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Sugar FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

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Q:Which of the items below is not a natural sugar?

A:Saccharin. Saccharin is not a natural sugar. It is an artificial sweetener that is used in place of sugar because it has no calories and does not increase blood sugar levels after consumption.

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Q:Nutralose is an artificial sweetener. True or False?

A:True. Nutralose is not an artificial sweetener. Still, there's no shortage of no-calorie sweeteners on the market. The FDA has approved five artificial ones, including aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and neotame.

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Q:The average American consumes the equivalent of how many teaspoons of sugar per day?

A:21. The average American eats the equivalent of about 21 teaspoons of added sugar a day -- about two and a half to three times more than new heart disease prevention guidelines say they should. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans basically consume their weight in sugar in a year's time.

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Q:A gram of sugar is equivalent to what measurement?

A:¼ teaspoon. A gram of sugar is equivalent to ¼ teaspoon. If you visualize a regular teaspoon of sugar, there you have about 4 grams of sugar. Now, think of this: A serving of a favorite food or drink contains 16 grams, or 4 teaspoons of sugar! That's 4 teaspoons in one serving! Can you see how sugar sneaks into your diet?

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Q:What is defined as any caloric sweetener used in processed or prepared foods?

A:Added sugar. Added sugar is defined as any caloric sweetener used in processed or prepared foods. Beyond increasing calories, added sugars have no nutritional value. In guidelines released late in 2009, the American Heart Association recommended limiting added sugar in the diet to no more than 100 calories a day for most women and 150 calories for most men. That's about 6 teaspoons of sugar a day for women and 9 teaspoons for men.

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Q:When grocery shopping, one of the ways to avoid foods with added sugar is to?

A:Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. "The old mantra to shop the perimeter of the grocery store is as true today as it ever was," says University of Vermont nutrition professor Rachel K. Johnson, PhD, the author of the AHA sugar guidelines. Think about your local supermarket. Where are the vegetables, fruits, and lean meats located? More than likely, you can find them on or near the perimeter of the store. A diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean meats will be low in added sugars.

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Q:The number one source of added sugar in our diet comes from?

A:Beverages. Surprised? Beverages are the number one source of added sugar in the diet, and we aren't just talking about soft drinks. Most fruit drinks and sports drinks are full of added sugar.

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Q:Humans naturally prefer the taste of sugar from birth. True or False?

A:True. We like comfort foods. We like sweets. We like sugar. We're just hardwired that way. The truth is that sweet is the first taste we humans prefer from birth, so it's no surprise that sugar water takes the "ouch" out of things like routine shots for babies. Humans have this preference for sugar largely because carbohydrates stimulate the release of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. Of the approximately 40 million brain cells, most are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin. This includes brain cells related to mood, sexual function, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and appetite. Sweet!

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Q:The human body gets its carbohydrates from sugar, fat, and fibers. True or False?

A:False. Carbohydrates consist of sugars, starches, and fibers. Current dietary guidance recommends consumption of carbohydrate-containing foods, including vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds, and milk products. Carbohydrate-containing foods are an important source of fiber and other nutrients. Sugars and starches provide glucose, the main energy source for the brain, central nervous system, and red blood cells.

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Q:The United States leads the world in sugar production. True or False?

A:False. In terms of the production of sugar worldwide, as a country, Brazil accounts for 25% of all the sugar produced in the world. As a continent, though, Asia is the sugar production leader worldwide, producing more than one-third of the world's sugar at 38%. If that's not sweet enough, Asia is forecasted to produce 62 million tons (that's 124,000,000,000 pounds) of sugar over the next two years!

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Q:What is NOT true about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)?

A:It contributes to skin cancer. There is no evidence to show that consuming high-fructose corn syrup contributes to any sort of skin cancer. HFCS, like table sugar, is made up of the sugars fructose and glucose but is far cheaper to produce than plain table sugar. The sweetness of high-fructose corn syrup blends well with packaged foods, such as yogurts, baked and canned foods, and with many sweet beverages.

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Q:What is the scientific name for table (cane) sugar?

A:Sucrose. Sucrose, or sugar, is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable as a major byproduct of photosynthesis (the process of turning the sun's energy into food). It's found in the greatest quantities in sugar cane and sugar beets.

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Q:On average, how much sugar do Americans consume every day?

A:⅓ pound. Americans consume about ⅓ pound of sugar per day. That's right. That's ⅓ pound of sugar for every man, woman, and child in America, and that's a lot of sugar.

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Q:Sugar toxicity causes liver damage. True or False?

A:True. Toxicity refers to the degree to which a substance is harmful. With that in mind, similar to alcohol toxicity, sugar toxicity causes liver damage. The liver toxicity, in turn, fuels the cholesterol abnormalities, insulin resistance, inflammation, high blood pressure, and other heart disease risk factors that drive the heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes epidemics that have skyrocketed in America during the past few decades.

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Q:Saccharin is 300-500 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). True or False?

A:True. Saccharin is an artificial sweetener, which, diluted in water, is 300-500 times sweeter than regular table sugar. Once thought of as a carcinogen, the U.S. government removed saccharin from its list of potential cancer-causing agents in the year 2000 because tests showed that saccharin causes tumors in rats, not people.

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Q:What is lactase?

A:An enzyme that breaks down lactose. Lactose intolerance occurs when the small intestine does not make lactase. Your body needs an enzyme called lactase to break down, or digest, lactose, a natural sugar found in milk and milk products. When lactose moves through the large intestine (colon) without being properly digested, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as gas, belly pain, and bloating. Some people with lactose intolerance cannot digest any milk products. Others can eat or drink small amounts of milk products or certain types of milk products without problems.

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Q:Where does granulated white sugar come from?

A:Beets and sugar cane. Many or even most foods in the supermarket have some sugar added, including breads, cereals, yogurts, processed meats, soups, and condiments. Added sugar comes in many possible forms, including granulated white sugar (from sugar cane or beets), brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, corn syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup.

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Q:Sugar Addict: President Ronald Reagan had to have what on his desk at all times?

A:Jelly beans. There's no denying that we Americans love our sugary treats. Former President Ronald Reagan had to have jelly beans on his desk at all times. Vending machines in schools, offices, and almost everywhere else feed our desire to eat sweets throughout the day. With sales of sodas, candy, and other sweets soaring, it's clear that, as a nation, we are virtually addicted to sugar in all its glorious forms.

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