Is sugar bad for you?

6 Mar, 2017
Jennifer Low
A blog post on The Truth About Sugar

Where do we find sugars in our diet?

  • Free sugars are added to various food and drinks such as chocolate, sugar sweetened beverages, ice cream, biscuits, sauces, cereals and yogurt.
  • Diet versions of sugar sweetened beverages can be an easy way to reduce sugar intake as artificial sweeteners have little to no calories.
  • The term ‘free sugars’ refers to sugars that are added to foods or found naturally in fruit juice, honey, and syrups. It does not include sugar found naturally in dairy products (such as lactose) or in whole fruit (BDA, 2017).
  • Free sugars are a type of carbohydrate alongside fibre and starch.

How much sugar should we be having in a day?

Current guidelines recommend that free sugars should make up just 5% of our total daily energy, which is just 30g.

Over the past 9 years, NDNS data has shown there has been a reduction in consumption of free sugars in adults. However, sugar intake is still above the current recommendations (NDNS, 2019)

Overall, we can reduce the amount of free sugars that we consume, but sugar contributes to the flavouring of foods – making them taste nice. Therefore it is important to remember that there is a place for sugar in the diet in its right quantities.

Do all sugars have same effect on health? 

Many people are worried that fruit is high in sugar. However, because the fibre is still intact in whole fruit, the sugars are still built up in the internal matrix and are therefore not released. The benefits from the micronutrients and fibre contained in fruit outweigh the intrinsic sugar content.

Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar in milk. Milk contains an abundance of micronutrients such as vitamin D, iodine, vitamin B12 and calcium, which are all required by the body for different functions such as supporting bone and dental health.

All carbohydrates are broken down to sugar eventually (glucose) and we need glucose for the brain to function. In fact, the brain alone uses 20% of the glucose that our bodies require for energy.

It is also often found that when individuals cut out all sugar, they often cut wholegrain carbs, which are needed for fibre, for a healthy bowel movements and overall gut health.

Psychological research has shown that when individuals restrict a certain food, they are more likely to crave it. On the other hand, allowing it in moderation takes the “power” away from the food and therefore allows for a healthier relationship with food and reduces the risk of bingeing.

Is sugar “addictive” in the same way as tobacco, or has it been wrongly vilified?

  • A recent cross-sectional study involving university students suggested that increased feelings of reward from foods are more so related to the energy density and an individual’s relationship with food rather than the foods sugar content (Markus et al, 2017).
  • One literature review analysing of both human and animal studies found little evidence regarding sugar addiction in humans (Westwater et al., 2016). It is also important to remember that findings from animal studies cannot be compared directly to humans.
  • Sugar has been branded in the media to be the enemy and consuming large amounts can result in an addiction to sugar. Based on current literature, there is not sufficient evidence to support this theory – so do not be scared to eat foods that contain sugar now and again.


Jen Owner of JL Nutrition Clinic

Jennifer Low, Registered Dietitian, PgDip, MSc Nutrition, BSc Psychology