Nutritional Value

How many calories and what nutrients are in sugar?

Sugar is a source of carbohydrate and energy. It provides 4 calories per gram or 16 calories in a level teaspoon (4 g). This compares to 36 calories for the same amount (4 g) of fat or oil (e.g., butter, margarine, canola oil). On its own, sugar has no other nutrients. However, it occurs naturally in vitamin- and mineral-rich fruits, vegetables, and other carbohydrate-containing foods. It is also added to many nutrient-rich foods to improve their flavour, texture, and appeal.

Is brown sugar a better choice than white sugar?

Brown sugar and white sugar have different functional properties, however brown sugar is not more nutritious than white sugar. In fact, there are no significant nutritional differences between these types of sugars. Brown sugar is composed of white sugar crystals that have been coated by small quantities of dark sugar syrups (molasses) to provide the different flavour and colour. Brown sugar is produced in two different ways – it is either crystallized directly from the dark syrups obtained during the refining process or dark sugar syrups are added to refined white sugar. 

Is it better to eat honey or other "natural" sweeteners instead of sugar?

Honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, and white sugar all have similar nutritional values. All are composed of glucose, fructose, and/or sucrose in varying amounts, provide a similar amount of energy (approximately 4 Calories per gram), and contain insignificant amounts of vitamins and minerals. 

Sugars Content of Various Nutritive Sweeteners
  Glucose Fructose Sucrose Galactose/Others
Sugar (sucrose)* 0 0 100 0
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS-55) 42.4 55 0 2.6
Agave 3.5 82 14.5 0
Honey 46.5 50 1.1 2.4
Maple Syrup 1.1 0.5 98.4 0
Maltodextrin/Dextrose 100 0 0 0
Molasses 24 23 53 0

Is the sugar in fruit better than table sugar?

Glucose, fructose, and sucrose are made naturally in all green plants through photosynthesis. Sugar (sucrose) is found in fruits and vegetables, and is purified from sugar cane and sugar beets for commercial use. The sucrose in your sugar bowl is the same sucrose found naturally in sugar cane, sugar beets, apples, oranges, carrots, and other fruits and vegetables. Other types of sugars include glucose and fructose in fruits and vegetables, and lactose in milk products. 

Whether it is naturally occurring from fruits or vegetables or added to foods, each gram of sugar (sucrose), glucose or fructose supplies the body with the same amount of energy per gram (4 Calories per gram). Please see the graph below for the sugars content of common fruits and vegetables.

Sugars Content of Fruits and Vegetables: 100 grams, edible portion
  glucose fructose sucrose
tomatoes 1.1 1.4 0
sweet peas 0 0 4.3
sweet corn 0.8 0.6 3.4
carrots 1 1 3.6
peaches 1.1 1.3 5.6
oranges 2.2 2.5 4.2
watermelon 1.6 3.3 3.6
pears 1.9 6.4 1.8
canned pears 4.8 5.1 1.1
apples 2.3 7.6 3.3
mangos 0.7 2.9 9.9
bananas 4.2 2.7 6.5

Does sugar contribute empty calories?

It is important to remember that sugar is seldom eaten on its own, but rather is consumed as an ingredient in various foods and beverages. The nutritional value of these foods can vary from sweets and desserts to foods high in vitamins and minerals such as a bran muffin. In fact, a little bit of sugar can help make healthy foods taste better and improve their acceptance. Foods such as chocolate milk, flavoured yogurt, sweetened ready-to-eat and hot cereals, and grain products contain added sugars to help improve taste and can help to deliver essential nutrients (fibre, calcium, vitamin D, folate, etc) to our bodies. This in turn helps us reach our daily nutrient requirements. 

How much sugar is too much? 

Although there is no specific threshold in Canada’s Food Guide for total or added sugars, Health Canada suggests choosing foods with little to no added sugars, saturated fat, and salt, and choosing water rather than sugars-sweetened drinks.

Furthermore, Health Canada recently introduced a new Daily Value of 100 grams total sugars, which will be mandatory on all Nutrition Facts tables as of 2022. The % Daily Value is equivalent to 20% of a 2,000 Calorie diet and according to Health Canada, “is the amount of total sugars that is consistent with a healthy eating pattern. That is, a diet where sugars come mostly from fruit, vegetables, and plain milk.”

The Daily Value has been included to help consumers compare the sugars content of different foods and understand the relative amount of sugars in the context of total daily consumption. 

The World Health Organization recommends reducing free sugars to less than 10% of daily energy intake, based on evidence related to dental caries.

To learn more about sugars consumption, visit our webpage Consumption of Sugars in Canada, or download our infographic Sugars Consumption in Canada. 

Are foods labelled "reduced in sugar" or "no added sugar" better choices? 

Food products making the claim "Reduced in Sugar", "Lower in Sugar", or "No Added Sugar" are not necessarily lower in total carbohydrates or Calories. It is important to look at the Nutrition Facts table to compare products and to understand the total Calories a food provides. 

For example, the "No Sugar Added" ice cream below has 50% less sugars and is slightly higher in fat and total Calories compared to the reference ice cream. Based on its List of Ingredients and Nutrition Facts table, this "No Sugar Added" ice cream is sweetened with sucralose and a sugar alcohol (maltitol, 13 grams per 3/4 cup of ice cream). When consumed in large quantities, sugar alcohols can cause discomfort to the digestive system. 

Comparison between a regular and "no sugar added" ice cream

Should you replace sugar with sugar substitutes, such as aspartame, stevia, or sugar alcohols? 

Canada's Food Guide suggests that "sugar substitutes are not needed to help you decrease the amount of sugars you eat or drink". This is because, "eating foods sweetened with sugar substitutes can make healthy eating more difficult, because foods and drinks with sugar substitutes:

  • may replace healthier foods
  • still taste sweet; regularly eating foods that taste sweet can lead to a preference for sweet foods"

Instead, the Food Guide recommends choosing unsweetened foods and drinks. 

Does sugar go bad? 

Granulated sugars have an excellent shelf life and can be stored in a cool, dry place in their original package for many years. When exposed to moisture, white granulated sugar tends to harden as it dries. Stirring or sifting will usually help to restore its granular state.

To soften brown sugar, place a piece of bread or apple in the jar for a few hours and the sugar will regain its original consistency. Hardened brown sugar can also be placed in the microwave for 20 seconds just before using it in a recipe.

Once opened, all liquid sugars like maple, corn and table syrups, honey, jams and jellies, must be refrigerated in airtight jars. If syrups begin to crystallize, place the container in hot water to heat and then stir vigorously to restore liquid consistency.

To learn more, please see our resource Clips on Sugars - Facts on Sugars