You and Sugar: The Bittersweet Truth.

By: Alex Longo

Are you conscious of what you are eating? Do you take the time to investigate the ingredient list and nutritional labels of your frequently purchased food items? Think about your last trip to the grocery store. Did you buy milk, yogurt, pasta sauce, cereal, bread, crackers or chips?  Most likely, yes. Did you even glance at the ingredient list? Probably not. What you may find after taking a closer look at the nutritional label is a bit shocking. Sugar is in an additive in almost all packaged foods.

Why are pre-packaged/processed foods cheaper than fresh/unprepared food?

The many names of sugar

If you take the time to read over the ingredient list, processed sugar is included in some way, shape or form.  The tricky part is that processed sugars are commonly listed under various disguises  such as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, glucose, fructose, cane sugar, malt sugar and many more. For a list of all the codenames for sugar check out:

These sugars aren’t added unknowingly. Food manufactures are in the business to make money whatever the cost, even it means putting the consumers’ health at risk. Food companies know that the processed sugars and sweeteners they fill their products with have adverse health effects, but processed sugar is the savvy businessman’s way of enhancing the taste of foods without adding additional cost. So by lacing packaged food with hidden sugar, companies are increasing profit and making their product more palatable to consumers (i.e. sugar tastes sooo good).

I workout, so why should I care about a little extra sugar?

According to the Canadian Sugar Institute, the average Canadian consumes approximately 63 grams of sugar a day from prepared or packaged foods. This accounts for more than 12% of daily calorie allotment, based on a diet of 2,000 calories.

Canada is catching up…

Although you should be reading the ingredients list on food items, the “nutritional statements” on labels are misleading.  Popular labels like “fat free,” ‘low fat” and “low sodium” indicate that there may be less fat and salt, but sugar has been added to maintain a pleasurable taste.

So how much exactly is one gram of sugar?

One teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar.  To put this into perspective, there are 12 grams (just over 3 teaspoons) of sugar in 2 tablespoons of PC Brand Barbecue Gourmet Sauce. There are 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, meaning that half of a serving of barbecue sauce comes from sugar alone. Outrageous!

Ingredients: Sugar, water, white vinegar, tomato paste, salt, modified corn starch, spices, dehydrated onion and garlic, canola and/or soybean oil, natural flavour, citric acid, tamarind extract, caramel colour

Remember, ingredients are listed in order of predominance, with the ingredients used in the greatest amount listed first, followed in descending order. As you can see, sugar is the first ingredient listed. Makes you think…

Keep in mind that nutritional labels include natural sugars like fructose (from fruit) and lactose (from milk).  Products can also contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucrose and refined sugars.  To determine whether or not the sugars are natural, examine the ingredients list and consult Google® when necessary.

Still, it’s just sugar, I work out. What’s the big deal!?

Nutrition experts regard processed sugars as “empty calories”, meaning they are high in calories without contributing to overall nutrition. Refined sugar is in everything, and I mean everything.  It has weaseled its way into processed foods, canned food and even products you’d never suspect– milk, pasta sauce and supposedly “healthy” teas.  In a recent study, researchers found that 80% of the 600,000 food items in America are laced with added sugar. 

No caption necessary.

The harsh truth is that most North Americans are so addicted to sugar that they do not even realize their dependence on sugar-laden food. It is easy to consume sugar in the morning (coffee, cereal or pancakes), at lunch (salad dressings, pasta sauce, restaurant food and pop) and even more sugar at dinner (ketchup, BBQ sauce and virtually all restaurant and prepared foods), without being aware of how much you truly are ingesting.

The concept that food has addictive properties has been largely debated among nutrition and addiction researchers.  However, in recent studies, researchers found that drug addiction and the “sugar high” share common attributes, especially in that they both disrupt parts of the brain involved in self-control and pleasure.

Human researchers have also found that most people living in western societies like the U.S., Canada and UK use sugar as a form of self-medication to temporarily boost their mood and energy.  But like all highs, the sugar high soon wears off, sometimes leaving withdrawal-like symptoms, which cause the consumer to seek out more sugar laden foods to obtain the high again.

Moral of the story

Be aware of processed or sugar additives to your food products.  Advertisers creatively mask the misconceptions of processed foods with labels like “low fat” or “diet friendly” and appealing, eye-catching packaging, making it difficult to avoid these types of foods, especially for students who are constrained by budget and time.

Eating right does not happen overnight…it’s a lifestyle change.  I have learned over the years what foods to religiously consume and which ones to avoid.  Processed sugars can sneak their way into unlikely foods. Be aware and do some reading during your next shopping trip!

EAT: Eat organic, fresh, unprocessed foods as often as possible, such as naturally raised beef and chicken, wild salmon, all types of fruits and vegetables, brown/wild rice, rolled oats, nuts and seeds

EAT IN MODERATION: Processed foods, sweeteners, candy, pop, junk food 

For those interested in learning more about processed foods and there effects on our health, check out these educational sources: Hungry for Change, Food Inc, Fresh, Processed People and Wheat Belly.


Were you surprised at how prevalent additive sugars are? Will you think twice before eating your favourite breakfast cereal, or do high sugar foods not bother you? Comment below and remember to”like” us on facebook!

My name is Alex Longo. I’m an undergrad in Recreation and Sports Management program at UW. During my time as a Physical Training Instructor at the Ontario Police College, I developed a solid background in strength and conditioning. When I’m not in the gym or in school, you can find me in the kitchen whipping up delicious paleo recipes. My passion for exercise comes from being an athlete in volleyball, basketball and soccer.



1 Comment

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One response to “You and Sugar: The Bittersweet Truth.

  1. Maureen Habermeyer

    Hey, Alex, way to go, Girl!

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