The effects of sugar on health: myths and realities

Right or wrong, a number of health effects have been attributed to sugar. It's time to sort out the myths from the facts, so you can make informed choices!

Sugar, a guilty pleasure

Sugar is present in many of the foods we eat. It can be found naturally (fruits, vegetables, milk, etc.) or artificially added (soft drinks, juice, etc.).

Sugar does not contain any nutrients (e.g. vitamins or minerals). However, it is an important source of energy for the body. Thus, a certain amount of sugar is needed for the body to function normally. Therefore, we must be careful not to blame it for all ills, but rather keep in mind that consuming it in moderation is much better!

Here are a few examples of common beliefs about sugar. Find out whether or not they are true.

Sugar causes hyperactivity in children: myth

Sugar is sometimes identified to explain certain behaviours in children. In fact, scientific research shows that sugar consumption is not linked to hyperactivity in children, even for those who already have attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity (ADHD). Additionally, there is currently no scientific data to conclude that there is any link between sugar consumption and sleep problems, either in children or adults.

In reality, excitement and hyperactivity in children who have just consumed sugar are most often related to the circumstances in which the sugar was consumed (e.g. Halloween, children’s party, Christmas festivities, etc.), rather than the sugar itself. It is the very idea of eating sugar and what goes with it that cause children to be excited most of the time.

Sugar causes hyperactivity in children: myth

Sugar promotes tooth decay: reality

The effects of sugar on dental health is well known. However, it is important to know that sweets are not the only foods that cause tooth decay; all sources of sugar—including grains, fruits, and vegetables—can cause cavities.

When sugar from food gets into the mouth, the bacteria that cause cavities turn it into acid, which wears away tooth enamel, weakening it. This contributes to tooth decay over time.

The solution? Good dental hygiene. It is the best way to prevent cavities from forming. Limiting how often sugar is eaten, can help to prevent tooth decay.

Excess sugar leads to weight gain: reality

If your caloric intake exceeds your caloric expenditure, you are bound to gain weight. This is as true for sugar as for any other source of excess calories.

Unfortunately, the North American diet contains a great number of artificially sweetened foods, with high caloric intake, but low nutritional value (e.g. pastries, soft drinks, chocolate, etc.). For foods that naturally contain sugar, most of them are a good source of other essential nutrients (e.g. vitamins, minerals or fibre). 

Reducing your sugar intake, and especially choosing healthy foods to put on your plate can definitely help you reach your healthy weight. Follow Canada’s Food Guide and be physically active every day to achieve your weight loss goals.

Excess sugar leads to weight gain: reality

Sugar causes certain chronic diseases: myth (and reality)

Contrary to what one might believe, it has not been clearly shown to date that sugar is directly linked to the development of certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease. However, current research reveals that a diet high in sugar may increase the risk of becoming overweight or obese. Because being overweight is a known risk factor for diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, it may indirectly contribute to the development of these types of diseases.

Therefore, in terms of overall healthcare management, it is clear that you should take an interest in your sugar intake. A healthy diet and regular physical activity will help you to reduce the risk of having certain diseases.

Sugar is not your arch enemy: reality

Going without sugar entirely is impossible and would be harmful anyway, as it is an important source of energy. However, too much sugar also carries its harmful effects. In Canada, it is estimated that more than 50% of people consume too much sugar every day. The World Health Organization (WHO) and public health experts suggest significantly reducing sugar consumption to maintain optimal health.

Here are some tips to help you do this:

  • Avoid consuming products that are very sweet and have no nutritional value, such as candy, soft drinks, sports drinks, juice with added sugar, hot chocolate, etc.
  • Include fruits and vegetables in your diet, as well as other foods that are high in carbohydrates, but have good nutritional value: grain or dairy products, legumes, etc.
  • Don't add sugar to your dishes, recipes or beverages (e.g. tea or coffee).
  • Limit your consumption of processed foods (e.g. store-bought cakes, cookies, donuts or pies).
  • Choose foods that are labeled "reduced sugar" (e.g. grains or dairy products).
  • Take the time to read the list of ingredients and Nutrition Facts table of the foods you eat to find out how much sugar they contain.

Learn to incorporate sugar into your diet wisely to stay healthy. Choosing healthy eating habits is always a winning strategy! That said, allowing yourself a little sugar treat once in a while, such as during festivities (e.g. Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, etc.), is also good for your morale!


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The effects of sugar on health: myths and realities

True or not, a number of health effects have been attributed to sugar. It's time to distinguish between myths and realities in order to make informed choices.
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