Making Sense of Sugar

A common question Nutritionist get asked is whether some types of sugar are better for you than others?

Fact: All “types” of sugar (honey, brown, white, agave, maple, brown rice syrup) have similar, if not the same effect on your body – meaning they are all ultimately broken down into the same thing: glucose. And the truth is, we do need glucose to live.

There’s no doubt that sugar is a contributing factor to our growing waistlines (and associated disease, such as heart disease and diabetes), but it isn’t the only thing to consider when trying to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Sugary foods happen to have lots of calories coming from other nutrients such as added fat, and are usually heavily processed. And we know if you eat a lot of calories, you’ll gain weight and become unhealthy.

Bottom line is that you can’t entirely blame sugar – just curb the processed junk and eat real food.

How Much Sugar Are Aussies Eating?

The Australian Health Survey found that in 2011-2012, Australians were consuming an average of 60g of sugars each day, or the equivalent of 14 teaspoons of white sugar.

Not surprisingly, the majority of these sugars were coming from “extra” foods and drinks, such as processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.

So if you really want to shy away from sugar, but confused about which alternative to choose? Here’s a simplified guide.

HONEY – Kilojoules per teaspoon: 92

WHAT IS IT? A liquid sweetener produced naturally by honey bees. Like table sugar, honey is made up of two simple sugars: glucose and fructose. Honey does contain more kilojoules than table sugar, but as honey is a little sweeter, you need less of it. Unlike table sugar, honey also contains very small amounts of nutrients, including B-vitamins, niacin, zinc, potassium, folate and calcium.

BEST FOR: Providing a sweet flavour to smoothies, yoghurt, dressings and marinades.

TIP: Honey is believed to have a number of health benefits, particularly antibacterial and wound-healing qualities. It is not suitable for children under the age of one due to the risk of contracting botulism.


Kilojoules per teaspoon: 92

WHAT IS IT? Sweeter than honey, agave nectar is also a combination of fructose and glucose sugars. “is syrup is derived from the Mexican ‘agave’ plant through intense processing. However, due to agave’s high fructose content, agave nectar has a very low Glycaemic Index (GI), which makes it diabetic-friendly.

BEST FOR: Giving warm and iced beverages a touch of sweetness, but it’s a little diffcult to bake with.

TIP: Although agave is perceived as a healthier alternative to table sugar, agave is still a highly refined and processed sweetener, so best enjoyed in moderation.


Kilojoules per teaspoon: 64

WHAT IS IT? Also known as “fruit sugar” because it is the main type of naturally occurring sugar in fruits and some vegetables. Besides being the sweetest of all sugars, it has the lowest GI of all naturally occurring sugars.

BEST FOR: For a truly natural and nourishing sugar %x, opt for fresh fruit and vegetables in their whole form.

TIP: Fructose has received bad press of late, with some studies suggesting it contributes to growing levels of obesity. This is more of an issue in the US, where fructose in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is commonly used in soft drinks as it is less expensive than cane sugar. Luckily, the fructose in whole foods also contains a bunch of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. This differs from HFCS, which is basically sugar with all the good stuff ripped out.


These alternatives are plant derivatives that taste like sugar but contain fewer kilojoules with minimal e$ect on blood sugar levels.

Using sugar substitutes in place of sugar as part of a healthy diet may be useful for people concerned about their dental health, limiting their kilojoule intake or controlling their blood glucose levels.


Kilojoules per teaspoon: 7.9

WHAT IS IT? One of the most publicised sweeteners in Australia. It is made with stevia leaf extracts. Stevia is a natural and versatile alternative to other sweeteners, with no carbohydrates, minimal kilojoules and is over 200 times sweeter than table sugar.

BEST FOR: Sweetening hot and cold beverages. Add to your favourite fruits and cereals. It can also be used in baking as it is heat stable.

Stevia in its plant form can have quite a bitter aftertaste, but products such as Equal Stevia have been formulated to reduce this bitterness and provide a clean and sweet taste.


Kilojoules: range from 1 to 11 kilojoules per gram.

WHAT IS IT? Even though they are called sugar alcohols, they do not contain alcohol. Sugar alcohols are a type of sweetener made from natural carbohydrate found in %brous fruit and vegetables. Common examples include xylitol, erithrytol, mannitol and sorbitol. You can cnd them in ice creams, chewing gums, so& drinks, baked goods, sweets, biscuits and puddings that are labelled as “sugar- free” or “no sugar added”. Sugar alcohols also have less of an e$ect on blood sugar levels and the taste is o&en sweeter than sugar.

BEST USE: Used to sweeten tea and co$ee, and in baking.

TIP: Sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect or other gastric symptoms in some people, especially in children.

Looking for healthy snack low in added sugar? Satisfy your sweet tooth with these Oat, Banana and Chia Muffins

Want more advice for living a balanced life? Follow us on Instagram or join the The Right Balance community by tagging #therightbalance in IG posts.

Like what you read? Subscribe to our free newsletter for up-to-date and exclusive content.

You might also be interested in...