Sugar Is Not So Sweet When it Causes Weight Gain

Horn of plenty

When most people hear the word sugar they think of the white, crystalline product that is used in beverages, foods and as a sweetener. In fact sugar can indicate any type of sweetening compound including sucrose (table sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar). Even carbohydrates are broken down into sugar (glucose) in your body. Different types of sugars have different effects on blood glucose or blood sugar levels, which ultimately has implications for weight loss products, diets and overall health.

High levels of blood glucose is directly linked to the development of prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes in children and adults.1 However, it should be noted that the total amount of carbohydrates, not just their specific source, is the greatest indicator of the risk of diabetes and related health conditions. American Diabetes Association does not recommend a complete avoidance of sugar; rather the recommendation includes sugar in low amounts infrequently and offset by reducing daily carbohydrate intake to stay within specific intake levels.

The History Of Sugar

Sugar that is consumed as a separate product or used in baking, cooking and food preparation comes from either sugar cane or sugar beet. It is believed that sugar actually was first cultivated in India and Asia and was typically not processed but rather consumed by chewing the stalk of the sugarcane plant. By the 5th century AD sugar had become a staple of the diet and the crystallization processes was well established. It wasn’t until the Crusades prior to the 12th century that sugar came toEurope and was actually produced specifically as a sweetener. Up until that time, honey was the most important sweetener used in desserts, beverages and other foods.

Types of Sugars

There are several different types of sugars that are routinely consumed in food products and sweet treats. Brown sugar, which can be any color from a deep brown color through a light tan, is a combination of sucrose or cane sugar and cane molasses. As such the caloric value and the carbohydrate levels of brown sugar are slightly less than white sugar because it contains moisture when weight is the measure for comparison. This is a very slight difference, 373 calories for brown sugar as compared to 396 calories for white sugar when they are compared by grams.

Sugar alcohol is often used to replace sucrose in various types of industrial food preparation methods. It is less sweet in taste than sucrose and has a lower food energy value. Sugar alcohols can be combined with artificial sweeteners to prevent the aftertaste of these chemically produced sweeteners while still keeping caloric value of the food relatively low compared to the same item made with sucrose.

Sugar and Weight Loss

Studies on the effects of the addition of sugar to diets have increased with the opportunity to study gastric surgery patients’ weight loss after the procedure. In one study it was found that patients that continued to eat high levels of sweet foods after surgery did, in fact, lose weight, but they tended to avoid meals and eat sweets. In fact researchers recommended that gastric bypass may not be appropriate for individuals with high sweet intake prior to the surgery since the eating habits do not tend to change. 2 Over time this meal skipping and high carbohydrate intake leads to weight gain and other health concerns.

Another study reinforced this perspective when it was found that women that relapse after successful weight loss programs did so because of unconscious eating in response to emotions. This eating, if focused on high carbohydrate foods of any type, including sugar, can result in rapid weight gain. 3

It is important to remember that sugar, unlike other types of carbohydrates, is considered to add empty calories. Sucrose is not needed by the body to function and serves no dietary purpose other than to add to the flavor of foods. When choosing between a healthy carbohydrate that contains sugar, such as a piece of fruit, or a sugary drink or dessert it is essential to consider the balance. Sprinkling on a little sugar is not going to result in massive amounts of weight gain provided your energy expenditure is lower than your energy intake. Calories being burned must be less than calories being consumed, regardless of the source of the calories.

Hidden Sugars

Sugar is present in most processed and pre-packaged foods. Careful reading of the ingredient list and total carbohydrate and calorie values for the food is the best evaluation of the portion size and if the food is appropriate for specific range of caloric intake that is your weight loss goal. Most average Americans consume approximately 460 calories per day in sugars, which can easily offset any additional energy expenditure.4

Sugar may be listed by different names on packaging. Look for words that end in “ose” such as lactose, maltose, sucrose or fructose. In addition other terms such as high fructose corn syrup, raw sugar, honey, fruit juice concentrate, corn sweetener or corn syrup, cane sugar and molasses are all hidden sugar sources.

Hidden sugars are often not counted in the caloric intake, which can result in weight gain. The more hidden sugars that are consumed the higher the daily calorie intake will be. This can cause dieters to become frustrated if weight loss goals are not realized. Common sources of hidden sugars in foods include:

  • Ketchup and condiments
  • Sugar added fruit juices or fruit juice concentrates
  • Commercially prepared sauces such as spaghetti sauce
  • Reduced fat products
  • Breads
  • Yogurt

Reading the food labels and looking specifically for the sugar content under the carbohydrate listing can provide detailed information on just what is in the food.


1 Sugar And Desserts. (n.d.). Retrieved from The American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/sweeteners-and-desserts.html

2 Lindroos, A., Lissner, L., & Sjostrom, L. (1996). Weight change in relation to intake of sugar and sweet foods before and after weight reducing gastric surgery. International Journal of Obesity , 634-643.

3 Kayman, S., Bruvold, W., & Stern, J. (1990). Maintenance and relapse after weight loss in women: behavioral aspects. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 800-807.

4 Shaking Salt and Sugar From Your Diet. (n.d.). Retrieved from Consumer Reports Health.org: www.consumerreports.org/health/healthy-living/diet-nutrition/diets-dieting/shaking-salt-and-sugar-from-your-diet-1-08/overview/salt-and-sugar-ov.htm


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