About Sugar

Sugar and Nutrition

Sugar Chemistry

Sucrose, commonly called sugar is a type of carbohydrate obtained principally from sugar cane.

All sugars have different sweetness and characteristics which in turn influence the unique taste and appeal of the foods in which they occur.
Sucrose is the most common sugar in our diet, occurring naturally in many foods and being an important ingredient in a variety of manufactured foods, where it contributes essential textural and keeping qualities as well as enhancing taste and appeal. It is important to note that our bodies are unable to distinguish between naturally occurring and added sugars in foods, using both as energy sources.

All carbohydrates are compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, forming basic simple sugar arranged as chains of simple sugar units, which in turn are arranged in chains or groups to make a range of starches and sugars. Sucrose has the chemical formula C12 H22O11.

All carbohydrates are originally formed by the process of photosynthesis. The energy of sunlight, transformed into chemical energy by the chlorophyll in green plants, forms plant sugars from water and atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Plants such as sugar cane make carbohydrates (sucrose) as a means of storing energy. Sugar cane contains about 15 percent sucrose (by mass) which is extracted through milling and refining processes.

Types of Refined Sugars

White Sugar

Composition: 99.9% Sugar

Also known as granulated sugar, table sugar or refined sugar. Is one of the world’s purest foods. Its is essentially the naturally occurring sugar from the sugar cane but with all ‘impurities’ such as mineral ash and polyphenols completely removed. Quite a multipurpose sugar used for baking, sprinkling, creaming and adding to hot drinks.

Raw Sugar

Composition: 99.2% Sugar

Raw sugar has a slightly darker colour compared to white sugar. This comes from the molasses that is left on the sugar crystals. It is usually partially refined, retaining 4% molasses. Because of this it has a slightly different flavour as well. Most commonly, it is used in coffee, baking, chutneys or relishes. The only difference between this and coffee crystals is the size.

Coffee Sugar

Composition: 99.2% Sugar

Coffee Sugar is a large grained, amber-coloured brown sugar with a characteristic flavour.

In nutrition, it is virtually identical to white sugar. It has some minerals but not enough to give a great health advantage over white sugar.

Brown Sugar

Composition: 99.2% Sugar

Brown sugar can come in many different names and varieties. It can therefore come by many different names such as light brown, dark brown, golden brown or golden yellow sugar. They are all just blends of white sugar with different amounts of molasses added. It can therefore have quite a different taste compared to white sugar. The uses of brown sugar range from biscuits, gingerbread, carrot cakes and mince tarts.

In spite of trace amounts of minerals in molasses, brown sugar contains only slightly more nutritive value than raw sugar because the amounts added back are so small.

Sugar and Health

Sugar (sucrose) is one of a wide variety of carbohydrates in our diets which provide energy for all body cells.

Sugar does not cause heart disease, diabetes, cancer or behavioural problems, is no more than one factor in the development of dental cavities, not does it have any special role in the development of obesity, or compromise nutrient intake.

Nutritional science over the past two decades has clearly and consistently proven that previously held concerns about sugar and health are unfounded. This is reflected in the findings from a number of major reports on sugar and health in recent years.

All reports acknowledge that dental cavities are caused by a number of factors and there is now consensus that all fermentable carbohydrates (all sugars, both naturally occurring in foods and added to foods and cooked starches) have the potential to cause dental cavities.

Recommendations direct to regular brushing of teeth with fluoride toothpaste and a reduced frequency of eating and drinking all types of carbohydrates.

Australian Dietary Guidelines

The revised 1992 Dietary Guidelines for Australians state: Eat only a moderate amount of sugars and foods containing added sugars.

This guidelines is more positive in its message than the previous guideline which reflects current scientific research findings on sugar and health. These findings have disproved many of the health concerns surrounding sugar eg hyperactivity, diabetes and cancer.

The dietary guidelines are now listed in descending order or priority and the guideline on sugar is sixth priority in the list of eight guidelines. The recently released Dietary Guidelines for Children 1995 recommends the same guideline on sugars. The scientific background paper concludes that sugars, both naturally occurring and added, play an important role in the diet of children by facilitating intake of many nutritious foods such as milks, yoghurts and breakfast cereals.

These dietary guidelines confirm the sugar industry’s position that current sugar consumption levels are moderate and are compatible with good health.

Therefore, sugar can be included in moderation as part of a well-balanced nutritious diet.