Debunking Sugar Myths

Everything you need to know about the sweet stuff.
Published July 5, 2022

Sugar gets a pretty bad rap around these parts, and while it’s most definitely not a health food, there are some misconceptions out there. So, we’re getting to the bottom of what’s true and false about the sweet stuff.

White sugar is bleached and unnatural – MYTH

“White sugar, also referred to as granulated sugar or table sugar, is not bleached and is naturally produced in plants,” explains Erin Quense MS, RDN, a registered dietitian with Strong Home Gym. “The sugar we see on our tables for tea and coffee or pantries for baking is pure sucrose that actually comes from a plant, sugar cane or sugar beets.”

To get that pure white sweet substance we enjoy, Quense says, the sugar beet goes through a series of physical processes (not chemical ones) to extract the sucrose.

“In short, the plant is pressed for juice and the juice is then spun at high speeds to remove the sticky molasses covering the granules. The result is a natural carbohydrate – sugar.”

Honey and agave don’t count as sugar – MYTH

“Honey and agave nectar, while natural, still count as added sugar,” explains Meredith Mishan, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist. “Using honey and agave doesn’t make a food any more sugar-free than table sugar would. That doesn’t mean you can’t choose to use agave or honey, but it may be something you want to take into account, for example, if you have diabetes.”

Fruit is unhealthy because it contains sugar – MYTH

“Fruit is a healthy and recommended part of someone’s daily diet,” says Mishan. “Yes, fruit contains sugar in the form of fructose, but you’re also getting heart-healthy fibre, vitamins and minerals with your fruit, including antioxidants.”

Mishan adds that most people should aim for two to four servings of fruit per day and that we should choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice.

Low sugar = low calories – MYTH

Low sugar content does not necessarily mean low calorie content, Mishan explains. “A food may be low in sugar but still be high in calories, such as food with a lot of added oil (think fried food) or even food that is naturally high in fat, like avocado.”

Registered dietitian nutritionist Lindsay Delk adds a further explanation: “Food is made up of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Protein and carbohydrates (including sugar) each have four calories per gram. Fat has nine calories per gram. When you remove or reduce one of the macronutrients, you replace it with another. So, the reduced sugar in a product is often replaced with more fat. Because fat has more than twice the calories of sugar, this increases the calories. Always read the food label to find out if a product is helping you meet your nutrition and health goals.”