
  5. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2009;360(9):859-73.
  6. Sievenpiper JL. Sickeningly Sweet: Does Sugar Cause Chronic Disease? No. Canadian Journal of Diabetes. 2016;40;287-295.
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