sugar

Sugar

What is sugar?

Sugars are simple carbohydrates that can be classified as either monosaccharides (simple sugars) or disaccharides (double sugars).

Monosaccharides (Simple Sugars)

Monosaccharides are composed of a single sugar unit and cannot be broken down into a simpler sugar. During digestion, all carbohydrates must be broken down into monosaccharides to be used as energy by the body.

  • Fructose – Commonly found in fruits, honey, and root vegetables.
  • Galactose – Found in small quantities in some fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy. The primary dietary source is from lactose after it has been broken down into glucose and galactose.1
  • Glucose – Commonly found in fruits and honey. The body breaks down most carbohydrates into glucose, which provides quick energy to cells throughout the body.
Disaccharides (Double Sugars)

Disaccharides are formed when two monosaccharides bond.

  • Lactose (Galactose + Glucose) – Primarily found in milk products.
  • Maltose (Glucose + Glucose) – Occurs when starches are broken down by enzymes or yeast. Found in malt and fermented products.
  • Sucrose (Glucose + Fructose) – While sucrose is found in fruits and juices, the primary dietary source is granulated table sugar made from sugar beets and sugar cane.

How does the body use sugar?

Sugar provides the body with roughly four calories of energy per gram. Sugars are rapidly digested and metabolized by the body, providing quick energy that is usually short-lived.

How much sugar is too much?

Most health organizations offer no specific guidance on total sugar intake. Instead, they focus on three key areas that effectively limit sugar intake:2, 3

  1. Limit sugars added by manufacturers to under 10% of calories.
  2. Keep total carbohydrate intake between 45-65% of calories.
  3. Consume 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories.

Consuming a diet that is high in sugar can lead to serious health problems, including weight gain, diabetes, nutrient deficiencies, and tooth decay. If the sugar in your diet primarily comes from healthy sources (such as vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy), you probably have little to worry about. These foods contain nutrients (like protein, fiber, and vitamins) that are essential components of maintaining a balanced diet. On the other hand, if empty calorie foods (such as sweets, soda, and junk food) are the main source of sugar in your diet, you should make changes to your eating habits.

Are you eating too much sugar? Keep a food diary and find out. Track sugar!

Diabetics should consult their physicians.

Which foods are high in sugar?

Example Quantity Sugar (g)
Skittles 1 bag 45.0
Coca-Cola 1 can 39.0
Snickers Bar 1 bar 32.0
Pecan Pie 1 slice 27.0
Molasses 1 tbsp 14.9
Banana 1 banana 14.4
Skim Milk 1 cup 12.0

Additional Resources

Sources
  1. D-Lactose. U.S. National Library of Medicine National.
  2. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  3. Know Your Limit for Added Sugars. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

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