Ah, sugar. we love the sweet stuff. Some of us are embarrassed to admit we've been known to get out of bed in the middle of the night to chug directly from a bottle of maple syrup.
Some would say that at least this is better than scooping white refined sugar into your mouth, while others say there's really not much difference.
In today's low-carb culture, the snow-white grains are getting a reputation that's practically Satanic, and smiling TV moms like Mrs. Dr. Phil make pies for their families with artificial sweeteners.
Many claim sugar is just empty calories and the source of myriad health problems. But is sugar really that bad?
Before you decide to boycott an indulgence, make sure you're not scapegoating one edible to the exclusion of common sense. That's how we wind up with regimes like the Atkins diet and people eating bacon instead of fruit for breakfast.
And that's just psychotic.
What the experts say
"All palate tastes are acquired through socialization. Northern Europeans prefer sour and salty tastes; sugar is used sparingly. Sauerkraut and sour cream are very much part of the meal. This has to do with preserving food. And the desserts tend to be not that sweet, except when you get to Germany. But [sweet eating in Germany] is a fairly recent phenomenon. In contrast, in North America we sweeten absolutely everything, even pasta sauce. We use sugar as a spice."
KRYSTYNA SIECIECHOWICZ , professor of anthropology, U of T
"One complaint is that sugar promotes obesity. But this is related to over-consumption. If you take 50 grams of bread and 50 grams of sucrose [table sugar], the bread will actually raise your blood sugar more. Eating sucrose is no worse than a low-sucrose diet for diabetics. And fructose [i.e., sugar from fruit and honey] actually improves their glucose control. Another issue is hyperactivity, and I believe there's absolutely no evidence that sugar is a cause. The actual fact is, if you give babies pure sucrose, it tends to make them drowsy. Having said that, most adults don't need the extra energy and calories from sweetened drinks. Fruit juice may be healthier because of its nutrient content, but it has the same calories as soft drinks. In terms of refined vs natural sugar, the sugars are exactly the same. After having said [all] this, I don't think sugar is healthy."
THOMAS WOLEVER , professor of nutritional sciences, U of T, MD, St. Michael's Hospital
"Sugar has been linked to so many health conditions. I'm not talking about the kind of sugar in fruit or natural sources like honey, molasses or maple syrup, but mainly the refined white powdered processed sugars. Sugar tends to feed bacteria. Some bacteria are good for you, but when they get out of balance, disturbance of the digestive system and weakening of the immune system can result. Candida overgrowth [from sugar consumption] has been linked with fatigue. Then there's the diabetes link. When sugar is in its refined form, you get the high surge of insulin, a surge of endorphins and then a crash. When you're depressed, you want sugar because of the increase in serotonin, but the inevitable drop in blood sugar and resultant depression follow. Studies are being done with white sugar and colon cancer."
ROXANNA MIRZA , naturopath, Toronto
"Over the last 30 years, the consumption of sweeteners in general has gone up, and that includes sugar and all 20-plus different sweeteners on the market. But the use of white table sugar is going down. Sugar gets the rap, but we're not the culprit. Soft drinks aren't sweetened with sugar but with high-fructose corn syrup. If you look at the ingredients in any food that supposedly has added sugar, it's probably high-fructose corn syrup or dextrose or something else. Some studies show the body metabolizes those other sweeteners differently and recognizes sugar as something it needs. Sugar is all natural and only 15 calories a teaspoon."
MELANIE MILLER , the Sugar Association, Washington, DC
"It's not necessarily sugar but excess calories in general that contribute to obesity, which contributes to type 2 diabetes. It's a question of using up the calories you consume. Guidelines state that people with type 2 diabetes can have 10 per cent of their calories from sugar. We recommend foods that are higher in fibre and more nutrient-dense, like fruits with the skin. There are some studies going on [about whether high fructose corn syrup is worse than white sugar], but I don't think we know enough about that."
SHARON ZEILER , registered dietitian, Canadian Diabetes Association, Toronto