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Facts and fiction

The health effects of the food we eat are in the public and media spotlight more than ever before, and few ingredients are subject to more intense debate than sugar. With so much conflicting information available about sugar, health and nutrition, it can be hard to tell facts from fiction. Here we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about sugar. Read also Facts about sugar - a common brochure initiative from the European food and drink sectors.

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Is sugar fattening?

Yes … and no. Yes because sugar contains energy, and if you take in more energy than your body expends during the course of the day, over time you will become obese. No because sugar in itself is no more fattening than other food substances – in fact, 1 g sugar contains half as many calories as 1 g fat. In other words, all food substances are fattening if you consume more of them than you need.

The development of obesity is a question of total energy intake in relation to total energy expenditure – also known as energy balance.

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Are we eating more sugar than we used to?

Although it varies from country to country, overall we are not eating more sugar. According to the statistics* of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the supply of sugar in the EU has remained stable over the last forty years.

Data on sugar consumption trends by country is not available in all countries, some data from 13 countries in the developed world shows the development in dietary intake of sugar from the latest national surveys of dietary intake and further complicated by definitions of dietary sugars being highly variable.  Generally it was found that dietary sugar intake was either stable or decreasing, with increases seen only in certain subpopulations.

Although our overall consumption of sugar has remained relatively stable, our consumption pattern has changed. Industrially processed products currently account for the bulk of our sugar consumption, whereas we eat homemade jam, cakes and desserts less frequently.

*) Choose Food Supply - Crops. Under Items select "Sugar, Refined Equiv".Read more (DE)Read more (UK)

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Does sugar cause tooth decay?

Frequent consumption of foods containing fermentable carbohydrates (such as sugars or starch) may increase the risk of tooth decay, especially in those who do not brush their teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste. Fermentable carbohydrates are, for instance, part of bread, cereals, biscuits, sweets or fruits.

The best way to prevent tooth decay is to limit the number of sugary eating or drinking occasions to 4 per day, and to follow the advice from the World Dental Federation to brush teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

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Does sugar cause diabetes?

Sugar has not been established as a cause of diabetes. Obesity and lack of physical activity are reported to be the major risk factors of Type-2 diabetes.

Type-2 diabetes is caused either by an inadequate production of the hormone insulin or an inability of the body to utilize the insulin that is available.

The body needs insulin to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Our blood glucose levels rise when we eat food, and our bodies normally produce insulin to bring them back down. In people with diabetes, this insulin response is defective and, if not treated, their blood glucose levels can become dangerously high.

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Is sugar addictive?

Scientific studies do not support the hypothesis that sugar is physically addictive. Current research indicates that over-eating is a behavioral disorder associated with the pleasure and satisfaction of eating food, and not linked to any one type of food or ingredient.

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Is sugar unhealthy?

Opinion on this is divided. At Nordzucker we do not believe that it is possible to just talk about healthy and unhealthy foods – instead we need to look at eating habits as a whole.

Sugar does not contain vitamins or minerals, and is therefore not healthy in itself. However, we eat very little sugar in pure form. Sugar is used, for example, to make food that is rich in dietary fibre taste better. In this way, sugar can play a part in encouraging healthy eating.

National food-based dietary guidelines show that sugar and food that contains sugar can be part of a healthy diet. An unbalanced diet with too much sugar and not enough vitamin and minerals could certainly be considered unhealthy. However, studies have shown that people with a moderate sugar intake are rarely deficient in vitamins and minerals.

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Is brown sugar healthier than white sugar?

Neither white nor brown cane sugar has a significant content of vitamins and minerals, so neither can be considered healthier than the other.

Brown cane sugar is obtained from sugar cane, while white sugar is dervived either from beet or cane. Brown cane sugar products are a mixture of sugar crystals and syrup. It is the syrup that gives the cane sugar its brown colour and caramelised taste.

The syrup in brown cane sugar contains small amounts of minerals. Compared with other foods, the mineral content of cane sugar is low, and the contribution to the daily recommended intake is negligible.

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Does sugar cause major blood sugar swings?

For healthy people, eating sugar does not cause significant fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Eating sugar causes a smaller rise in blood glucose level than eating starchy foods like white bread, white rice or mashed potatoes. Sugar is therefore rated as medium glycaemic index (GI). When sugar is added to some foods, such as breakfast cereals, it can actually lower the GI of the final product.

What is the glycaemic index?
The glycaemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrates according to their ability to raise blood glucose levels. Glucose is the typical standard against which the GI of other foods is measured, and has a GI of 100 (reference glucose). Fructose, on the other hand, has a low GI (˜15) and sucrose an intermediate GI (˜65). This is lower than the GI of white bread (˜75).

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Does eating too much sugar make children hyperactive?

Scientific studies to date have confirmed no causal relationship between sugar consumption with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In general, studies find that sugar does not affect the behaviour or cognitive performance of children. In terms of risk factors/causes, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that current research shows that genetics plays an important role.

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Scientific reports 

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