Sugar 101

What do you think of when you hear the word sugar? Do you think of white granulated sugar, candy, syrup or something else? Sugar and carbohydrates in general have gotten a bad rep in the past few years, mostly due to the fact that many food products have added sugar, which contributes to an increase in total calories resulting in weight gain. Below is a quick guide to sugar and how to incorporate it into a healthy lifestyle.


What is sugar?

Sugar is a general term to describe digestible carbohydrates found in food. Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth and continues into the stomach and small intestine where is broken down into glucose and absorbed. Glucose is vital to cell function and the primary source of energy, especially for the brain. There are many different chemical bonds that are under the category of carbohydrates, outlined below.


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Types of Carbohydrates
Monosaccharides Disaccharides Oligosaccharides Polysaccharides
Structure Simplest of sugar structures. Composed of 3-7 carbons Formed with two monosaccharides Small, water-soluble 3-10 monosaccharide units Greater than 10 monosaccharide bonds
Types of sugar Fructose, Glucose and Galactose Sucrose (glucose and fructose)

Lactose (galactose and glucose)

Maltose (two glucose)

Non-digestible portions of the molecule are dietary fiber.

Can also contain glycoproteins and glycolipids

Starch, amylose, amylopectin, dextrin



Types of sugar:

Here is a non-comprehensive list of common types of sugar used for consumption. Note that most of these are in the form of sucrose, meaning they have similar chemical structure and are broken down the same way in the body.



Honey-  The nectar by-product of pollination of flowers by bees.Contains trace amounts of amino acids.

Evaporated Cane Juice--An unrefined sugar product extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets.

Raw sugar-- Extracted like granulated sugar from sugarcane or beets, but uses of evaporation to form crystals instead of refining. This results in the sticky, outer coating to remain intact.

Brown Sugar- Formed at the end-stage of sugar refining, the sugar crystallizes and increases molasses content.

Maple syrup- Sap extracted from Maple trees as a result of starch storage during the winter months.

Molasses-- End by product of sugar refining where granulated sugar crystals continue to be heated into a thick syrup.

Coconut Sugar -- (Mostly sucrose with a small percentage of glucose and fructose) Extracted from coconut trees. The sap is then heated to evaporate the high water content until granules are formed. Refer to our Coconut blog for more info on coconut nutrient content.

Granulated Sugar-This is your common table sugar harvested from sugar canes and sugar beets. This sugar goes through a refining process that removes a sticky, outer coating and purifies the product.



Agave Nectar/Syrup- Extracted from the Blue Agave plant native to Mexico and is commonly used in making tequila.

High Fructose Corn Syrup- Created by converting glucose found in corn starch into fructose. This results in a liquid, high concentrated sugar product.


Artificial Sweeteners:

Non-nutritive sweeteners are used to save calories and carbohydrate intake while giving foods and beverages sweet flavor. Below are a list of sugar-substitutes approved by the FDA for safe use and their known brand name. Refer to each brand for further specifications of nutrition facts and suggested substitutions. Also refer to the FDA’s website for more info on artificial sweeteners.

Stevia-- also known as Truvia

Sucralose-- The yellow packet

Aspartame-- The blue packet

Saccharine-- The pink packet

Sugar alcohols- glycerol, erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol are commonly added to foods, beverages and chewing gum


But what about the sugar in fruit?

Fructose is the structure found in fruit, including fresh, canned and frozen fruit. The actual content of carbohydrate in fruit is variable. For example, bananas have a higher carbohydrate content than berries, but both can fit into an overall healthy diet with the practice of portion control. Fruit also has the added benefit of vitamins and minerals, essential for cell development, and fiber, to aid in digestion. Some fruit products, such as fresh squeezed or pressed juice, advertise “no added sugar”. While this is true, be mindful that a serving of fruit juice is 4 ounces and is missing that added benefit of fiber. Also watch out for juice cocktails, which have additional sugar added to the juice. When not in portion, these drinks can have as much sugar as soda!


How much sugar should I consume and from what sources?

As you can see, there are lots of different types and sources of sugar. Most of the common sugars available for consumption are utilized in the body the same way, therefore, it is up to your preference of what you like to use. Some prefer agave nectar and honey because they are more “natural” forms of sugar. Click here to refer to our article on natural food.

The FDA recommends less than 10% of total calorie intake to be from added sugars. The FDA recently unveiled the redesign of Nutrition Fact Labels to include the amount of added sugars in foods. Click here to learn more.

Below are some more tips to lower your sugar intake.

  • Choose unsweetened and zero calorie drinks.
  • Choose fresh fruit as a dessert or as a topping for yogurt or oatmeal.
  • Switch to sugar substitutes to sweeten teas and coffee.
  • Keep sweets in portion and as a “once in awhile” treat.
  • Stick to serving sizes when it comes to syrups, jams and other sweet toppings.
  • For overall reduction in calorie intake, also keep other carbohydrate foods (grains, corns, potatoes and beans) in portion control (around ¼ of your plate)


Below are some more article on sugar metabolism, reducing sugar intake, high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. For more specific questions, feel free to ask us!

Fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or indexes of liver health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. (NCBI)