What are added sugars and why are they “bad”?

Have you ever heard someone tell you to stay away from sugars? Or … “don’t eat that, it’s full of sugar”. 

What they are referring to is the “added sugars”, which is also synonymous with “refined sugar”. 

Basically, added sugars are sweeteners added to products to give it flavor. These sweeteners are dubbed “added sugars” because they provide little to no nutritional value and therefore are only added to enhance flavor.  They are not naturally derived sugar.

This is not necessarily a bad thing… A lot of people fear the section on the nutrition label that says “sugars” or “added sugars”. But with a little understanding, you’ll see that sugar is not something to fear. 

The “sugars” section on the nutrition label is right under the Carbohydrate total. (See below) The added sugars are included in the total carbohydrates. They are not two separate amounts. 

Nutrition Label Added Sugars

Added sugars can include:

  • Maple syrup
  • Corn syrup 
  • Brown sugar
  • Molasses 
  • White sugar 
  • Simple syrup

When evaluating a product’s “added sugar” content, it’s important to look at the overall nutritional value of the item you’re eating before assuming that it’s unhealthy. 

For example:  Greek yogurt has on average of 7-9 grams of added sugar. But has 12-15 grams of protein, probiotics, calcium, and is low in fat.  It’s a great snack post workout and the benefits of yogurt far outweigh the added sugar content.  The nutrition label above would appear to be the “healthier” option because it has very little added sugar, but it is actually a box of cheesy crackers.

I would also like to note that sugar is broken down and processed in one way and one way ONLY.

A carbohydrate from bread or fruit or candy or mashed potatoes or bananas is no different. It only comes in one form! And your body cannot decipher where or how that sugar got in there. 

So they are all digested the same. And no…. sugar from candy or sweets does not turn right into fat. 

Fat is a product of excess calories. So whether you eat 55 grams of sugar from maple syrup or 55 grams of carbohydrates from vegetables, they will process the same. 

So… Why do people say sugars are so bad? 

The reason added sugars get such a bad rep is because they are commonly found in things like soda, juices, candy, etc. And those products do not provide ANY other nutritional value. No fiber, no protein, no vitamins, no minerals. So you’re basically drinking/eating them solely for calories. A lot of foods like those exist and contribute to our society’s obesity problem. It is a good way to tackle obesity. By avoiding foods high in added sugar (like soda), you eliminate some of those from people’s diets; therefore reducing the amount of calories they eat in a day.


Some juice has vitamin C, but typically juices are really high in sugar and calories. They are stripped of the pulp, which provides a lot of the nutrients and fiber from the fruit! That’s where all the good stuff is! So… think about that next time you want to get into juicing or juice cleanses… 

What about artificial sweeteners?

Another way that companies have tackled the “added sugar” concern in our society is by adding artificial sweeteners to products. Things like Sucralose, Aspartame, and Stevia are added to give that sweet taste, but are thousands of times more potent than regular sugar. They also have been shown to increase obesity and diabetes instead of tackling the problem. 
Personally, I avoid artificial sweeteners. I don’t like the taste and I find them to be too sweet. If you want to decrease the amount of sugar you consume, then you probably don’t want to get your body used to eating food that is super super sweet. 

Decreasing the amount of sugar you eat in small amounts can help. For example, if you normally get 4 pumps of caramel in your coffee a day, try 3 this week. Then 2 in a couple weeks. Pretty soon you’ll barely notice and you’ll probably cut your calories and sugar intake in half. 

Alright… Should I be eating added sugar or not?

The main takeaway from this post is to say that YES, you can eat sugar in a decent moderation and with a well balanced diet. There is no need to avoid sugar and deprive ourselves from certain foods just because of the “added sugar” content. Just be MINDFUL. 

You know yourself, you know what you can/can’t tolerate. I’m not telling you to go out and buy a chocolate cake tonight, but I am telling you that just because that slice of cake may have 30 grams of added sugar, does not mean that you can’t enjoy every last bite of it. Enjoy it, move on, balance it out.   

Plus, there’s antioxidants in chocolate, right?? 

hi there, i’m michelle

welcome to my little home on the internet! I'm a Registered Dietitian and am here to share with you evidenced based and realistic ways to better your health for the long haul. Here you'll learn ways to eat that are both practical and sustainable. Enjoy!

Current Location

Current Location

New Hampshire

Leave a Comment