Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Pure, White, But Maybe Not So Deadly

By Tim Olds

Is there something uniquely unhealthy about sugar above and beyond the excess calories?

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There are some personal matters one is reticent about putting into print in a national magazine, but here is one: I take three sugars in my tea. I will also confess that breakfast cereal for me is pretty much just a vehicle for cream and sugar. So I’ve been a little alarmed by the recent controversies around sugar and sugar taxes.

Sugars are carbohydrates with a caloric density of about 16 kJ per gram. Table sugar (sucrose) is a combination of glucose and fructose. These sugars have slightly different molecular structures, and are broken down by different pathways in the body. High-fructose corn syrup, which is derived from corn and is widely used in the US, particularly in soft drinks, is also a mix of glucose and fructose but has a slightly different molecular structure to sucrose.

About 20% of calories in the US adult diet come from simple sugars, of which two-thirds is in the form of added sugars (table sugar and sugars added during manufacturing) and the rest from naturally occurring simple sugars (such as in honey and fruit). In the US, about one-third of all added sugars come from sugar-sweetened drinks. The World Health Organization suggests that no more than 10% of total energy intake, and preferably no more than 5%, should come from simple sugars.

It’s notoriously difficult to put together reliable data on trends in diet, but economic and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.