Sugar and Alternative Sweeteners
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What is safe?

CTV News LogoThere have been plenty of negative discussions about sugar in the media, documentary films as well as consultations by groups such as the World Health Organization and Health Canada’s recent proposed food label changes. Here are some things you need to know:

What are the concerns with eating too much sugar?

sugarSimilar to consuming too much of anything, too much sugar can increase the total calories of your diet and increase the risk of obesity. Excess sugar consumption is also a large concern for tooth decay in adults and children. Taking in too much sugar can also take the place for other nutrient dense foods that are rich in nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre that we need for good health. There is also growing research to suggest that high sugar consumption can increase triglycerides (a blood fat similar to cholesterol that can increase the risk of heart disease).

What are the guidelines saying about sugar?

Currently there are varying opinions about how much added sugar is too much. The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI’s) by the Institute of Medicine and endorsed by Health Canada suggest no more than 25% of total energy should come from added sugars.

The 2002 World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations suggest added sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy per day. The new draft guidelines also suggests that added sugars should make up less than 10% of total energy but also that a reduction to less than 5% of total energy intake would have additional benefits.

While we all need variable levels of calories as an example, for a 2000-calorie diet 5% of total energy would be the equivalent of 25 grams of sugar per day (about 6 teaspoons). For the same calorie level 25% of total energy would be the equivalent of 125 grams of sugar per day (about 31 teaspoons). One can of pop has about 40 grams sugar (10 teaspoons) and one cup of sugary cereal has about 15 grams sugar (4 teaspoons) and a couple of bought cookies without icing has at least 15 grams sugar (4 teaspoons).

What is the difference between added sugar and total sugar?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. To our body regardless if we consume honey, brown sugar, white sugar, agave, maple syrup, fruit or vegetables, these are all simple sugars made up of single and double units of sugar. The difference between them all is nutritional density or the amount of vitamins, minerals and fibre they contain.

The above recommendations are both based on added sugar, which is based on glucose, fructose, sucrose (table sugar) as well as sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit concentrates. Added sugar is found in foods such as pop, cake, cookies, chocolate bars, frozen desserts, granola bars and more.

Total sugar is currently listed on a food label and includes a combination of added sugar as well as those that are naturally occurring in foods such as fruit, vegetables and dairy foods. It can be confusing on a label to see foods such as a carton of milk or package of baby carrots displaying grams of total sugar. These foods obviously do not have sugar added to them but contain natural carbohydrates (milk contains lactose and carrots contain fructose and glucose).

What is the bottom line when it comes to sugar?

No one food or nutrient contributes to obesity, disease and health issues. There are no bad foods, just bad overall diets. Similar to the trends we have seen in the past for low-fat diets and low-carb diets, remember to keep things in perspective. Sugar is not a villain and you don’t need to have a sugar-free diet.   If you have been consuming an excessive amount of pop, sugary beverages, candy, desserts and other sugary foods of course you could benefit from reducing these. You don’t need to eliminate them, but be clear on what you really love and save room for these favorites.

You won’t find me eating candy and pop since they are not my favorites but I do love chocolate and homemade baked goods such as muffins and cookies that contain regular white sugar. I also enjoy maple syrup on pancakes and a sprinkle of brown sugar on oatmeal.

What about the safety of alternative sweeteners?

A Sept 2014 widely publicized article published in Nature* showed artificial sweeteners caused glucose intolerance (a rise in blood sugars) a condition that can lead to diabetes and obesity. This study suggested consuming saccharin (such as pink packets of Sweet N’Low pink packets), Sucralose (such as yellow packets of Splenda) and Aspartame (such as blue packets of Equal) appears to favor growth of gut bacteria that breaks down sugary products in a more efficient way.

This one very small preliminary study (mostly on rats and with very few humans) shouldn’t be taken as a firm recommendation but as something that certainly needs to be investigated. Non-caloric artificial sweeteners are among the most widely used food additives worldwide. At this time Health Canada has approved alternative sweeteners as safe when consumed within the Acceptable Dietary Intake (ADI). For a good consumer friendly overview highlighting the ADI’s visit here.

At the end of the day, the thing to remember is neither a diet based on a high level of sugar or a high level of alternative sweeteners is ideal. I have noticed that clients of ours may find it hard to acquire a taste for more whole natural foods we want them to eat more of when they are constantly sipping artificially sweetened flavored waters and diet pop.

My personal vote? As a foodie I consider alternative sweeteners fake foods that simply don’t taste good and instead prefer to have a bit of the real thing (ie/ sugar).


Click here for a printer-friendly PDF of this article

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As seen in


Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This