Share:

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to actually gain weight without changing your activity level or caloric intake?

Yes, it is possible! In the film, That Sugar Film, Damon Gameau actually gained weight without changing his activity level or caloric intake.  What happened to him is also happening to millions of Americans who over-consume added sugar, making us the fattest nation on earth.  This was the point that Mr. Gameau was trying to illustrate in the film by doing this experiment on himself—something many of us doing science on health have come to understand based on the evidence.  

This somewhat complex—having to do with how sugar’s damage to the liver leads to changes in hormones in the body.

To get a better understanding of the mechanics of this, click on the “research” on sugarscience.org .  Read the material on the page called “Too much can make us sick.”  The material on the page “Toxic truth” might also be helpful.

An apple can contain 23 grams of sugar. How can I eat a balanced diet and limit sugar to 25 grams?

The sugar limits that we use on SugarScience only apply to added sugar – sugar that is added to food during processing, either in a factory, in the kitchen or at the table. Naturally-occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables are not included in these tallies for three reasons. First, studies show that eating fruit and vegetables is protective of heart disease (the #1 cause of death worldwide), while the evidence shows that sugary drinks and foods put us at greater risk for heart disease. Second, when sugar occurs in nature, it normally comes packaged with fiber, which slows down our body’s absorption of the sugars and reduces its impact on the pancreas and liver—vital organs that can be affected by sugar overload. By contrast, added sugar is most commonly found in foods with low fiber or no fiber at all, such as beverages. Third, fruits and vegetables carry with them vital nutrients that are beneficial to health. So go ahead — eat your fruit! 

Are natural sugars, such as honey and maple syrup as bad as processed sugars like high-fructose corn syrup?

There’s good news regarding some natural sugars, such as honey and maple syrup, both of which contain protective antioxidants and some other potential health benefits. See our December 10 blog for more details, especially on honey. In terms of processed sugar, the science doesn’t indicate that sugar is inherently bad in small amounts — the real health issues occur when we over-consume added sugars. So, while there may be some health benefits to honey and maple syrup in comparison to processed sugars, our scientific team recommends keeping all added sugars below the recommended limits of 6 teaspoons/day (25g) for women and 9 teaspoons (38g) for men.

What is added sugar?

Added sugar is any sugar that is added to food or beverages during processing, food preparation or at the table. It is distinct from naturally occurring sugars in fruit, vegetables or other foods that don't have ingredient lists. There are 61 different names for sugar used in food processing that appear on ingredient lists.

What's the difference between table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup? Is one worse than the other?

Table sugar (sucrose), derived from sugar cane and beets, is made up of equal portions of two types of sugars.  It's half (50%) glucose and half (50%) fructose. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is derived from corn syrups that have undergone enzymatic processing to convert some of their glucose into fructose to produce a desired sweetness. HFCS comes in different formulations, depending on the manufacturer.  More common formulations contain 42% fructose or 55% percent, but some contain as much as 90%. Why should we care?  First, because there is significant evidence that fructose is processed differently in the body than other sugars and can be toxic to the liver, just like alcohol.  Second, because as a nation, we have been consuming more of our sugars in HFCS over time (see chart from USDA). See our glossary for a definition of terms.

Do you believe there is causal link between sugar and cancer?

It’s too soon to tell because we just don’t have enough studies in this area. But researchers are actively looking into it. Heavy intake of the common sugar, fructose, has been associated with increased risk of pancreatic and small intestinal cancers, and possibly others. While the research in this area is not conclusive, new evidence is emerging all the time. Stay tuned to SugarScience.org as we follow this line of research and report on it.

How much sugar is safe for a 3-year-old child?

The American Heart Association's (AHA) recommended limits for children vary depending on their age and caloric needs, but range between 3-6 teaspoons (12 - 25 grams) of added sugar per day.  If the child is younger, aim toward a limit of 3 teaspoons (12 grams) per day.  We reviewed a wide range of expert panel reports on dietary recommendations for added sugar, and found the AHA guidelines to be the best supported by the latest research on sugar and health.

Is there scientific evidence that sugar causes hyperactivity in kids?

Presenting with symptoms such as difficulties paying attention, hard to control behaviors, or hyperactivity, children with ADHD have behavior difficulties in at least two different domains such as at home and in school.  Given that ADHD stems from both genetic and environmental factors, it is not surprising that a combination of medication, parent education, school support, and behavioral therapy are most effective in treating the condition.   Interestingly, studies that examine the connection between sugar intake and behavior are mixed, and most scientists would argue that there isn’t enough evidence to invoke sugar as a culprit in ADHD. However, studies do seem to suggest that select children are more ‘sugar-sensitive’ than others. 

If you cut sodas, candy, cake, cookies, white rice, white bread will that help reverse pre diabetic?

If you already have advanced metabolic syndrome (e.g., diabetes or heart disease), eliminating sugar isn’t likely to completely reverse it, but it will help stop the damage from progressing and, over the long term, may generate health benefits. For healthy people, studies have shown that eliminating sugar can slowly improve metabolic health and reduce the toll of the stress that sugar places on bodily organs, such as the pancreas and liver. Other studies have shown that health improvements (e.g., blood pressure and cholesterol levels) are evident as early as two weeks after changing to a healthier diet. The real health benefits of consuming added sugar in moderation will take place over time.

What is SugarScience?

SugarScience.org is designed as an authoritative source for the scientific evidence behind sugar and its impact on health. Developed by a team of health scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), the site reflects an exhaustive review of more than 8,000 scientific papers that have been published to date, with a focus on the areas where the science is strongest – specifically, on diabetesheart disease and liver disease. The goal of SugarScience is to take this information out of medical journals and make it available to the public, to help individuals and communities make healthy choices.

Whose research do your scientific conclusions reflect?

The SugarScience team has conducted an exhaustive review of the scientific literature on sugar and health, combing through thousands of research papers to ensure that what we say represents the most current and accurate scientific knowledge in this field. The foundational database of scientific literature includes all relevant scientific studies, regardless of publication date, type, national origin, funding source, authorship or conclusion. 

How do I get my kids to stop drinking soda?

The best alternatives for kids are water and milk, but if those are unappealing, there are other options. Try keeping a bottle of water in the refrigerator with lemon or cucumber slices in it, to meet their need for a cold drink with some flavor. If you need to make a gradual switch, start by giving them bubbly water mixed with 100% juice and gradually decrease the amount of juice. Also, make sure sweet foods are only served as a treat after meals and offer fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks. Every little bit helps.

If I stop eating sugar, how fast will I see health benefits?

If you already have advanced metabolic syndrome (e.g., diabetes or heart disease), eliminating sugar isn’t likely to completely reverse it, but it will help stop the damage from progressing and, over the long term, may generate health benefits. For healthy people, studies have shown that eliminating sugar can slowly improve metabolic health and reduce the toll of the stress that sugar places on bodily organs, such as the pancreas and liver. Other studies have shown that health improvements (e.g., blood pressure and cholesterol levels) are evident as early as two weeks after changing to a healthier diet. The real health benefits of consuming added sugar in moderation will take place over time.

How do your recommendations compare to national sugar guidelines?

There currently is no single government-recommended daily value (RDV) for sugar in the United States.  However, there is a global recommendation provided by the World Health Organization, the top global health agency of the United Nations.  SugarScience follows the American Heart Association guideline, which recommends limiting sugar to less than 6 teaspoons/day (25 g) for women, 3-6 tsp. (12-25 g) for children, and 9 tsp. (38 g) for men. The World Health Organization limit is similar: it suggests consuming no more than 5% of our daily calories in added sugar, which amounts to about 25 g of added sugar in a 2,000-calorie diet. 

What are the main health dangers in sugar?

Overconsumption of added sugar, over long periods of time, is associated with being overweight or obese, which are risk factors for a wide range of health problems. However, even in people who aren’t overweight or obese, long-term sugar consumption has been linked to chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. Taken together, chronic diseases are the main cause of death worldwide. Researchers are currently studying the relationships between sugar overconsumption and a range of other diseases, including some cancers, addiction, Alzheimer’s disease and decreased cognitive function. The SugarScience team will continue to follow the science in those areas and will update SugarScience.org as this research develops. 

Is all sugar equally unhealthy?

Research has found a difference in the health impact of added sugars vs. sugars naturally occurring in food. For example, eating more fruit over time appears to protect us from heart disease, the number one cause of death in America and worldwide.  Meanwhile, heavily consuming sugary drinks and sugar-laden processed foods appears to increase the risks of acquiring heart disease and, ultimately, the risk of dying from it.  Scientists are studying a range of reasons for this.  It may have to do with the ways in which sugar comes packaged in the fiber in fruit, and packaged with beneficial nutrients (such as antioxidants) that are known to protect us from heart disease.

What are hidden sugars?

Hidden sugars are types of sugar added to processed foods that most people do not recognize as sugar.  They are “hidden” by packaging that markets products as “healthy” and “wholesome.”

What is liquid sugar?

Liquid sugar describes beverages that are sweetened with added sugar, such as high-fructose corn syrup in sodas or sweetened sports drinks, teas and “fruit” juices. The sugar added to soda, sports drinks and energy drinks makes up 36% of all the added sugar consumed.  That makes liquid sugar the single largest source of added sugar in the average American’s diet.

What is 'sugar belly'?

Sugar belly refers to weight gain around the abdomen as a result of eating too much sugar – what doctors refer to as “visceral fat.” Fat stored around the midsection is different from other fat and can send signals that disrupt the body's ability to sense fullness and stop eating. If a person’s waist circumference is significantly larger than his or her hip circumference, this may be a sign of Metabolic Syndrome (MetS). In such a case, it is important to consult with a physician, who may want to run some blood tests to assess whether MetS is a concern.

SugarScience Facts

Growing scientific evidence shows that too much added sugar, over time, is linked to diabetes, heart disease and liver disease.

SugarScience Facts

Too much fructose in added sugar can damage your liver just like too much alcohol.

SugarScience Facts

Today, 31% of American adults and 13% of kids suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Ask the
SugarScientists

Have questions? Our team of scientists
is here to respond.

Get Your Answers

SugarScience
Resource Kit

Download posters, flyers, videos and more to help you share the facts with your community.

Select Your Resources