Taken as part of a healthy, balanced diet, sugar can be enjoyed in moderation. Your body does not distinguish between the various types of sugar and thus treats them all in essentially the same way, whether they occur naturally in a food or are added.

A healthy diet should include a variety of different types of foods such as:

  • Cereals and cereal products
  • Roots and tubers
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes (peas and beans)
  • Meat, poultry and fish
  • Dairy products

Some foods contain natural sugar (fruit and milk) while others may have sugar added (ice cream, cakes and biscuits). Added sugar can make nutritious foods more appealing. For example, a glass of lime juice, a bowl of soybean curd or a bowl of red bean soup often taste better with a little added sugar.

The Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has indicated that sugar can play a role in a healthy diet. However, if your energy needs are very low or you are overweight, you should go easy on the total calories consumed from all sources.

Sugar is an important source of energy. As there are no caloric differences between various types of sugar, the body uses sugar in essentially the same way.

During digestion, all carbohydrates, including sugars and starches (e.g. rice, noodles and bread) break down into single units of sugar, which, in turn, are converted to glucose. Glucose travels through the bloodstream to the body’s cells to provide energy or is stored for future use. Glucose is the only nutrient that the brain and red blood cells can use for energy.

Weight gain results when a person regularly consumes more calories than he or she expends because almost all foods contain calories.

The energy content of food is measured in calories or kilojoules. Nutrients such as carbohydrate, protein and fat provide energy for the body. All carbohydrates, including sugars, provide 4 calories (16 kilojoules) per gramme. Protein provides the same amount. Fats provide 9 calories (37 kilojoules) per gramme while alcohol provides 7 calories (29 kilojoules) per gramme.

A lack of exercise also plays a significant role in an individual becoming overweight. If you want to lose weight, nutritionists recommend eating fewer calories from all sources and increasing physical activity.

Researchers have yet to discover why diabetes occurs. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that sugar does NOT cause it. A proper lifestyle, including regular physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight, helps reduce the risk of diabetes.

Recent nutritional guidelines from the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation state that most diabetics can enjoy moderate amounts of sugar each day as part of mixed meals.

Eating sugar does NOT cause hyperactivity. In a recent study, researchers examined the effect of sugar on the behaviour of certain children, who were selected because their parents believed their kids reacted negatively to sugar. The study found no difference in the behaviour of these young ones when they ate higher-than-normal amounts of sugar compared to when they consumed diets low in sugar.

Research actually suggests that sugar tends to have a calming effect on both children and adults. This effect, however, could go unnoticed due to other influences, for instance, the excitement of a birthday party or festival, which could override the calming effect.

Tooth decay is the result of various factors, including hereditary tendencies and the make-up and flow of saliva. Sugar and other carbohydrates such as rice, noodles and bread also play a part. Bacteria found on the teeth use carbohydrate to make acid and over time, these acids can break down the tooth enamel to form cavities.

A frequent intake of foods or drinks that contain carbohydrate may increase the chance of tooth decay by not allowing saliva sufficient time to neutralise the acids. The use of fluoride toothpastes and better dental care, however, has led to a decline in tooth decay in recent years.

Many lifestyle and hereditary factors play a role in the development of heart disease. These include obesity, a high intake of fat (especially saturated fats), a low intake of fruits and vegetables and a lack of exercise. Sugar, however, has NOT been identified as a risk factor for heart disease.