Closeup of raw (unrefined, unbleached) sugar

Sugar is the generalized name for sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food. They are carbohydrates, composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose and galactose. The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose, a disaccharide. (In the body, sucrose hydrolyses into fructose and glucose.) Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose. Longer chains of sugars are called oligosaccharides. Chemically-different substances may also have a sweet taste, but are not classified as sugars. Some are used as lower-calorie food substitutes for sugar described as artificial sweeteners.

Sugars are found in the tissues of most plants, but are only present in sufficient concentrations for efficient extraction in sugarcane and sugar beet. Sugarcane is any of several species of giant grass in the genus Saccharum that have been cultivated in tropical climates in South Asia and Southeast Asia since ancient times. A great expansion in its production took place in the 18th century with the layout of sugar plantations in the West Indies and Americas. This was the first time that sugar became available to the common people who previously had to rely on honey to sweeten foods. Sugar beet, a cultivated variety of Beta vulgaris, is grown as a root crop in cooler climates and became a major source of sugar in the 19th century when methods for extracting the sugar became available. Sugar production and trade have changed the course of human history in many ways. It influenced the formation of colonies, the perpetuation of slavery, the transition to indentured labour, the migration of peoples, wars between sugar trade-controlling nations in the 19th century, and the ethnic composition and political structure of the new world.

The world produced about 168 million tonnes of sugar in 2011. The average person consumes about 24 kilograms of sugar each year (33.1 kg in industrialised countries), equivalent to over 260 food calories per person, per day.

Since the latter part of the twentieth century, it has been questioned whether a diet high in sugars, especially refined sugars, is good for human health. Sugar has been linked to obesity, and suspected of, or fully implicated as a cause in the occurrence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, macular degeneration, and tooth decay. Numerous studies have been undertaken to try to clarify the position, but with varying results, mainly because of the difficulty of finding populations for use as controls that do not consume, or are largely free of any sugar consumption.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
    • Ancient times and Middle Ages 2.1
    • Modern history 2.2
  • Chemistry 3
    • Natural polymers of sugars 3.1
    • Flammability 3.2
  • Types of sugar 4
    • Monosaccharides 4.1
    • Disaccharides 4.2
  • Sources 5
  • Production 6
    • Sugar beet 6.1
    • Sugarcane 6.2
    • Refining 6.3
    • Producing countries 6.4
  • Forms and uses 7
  • Consumption 8
  • Health effects 9
    • Blood glucose levels 9.1
    • Obesity and diabetes 9.2
    • Cardiovascular disease 9.3
    • Alzheimer's disease 9.4
    • Tooth decay 9.5
    • Addiction 9.6
    • Hyperactivity 9.7
  • Measurements 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Further reading 13
  • External links 14


Ant feeding on sugar crystals

The etymology reflects the spread of the commodity. The English word "sugar"[1] originates from the Arabic word سكر sukkar, which came from the Persian شکر shekar,[2] itself derived from Sanskrit शर्करा śarkarā,[3] which originated from Tamil சக்கரை Sakkarai.[4] It most probably came to England by way of Italian merchants. The contemporary Italian word is zucchero, whereas the Spanish and Portuguese words, azúcar and açúcar respectively, have kept a trace of the Arabic definite article. The Old French word is zuchre – contemporary French sucre. The earliest Greek word attested is σάκχαρις (sákkʰaris).[5][6] A satisfactory pedigree explaining the spread of the word has yet to be done. The English word jaggery, a coarse brown sugar made from date palm sap or sugar cane juice, has a similar etymological origin; Portuguese xagara or jagara, derived from Malayalam chakkarā from the Sanskrit śarkarā.[7]


Ancient times and Middle Ages

Sugar cane plantation

Sugar has been produced in the Indian subcontinent[8] since ancient times. It was not plentiful or cheap in early times and honey was more often used for sweetening in most parts of the world. Originally, people chewed raw sugarcane to extract its sweetness. Sugarcane was a native of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia.[9] Different species seem to have originated from different locations with Saccharum barberi originating in India and S. edule and S. officinarum coming from New Guinea.[9][10] One of the earliest historical references to sugarcane is in Chinese manuscripts dating back to 8th century BC that mention the fact that the use of sugarcane originated in India.[11]

Sugar remained relatively unimportant until the Indians discovered methods of turning sugarcane juice into granulated crystals that were easier to store and to transport.[12] Crystallized sugar was discovered by the time of the Imperial Guptas, around 5th century AD.[12] In the local Indian language, these crystals were called khanda (Devanagari:खण्ड,Khaṇḍa), which is the source of the word candy.[13]

Indian sailors, who carried clarified butter and sugar as supplies, introduced knowledge of sugar on the various trade routes they travelled.[12] Buddhist monks, as they travelled around, brought sugar crystallization methods to China.[14] During the reign of Harsha (r. 606–647) in North India, Indian envoys in Tang China taught methods of cultivating sugarcane after Emperor Taizong of Tang (r. 626–649) made his interest in sugar known. China then established its first sugarcane plantations in the seventh century.[15] Chinese documents confirm at least two missions to India, initiated in 647 AD, to obtain technology for sugar-refining.[16] In South Asia, the Middle East and China, sugar became a staple of cooking and desserts.

The triumphant progress of Alexander the Great was halted on the banks of the Indus River by the refusal of his troops to go further east. They saw people in the Indian subcontinent growing sugarcane and making granulated, salt-like sweet powder, locally called Sharkara (Devanagari:शर्करा,Śarkarā), pronounced as saccharum (ζάκχαρι). On their return journey, the Macedonian soldiers carried the "honey-bearing reeds" home with them. Sugarcane remained a little-known crop in Europe for over a millennium, sugar a rare commodity, and traders of sugar wealthy.[11]

Crusaders brought sugar home with them to Europe after their campaigns in the Holy Land, where they encountered caravans carrying "sweet salt". Early in the 12th century, Venice acquired some villages near Tyre and set up estates to produce sugar for export to Europe, where it supplemented honey, which had previously been the only available sweetener.[17] Crusade chronicler William of Tyre, writing in the late 12th century, described sugar as "very necessary for the use and health of mankind".[18] In the 15th century, Venice was the chief sugar refining and distribution centre in Europe.[11]

Modern history

George Flegel, first half of 17th century

In August 1492, Christopher Columbus stopped at La Gomera in the Canary Islands, for wine and water, intending to stay only four days. He became romantically involved with the governor of the island, Beatriz de Bobadilla y Ossorio, and stayed a month. When he finally sailed, she gave him cuttings of sugarcane, which became the first to reach the New World.[19]

Sugar was a luxury in Europe prior to the 18th century, when it became more widely available. It then became popular and by the 19th century, sugar became considered a necessity. This evolution of taste and demand for sugar as an essential food ingredient unleashed major economic and social changes.[20] It drove, in part, colonization of tropical islands and nations where labor-intensive sugarcane plantations and sugar manufacturing could thrive. The demand for cheap labor to perform the hard work involved in its cultivation and processing increased the demand for the slave trade from Africa (in particular West Africa). After slavery was abolished, there was high demand for indentured laborers from South Asia (in particular India).[21][22][23] Millions of slave and indentured laborers were brought into the Caribbean and the Americas, Indian Ocean colonies, southeast Asia, Pacific Islands, and East Africa and Natal. The modern ethnic mix of many nations that have been settled in the last two centuries has been influenced by the demand for sugar.[24][25][26]

Sugar also led to some industrialization of former colonies. For example, Lieutenant J. Paterson, of the Bengal establishment, persuaded the British Government that sugar cane could be cultivated in British India with many advantages and at less expense than in the West Indies. As a result, a number of sugar factories were established in Bihar in eastern India.[27]

During the Napoleonic Wars, sugar beet production increased in continental Europe because of the difficulty of importing sugar when shipping was subject to blockade. By 1880, the sugar beet was the main source of sugar in Europe. It was cultivated in Lincolnshire and other parts of England, although the United Kingdom continued to import the main part of its sugar from its colonies.[28]

Until the late nineteenth century, sugar was purchased in loaves, which had to be cut using implements called Sugar nips.[29] In later years, granulated sugar was more usually sold in bags.

Sugar cubes were produced in the nineteenth century. The first inventor of a process to make sugar in cube form was Moravian Jakub Kryštof Rad, director of a sugar company in Dačice. He began sugar cube production after being granted a five-year patent for the invention on January 23, 1843. Henry Tate of Tate & Lyle was another early manufacturer of sugar cubes at his refineries in Liverpool and London. Tate purchased a patent for sugar cube manufacture from German Eugen Langen, who in 1872 had invented a different method of processing of sugar cubes.[30]


Sucrose: a disaccharide of glucose (left) and fructose (right), important molecules in the body.
Sugar, granulated
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,619 kJ (387 kcal)
99.98 g
Sugars 99.91 g
Dietary fiber 0 g
0 g
0 g
Riboflavin (B2)
0.019 mg
Trace metals
1 mg
0.01 mg
2 mg
Other constituents
Water 0.03 g
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Sugars, brown
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,576 kJ (377 kcal)
97.33 g
Sugars 96.21 g
Dietary fiber 0 g
0 g
0 g
Thiamine (B1)
0.008 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.007 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.082 mg
Vitamin B6
0.026 mg
Folate (B9)
1 μg
Trace metals
85 mg
1.91 mg
29 mg
22 mg
133 mg
39 mg
0.18 mg
Other constituents
Water 1.77 g
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Scientifically, sugar loosely refers to a number of carbohydrates, such as monosaccharides, disaccharides, or oligosaccharides. Monosaccharides are also called "simple sugars," the most important being glucose. Almost all sugars have the formula C
(n is between 3 and 7). Glucose has the molecular formula C
. The names of typical sugars end with ose, as in "glucose", "dextrose", and "fructose". Sometimes such words may also refer to any types of carbohydrates soluble in water. The acyclic mono- and disaccharides contain either aldehyde groups or ketone groups. These carbon-oxygen double bonds (C=O) are the reactive centers. All saccharides with more than one ring in their structure result from two or more monosaccharides joined by glycosidic bonds with the resultant loss of a molecule of water (H
) per bond.[31]

Monosaccharides in a closed-chain form can form glycosidic bonds with other monosaccharides, creating disaccharides (such as sucrose) and polysaccharides (such as starch). Enzymes must hydrolyze or otherwise break these glycosidic bonds before such compounds become metabolized. After digestion and absorption the principal monosaccharides present in the blood and internal tissues include glucose, fructose, and galactose. Many pentoses and hexoses can form ring structures. In these closed-chain forms, the aldehyde or ketone group remains non-free, so many of the reactions typical of these groups cannot occur. Glucose in solution exists mostly in the ring form at equilibrium, with less than 0.1% of the molecules in the open-chain form.[31]

Natural polymers of sugars

Biopolymers of sugars are common in nature. Through photosynthesis plants produce glyceraldehyde-3-phosphate (G3P), a phosphated 3-carbon sugar that is used by the cell to make monosaccharides such as glucose (C
) or (as in cane and beet) sucrose (C
). Monosaccharides may be further converted into structural polysaccharides such as cellulose and pectinfor cell wall construction or into energy reserves in the form of storage polysaccharides such as starch or inulin. Starch, consisting of two different polymers of glucose, is a readily degradable form of chemical energy stored by cells, and can be converted to other types of energy.[31] Another polymer of glucose is cellulose, which is a linear chain composed of several hundred or thousand glucose units. It is used by plants as a structural component in their cell walls. Humans can digest cellulose only to a very limited extent, though ruminants can do so with the help of symbiotic bacteria in their gut.[32] DNA and RNA are built up of the monosaccharides deoxyribose and ribose, respectively. Deoxyribose has the formula C
and ribose the formula C


Sugars are organic substances that burn easily upon exposure to an open flame. Because of this, the handling of sugars presents a risk for

  • Cook's Thesaurus: Sugar
  • Sugar at DMOZ

External links

  • Adas, Michael (January 2001). Agricultural and Pastoral Societies in Ancient and Classical History. Temple University Press.  
  • Barrett & Calvi, Duncan & Nuala (March 2012).  
  • Hugill, Anthony (1978). Sugar And All That. Gentry Books.  
  • Iftikhar-ul-Awwal (1992) State of Indigenous Industries, History of Bangladesh 1704-1971. Volume 2, Economic History, Sirajul Islam (ed.), First Edition, Chapter 10, the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, Pp. 272-370, ISBN 9845123376
  • James, Glyn (2004). Sugarcane. Blackwell Publishing.  
  • A C Hannah, The International Sugar Trade, Cambridge: Woodhead, 1996. ISBN 1-85573-069-3
  • Aurora A. Saulo (March 2005). "Sugars and Sweeteners in Foods".  
  • Gary Taubes (April 13, 2011). "Is sugar toxic?". New York Times. 

Further reading

  1. ^ The -g- is unexplained, possibly reflecting a Venetian dialect.
  2. ^ Compare the OED and the Online Etymology Dictionary.
  3. ^ Ahmad Y Hassan, Transfer Of Islamic Technology To The West, Part III: Technology Transfer in the Chemical Industries, History of Science and Technology in Islam.
  4. ^ Achaya, K.T. (2003). The Story of Our Food. Universities Press. p. 7.  
  5. ^ σάκχαρ, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  6. ^ This form is not phonetically explained, but may reflect a mediation through a language en route from the Sanskrit original. Modern Greek ζάχαρη [sáχari] is due to cluster simplification [kχ] > [χ] and initial sandhi (acc. την σάχαρη [tin sáχari] > τη ζάχαρη [ti záχari]). The word has also changed its nominal class.
  7. ^ "Jaggery". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  8. ^ Moxham, Roy, The Great Hedge of India, Carroll & Graf, 2001 ISBN 0-7867-0976-6.
  9. ^ a b Kenneth F.Kiple & Kriemhild Conee Ornelas. "World history of Food – Sugar". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  10. ^ Sharpe, Peter (1998). "Sugar Cane: Past and Present". Illinois: Southern Illinois University. 
  11. ^ a b c George Rolph (1873). Something about sugar: its history, growth, manufacture and distribution. 
  12. ^ a b c Adas, Michael (January 2001). Agricultural and Pastoral Societies in Ancient and Classical History. Temple University Press. ISBN 1-56639-832-0. Page 311.
  13. ^ "Sugarcane: Saccharum Offcinarum". USAID, Govt of United States. 2006. p. 7.1. 
  14. ^ Kieschnick, John (2003). The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-09676-7.
  15. ^ Sen, Tansen. (2003). Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade: The Realignment of Sino-Indian Relations, 600–1400. Manoa: Asian Interactions and Comparisons, a joint publication of the University of Hawaii Press and the Association for Asian Studies. ISBN 0-8248-2593-4. Pages 38–40.
  16. ^ Kieschnick, John (2003). The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture Princeton University Press. 258. ISBN 0-691-09676-7.
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Barber, Malcolm (2004). The two cities: medieval Europe, 1050–1320 (2nd ed.). Routledge. p. 14.  
  19. ^ Abreu y Galindo, J. de; A. Cioranescu (ed) (1977). Historia de la conquista de las siete islas de Canarias. Tenerife: Goya ediciones. 
  20. ^ Sidney Mintz (1986). Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. Penguin.  
  21. ^ "Forced Labour". The National Archives, Government of the United Kingdom. 2010. 
  22. ^ Walton Lai (1993). Indentured labor, Caribbean sugar: Chinese and Indian migrants to the British West Indies, 1838–1918.  
  23. ^ Steven Vertovik (Robin Cohen, ed.) (1995). The Cambridge survey of world migration. pp. 57–68.  
  24. ^ K Laurence (1994). "A Question of Labour: Indentured Immigration Into Trinidad & British Guiana, 1875–1917". St Martin's Press.  
  25. ^ "St. Lucia's Indian Arrival Day". Caribbean Repeating Islands. 2009. 
  26. ^ "Indian indentured labourers". The National Archives, Government of the United Kingdom. 2010. 
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  28. ^ "How Sugar is Made – the History". SKIL: Sugar Knowledge International. Retrieved 2012-03-28. 
  29. ^ "A Visit to the Tate & Lyle Archive". The Sugar Girls blog. 10 March 2012. Retrieved 2012-03-11. 
  30. ^ Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi.  
  31. ^ a b c Pigman, Ward; Horton, D. (1972). Pigman and Horton, ed. The Carbohydrates: Chemistry and Biochemistry Vol 1A (2nd ed.). San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 1–67.  
  32. ^ Joshi, S; Agte, V (1995). "Digestibility of dietary fiber components in vegetarian men". Plant foods for human nutrition (Dordrecht, Netherlands) 48 (1): 39–44.  
  33. ^  , 8205.
  34. ^ a b c d Buss, David; Robertson, Jean (1976). Manual of Nutrition; Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office. pp. 5–9. 
  35. ^ Fred W. Schenck "Glucose and Glucose-Containing Syrups" in Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry 2006, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. doi:10.1002/14356007.a12_457.pub2
  36. ^ Kretchmer, N; Hollenbeck CB (1991). "Sugars and Sweeteners". CRC Press, Inc. 
  37. ^ Peter H. Raven & George B. Johnson (1995). Carol J. Mills (ed), ed. Understanding Biology (3rd ed.). WM C. Brown. p. 203.  
  38. ^ "Sucrase", Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  39. ^ "Maltase", Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  40. ^ "Lactase", Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  41. ^ NAL USDA National Nutrient Database
  42. ^ "Biennial beet". GMO Compass. Retrieved 2014-01-26. 
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  44. ^ "How Cane Sugar is Made". SKIL. Retrieved 2012-03-22. 
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  46. ^ Deulgaonkar, Atul (March 12–25, 2005). "A case for reform". Frontline 22 (8). 
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  48. ^ International Illovo Sugar. Retrieved on 2012-01-07.
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  50. ^ a b c d e f g "The journey of sugar". British Sugar. Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  51. ^ "Low calorie sugars and sweeteners". Silver Spoon. Retrieved 2012-03-23. 
  52. ^ European Parliament and Council (1990). "Council Directive on nutrition labelling for foodstuffs". Council Directive of 24 September 1990 on nutrition labelling for foodstuffs. p. 4. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  53. ^ Robinson, J. (ed.) (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd edition). Oxford University Press. pp. 665–666.  
  54. ^ "Food Balance Sheets". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2007. 
  55. ^ "World agriculture: towards 2015/2030". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  
  56. ^ Welsh, Jean A.; Andrea J Sharma; Lisa Grellinger; Miriam B Vos (2011). "Consumption of added sugars is decreasing in the United States". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 94 (American Society for Nutrition). 726-734. Retrieved January 18, 2014. 
  57. ^ "Sugar: World Markets and Trade". United States Department of Agriculture: Foreign Agriculture Service. May 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-07. 
  58. ^ "Sugarcane profile". Ag Marketing Research Center, partially funded by USDA Rural Development. 2011. 
  59. ^ "Sugars and Sweeteners". Economic Research Service, USDA. 2011. 
  60. ^ a b c d Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation (2003). "WHO Technical Report Series 916 Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases". Retrieved 2013-12-25. 
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  62. ^ "Carbohydrates and the Glycemic Load". Harvard School of Public Health. 
  63. ^ Beaser, Richard S.; Campbell, Amy P. (2005). The Joslin guide to diabetes: a program for managing your treatment (2nd ed.). Simon and Schuster. p. 37.  
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  66. ^ American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. "Diabetes Quiz." Last Modified 2007-07-11.
  67. ^ American Dietetic Association. "Nutrition: Fact vs. Fiction."
  68. ^ Joslin Diabetes Center "Classroom Presentation on Diabetes for Elementary School Age Children."
  69. ^ Marschilok, Catherine. "Ask a Medical Professional: Diabetes Myths and Misconceptions." Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
  70. ^ American Diabetes Association. "Diabetes Myths."
  71. ^ National Diabetes Education Program. "Tips for Teens with Diabetes." Last Modified November 2007.
  72. ^ Apovian, C. M. (2004). "Sugar-Sweetened Soft Drinks, Obesity, and Type 2 Diabetes". JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association 292 (8): 978.  
  73. ^ Lee S Gross, Li Li, Earl S Ford and Simin Liu (2004). "Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the United States: an ecologic assessment". American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 79 (5): 774–779.  
  74. ^ M P Stern, C Gonzalez, B D Mitchell, E Villalpando, S M Haffner and H P Hazuda (1992). "Genetic and environmental determinants of type II diabetes in Mexico City and San Antonio". Diabetes 41 (4): 484–492.  
  75. ^ "Carbohydrate quantity and quality and risk of type 2 diabetes in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Netherlands (EPIC-NL) study".  
  76. ^ Malik, V. S.; Popkin, B. M.; Bray, G. A.; Despres, J.-P.; Willett, W. C.; Hu, F. B. (2010). "Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes: A meta-analysis". Diabetes Care 33 (11): 2477–2483.  
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  93. ^ "Powder and BulkEngineering Resources – Bulk Density Chart," "". 


See also

  • Dextrose sugar 0.62 g/mL ( = 620 kg/m^3)
  • Granulated sugar 0.70 g/mL
  • Powdered sugar 0.56 g/mL
  • Beet sugar 0.80 g/mL

Bulk density[93]

  • Brown sugar 1 cup = 48 teaspoons ~ 195 g = 6.88 oz
  • Granular sugar 1 cup = 48 teaspoons ~ 200 g = 7.06 oz
  • Powdered sugar 1 cup = 48 teaspoons ~ 120 g = 4.23 oz.

The Domino Sugar Company has established the following volume to weight conversions:[92]

Different culinary sugars have different densities due to differences in particle size and inclusion of moisture.


There is a common notion that sugar leads to hyperactivity, in particular in children, but studies and meta-studies tend to disprove this.[61] Some articles and studies do refer to the increasing evidence supporting the links between refined sugar and hyperactivity.[90] The WHO FAO meta-study suggests that such inconclusive results are to be expected when some studies do not effectively segregate or control for free sugars as opposed to sugars still in their natural form (entirely unrefined) while others do.[60] One study followed thirty-five 5-to-7-year-old boys who were reported by their mothers to be behaviorally "sugar-sensitive". They were randomly assigned to experimental and control groups. In the experimental group, mothers were told that their children were fed sugar, and, in the control group, mothers were told that their children received a placebo. In fact, all children actually received the placebo, but mothers in the sugar expectancy condition rated their children as significantly more hyperactive.[91] This suggests that the real effect of sugar is that it increases worrying among parents with preconceived notions.


Sugar addiction is the term for the relationship between sugar and the various aspects of food addiction including: "bingeing, withdrawal, craving and cross-sensitization". Some scientists assert that consumption of sweets or sugar could have a heroin addiction-like effect.[89]


Also, studies have shown that the consumption of sugar and starch have different impacts on oral health with the ingestion of starchy foods and fresh fruit being associated with low levels of dental caries.[87]

In regard to contributions to tooth decay, the role of free sugars is also recommended to be below an absolute maximum of 10% of energy intake, with a minimum of zero. There is "convincing evidence from human intervention studies, epidemiological studies, animal studies and experimental studies, for an association between the amount and frequency of free sugars intake and dental caries" while other sugars (complex carbohydrate) consumption is normally associated with a lower rate of dental caries.[87] Lower rates of tooth decay have been seen in individuals with hereditary fructose intolerance.[88]

Tooth decay

Claims have been made of a sugar–Alzheimer's disease connection, debate continues over whether cognitive decline is attributable to dietary fructose or to overall energy intake.[85][86]

Alzheimer's disease

The consumption of added sugars has been positively associated with multiple measures known to increase cardiovascular disease risk amongst adolescents as well as adults.[81] Studies are suggesting that the impact of refined carbohydrates or high glycemic load carbohydrates are more significant than the impact of saturated fatty acids on cardiovascular disease.[82][83] A high dietary intake of sugar (in this case, sucrose or disaccharide) can substantially increase the risk of heart and vascular diseases. According to a Swedish study of 4301 people undertaken by Lund University and Malmö University College, sugar was associated with higher levels of bad blood lipids, causing a high level of small and medium low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and reduced high-density lipoprotein (HDL). In contrast, the amount of fat eaten did not affect the level of blood fats. As a side-note, moderate quantities of alcohol and protein were linked to an increase in the good HDL blood fat.[84]

A number of studies in animals have suggested that chronic consumption of refined sugars can contribute to metabolic and cardiovascular dysfunction. Some experts have suggested that refined fructose is more damaging than refined glucose in terms of cardiovascular risk.[77] Cardiac performance has been shown to be impaired by switching from a carbohydrate diet including fiber to a high-carbohydrate diet.[78] Switching from saturated fatty acids to carbohydrates with high glycemic index values shows a statistically-significant increase in the risk of myocardial infarction.[79] Other studies have shown that the risk of developing coronary heart disease is decreased by adopting a diet high in polyunsaturated fatty acids but low in sugar, whereas a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet brings no reduction. This suggests that consuming a diet with a high glycemic load typical of the "junk food" diet is strongly associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.[80]

Cardiovascular disease

Controlled trials have now shown unequivocally that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increases body weight and body fat, and that replacement of sugar by artificial sweeteners reduces weight.[64][65] Studies on the link between sugars and diabetes are inconclusive, with some suggesting that eating excessive amounts of sugar does not increase the risk of [60] have aimed for a level across the entire population of less than 10%. The consultation committee recognized that this goal is "controversial. However, the Consultation considered that the studies showing no effect of free sugars on excess weight have limitations."[60]

Obesity and diabetes

It used to be believed that sugar raised blood glucose levels more quickly than did starch because of its simpler chemical structure. However, it turned out that white bread or French fries have the same effect on blood sugar as pure glucose, while fructose, although a simple carbohydrate, has a minimal effect on blood sugar. As a result, as far as blood sugar is concerned, carbohydrates are classified according to their glycemic index, a system for measuring how quickly a food that is eaten raises blood sugar levels, and glycemic load, which takes into account both the glycemic index and the amount of carbohydrate in the food.[62] This has led to carbohydrate counting, a method used by diabetics for planning their meals.[63]

Blood glucose levels

Some studies involving the health impact of sugars are effectively inconclusive. The WHO and FAO meta studies have shown directly contrasting impacts of sugar in refined and unrefined forms[60] and since most studies do not use a population that do not consume any "free sugars" at all, the baseline is effectively flawed. Hence, there are articles such as Consumer Reports on Health that stated in 2008, "Some of the supposed dietary dangers of sugar have been overblown. Many studies have debunked the idea that it causes hyperactivity, for example."[61]

Health effects

The per capita consumption of refined sugar in the United States has varied between 27 and 46 kilograms (60 and 101 lb) in the last 40 years. In 2008, American per capita total consumption of sugar and sweeteners, exclusive of artificial sweeteners, equalled 61.9 kilograms (136 lb) per year. This consisted of 29.65 kg (65.4 lb) pounds of refined sugar and 31 kg (68.3 lb) pounds of corn-derived sweeteners per person.[58][59]

World sugar consumption (1000 metric tons)[57]
Country 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 2011/12 2012/13
India 22,021 23,500 22,500 23,500 25,500 26,500
European Union 16,496 16,760 17,400 17,800 17,800 17,800
China 14,250 14,500 14,300 14,000 14,400 14,900
Brazil 11,400 11,650 11,800 12,000 11,500 11,700
United States 9,590 9,473 9,861 10,086 10,251 10,364
Other 77,098 76,604 77,915 78,717 80,751 81,750
Total 150,855 152,487 153,776 156,103 160,202 163,014

Data collected in multiple nationwide surveys between 1999 and 2008 show that the intake of added sugars has declined by 24 percent with declines occurring in all age, ethnic and income groups.[56]

In most parts of the world, sugar is an important part of the human diet, making food more palatable and providing food energy. After cereals and vegetable oils, sugar derived from sugar cane and beet provided more kilocalories per capita per day on average than other food groups.[54] According to the FAO, an average of 24 kilograms (53 lb) of sugar, equivalent to over 260 food calories per day, was consumed annually per person of all ages in the world in 1999. Even with rising human populations, sugar consumption is expected to increase to 25.1 kilograms (55 lb) per person per year by 2015.[55]


Molasses is commonly used to make rum, and sugar byproducts are used to make ethanol for fuel.

In winemaking, fruit sugars are converted into alcohol by a fermentation process. If the must formed by pressing the fruit has a low sugar content, additional sugar may be added to raise the alcohol content of the wine in a process called chaptalization. In the production of sweet wines, fermentation may be halted before it has run its full course, leaving behind some residual sugar that gives the wine its sweet taste.[53]

Polyols are sugar alcohols and are used in chewing gums where a sweet flavor is required that lasts for a prolonged time in the mouth.[52]

Low-calorie sugars and sweeteners are often made of maltodextrin with added sweeteners. Maltodextrin is an easily digestible synthetic polysaccharide consisting of short chains of glucose molecules and is made by the partial hydrolysis of starch. The added sweeteners are often aspartame, saccharin, stevia, or sucralose.[51]

Syrups and treacles are dissolved invert sugars heated to develop the characteristic flavors. Treacles have added molasses. They are used in a range of baked goods and confectionery including toffees and licorice.[50]

Invert sugars and syrups are blended to manufacturers specifications and are used in breads, cakes, and beverages for adjusting sweetness, aiding moisture retention and avoiding crystallization of sugars.[50]

Liquid sugars are strong syrups consisting of 67% granulated sugar dissolved in water. They are used in the food processing of a wide range of products including beverages, ice cream, jams,[50] and hard candy.

Sugar cubes (sometimes called sugar lumps) are white or brown granulated sugars lightly steamed and pressed together in block shape. They are used to sweeten drinks.[50]

Brown sugars are granulated sugars with the grains coated in molasses to produce a light, dark, or demerara sugar. They are used in baked goods, confectionery, and toffees.[50]

Screened sugars are crystalline products separated according to the size of the grains. They are used for decorative table sugars, for blending in dry mixes and in baking and confectionery.[50]

Milled sugars (known as powdered sugar and confectioner's sugar) are ground to a fine powder. They are used as icing sugar, for dusting foods and in baking and confectionery.[50]

Granulated sugars are used at the table to sprinkle on foods and to sweeten hot drinks and in home baking to add sweetness and texture to cooked products. They are also used as a preservative to prevent micro-organisms from growing and perishable food from spoiling as in jams, marmalades, and candied fruits.[49]

Forms and uses

World sugar production (1000 metric tons)[47]
Country 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11 2011/12
Brazil 31,600 31,850 36,400 38,350 35,750
India 28,630 15,950 20,637 26,650 28,300
European Union 15,614 14,014 16,687 15,090 16,740
China 15,898 13,317 11,429 11,199 11,840
Thailand 7,820 7,200 6,930 9,663 10,170
United States 7,396 6,833 7,224 7,110 7,153
Mexico 5,852 5,260 5,115 5,495 5,650
Russia 3,200 3,481 3,444 2,996 4,800
Pakistan 4,163 3,512 3,420 3,920 4,220
Australia 4,939 4,814 4,700 3,700 4,150
Other 38,424 37,913 37,701 37,264 39,474
Total 163,536 144,144 153,687 161,437 168,247

The five largest producers of sugar in 2011 were Brazil, India, the European Union, China and Thailand. In the same year, the largest exporter of sugar was Brazil, distantly followed by Thailand, Australia and India. The largest importers were the European Union, United States and Indonesia. At the current time, Brazil has the highest per capita consumption of sugar, followed by Australia, Thailand, and the European Union.[47][48]

Producing countries

Cane sugar requires further processing to provide the free-flowing white table sugar required by the consumer. The sugar may be transported in bulk to the country where it will be used and the refining process often takes place there. The first stage is known as affination and involves immersing the sugar crystals in a concentrated syrup that softens and removes the sticky brown coating without dissolving them. The crystals are then separated from the liquor and dissolved in water. The resulting syrup is treated either by a carbonatation or by a phosphatation process. Both involve the precipitation of a fine solid in the syrup and when this is filtered out, a lot of the impurities are removed at the same time. Removal of colour is achieved by using either a granular activated carbon or an ion-exchange resin. The sugar syrup is concentrated by boiling and then cooled and seeded with sugar crystals causing the sugar to crystallize out. The liquor is spun in a centrifuge and the white crystals are dried in hot air and ready to be packaged or used. The surplus liquor is made into refiners' molasses.[45] The International Commission for Uniform Methods of Sugar Analysis sets standards for the measurement of the purity of refined sugar, known as ICUMSA numbers; lower numbers indicate a higher level of purity in the refined sugar.[46]

Sugars; clockwise from top-left:
White refined, unrefined,
brown, unprocessed cane


Sugarcane (Saccharum spp.) is a perennial grass in the family Poaceae. It is cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical regions for the sucrose that is found in its stems. It requires a frost-free climate with sufficient rainfall during the growing season to make full use of the plant's great growth potential. The crop is harvested mechanically or by hand, chopped into lengths and conveyed rapidly to the processing plant. Here, it is either milled and the juice extracted with water or extracted by diffusion. The juice is then clarified with lime and heated to kill enzymes. The resulting thin syrup is concentrated in a series of evaporators, after which further water is removed by evaporation in vacuum containers. The resulting supersaturated solution is seeded with sugar crystals and the sugar crystallizes out, is separated from the fluid and dried. Molasses is a by-product of the process and the fiber from the stems, known as bagasse, is burned to provide energy for the sugar extraction process. The crystals of raw sugar have a sticky brown coating and either can be used as they are or can be bleached by sulphur dioxide or can be treated in a carbonatation process to produce a whiter product.[44]


Sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) is a biennial plant[42] in the Family Amaranthaceae, the tuberous root of which contains a high proportion of sucrose. It is cultivated in temperate regions with adequate rainfall and requires a fertile soil. The crop is harvested mechanically in the autumn and the crown of leaves and excess soil removed. The roots do not deteriorate rapidly and may be left in a clamp in the field for some weeks before being transported to the processing plant. Here the crop is washed and sliced and the sugar extracted by diffusion. Milk of lime is added to the raw juice and carbonatated in a number of stages in order to purify it. Water is evaporated by boiling the syrup under a vacuum. The syrup is then cooled and seeded with sugar crystals. The white sugar that crystallizes out can be separated in a centrifuge and dried. It requires no further refining.[43]

A pack of sugar made of sugar beet.

Sugar beet


^A The carbohydrate figure is calculated in the USDA database and does not always correspond to the sum of the sugars, the starch, and the "dietary fibre".
Table 1. Sugar content of selected common plant foods (g/100g)[41]
Food Item Total
"dietary fibre"
Sucrose Fructose/
as a % of
Total Sugars
Apple 13.8 10.4 5.9 2.4 2.1 2.0 19.9
Apricot 11.1 9.2 0.9 2.4 5.9 0.7 63.5
Banana 22.8 12.2 4.9 5.0 2.4 1.0 20.0
Fig, dried 63.9 47.9 22.9 24.8 0.9 0.93 0.15
Grapes 18.1 15.5 8.1 7.2 0.2 1.1 1
Navel orange 12.5 8.5 2.25 2.0 4.3 1.1 50.4
Peach 9.5 8.4 1.5 2.0 4.8 0.9 56.7
Pear 15.5 9.8 6.2 2.8 0.8 2.1 8.0
Pineapple 13.1 9.9 2.1 1.7 6.0 1.1 60.8
Plum 11.4 9.9 3.1 5.1 1.6 0.66 16.2
Beet, Red 9.6 6.8 0.1 0.1 6.5 1.0 96.2
Carrot 9.6 4.7 0.6 0.6 3.6 1.0 77
Corn, Sweet 19.0 6.2 1.9 3.4 0.9 0.61 15.0
Red Pepper, Sweet 6.0 4.2 2.3 1.9 0.0 1.2 0.0
Onion, Sweet 7.6 5.0 2.0 2.3 0.7 0.9 14.3
Sweet Potato 20.1 4.2 0.7 1.0 2.5 0.9 60.3
Yam 27.9 0.5 tr tr tr na tr
Sugar Cane 13 - 18 0.2 – 1.0 0.2 – 1.0 11 - 16 1.0 high
Sugar Beet 17 - 18 0.1 – 0.5 0.1 – 0.5 16 - 17 1.0 high

The sugar contents of common fruits and vegetables are presented in Table 1. All data with a unit of g (gram) are based on 100 g of a food item. The fructose/glucose ratio is calculated by dividing the sum of free fructose plus half sucrose by the sum of free glucose plus half sucrose.


Lactose is the naturally occurring sugar found in milk. A molecule of lactose is formed by the combination of a molecule of galactose with a molecule of glucose. It is broken down when consumed into its constituent parts by the enzyme lactase during digestion. Children have this enzyme but some adults no longer form it and they are unable to digest lactose.[40]

Maltose is formed during the germination of certain grains, the most notable one being barley, which is converted into malt, the source of the sugar's name. A molecule of maltose is formed by the combination of two molecules of glucose. It is less sweet than glucose, fructose or sucrose.[34] It is formed in the body during the digestion of starch by the enzyme amylase and is itself broken down during digestion by the enzyme maltase.[39]

Sucrose is found in the stems of sugar cane and roots of sugar beet. It also occurs naturally alongside fructose and glucose in other plants, in particular fruits and some roots such as carrots. The different proportions of sugars found in these foods determines the range of sweetness experienced when eating them.[34] A molecule of sucrose is formed by the combination of a molecule of glucose with a molecule of fructose. After being eaten, sucrose is split into its constituent parts during digestion by a number of enzymes known as sucrases.[38]

Sucrose, maltose, and lactose are all compound sugars, disaccharides, with the general formula C12H22O11. They are formed by the combination of two monosaccharide molecules with the exclusion of a molecule of water.[34]


In general, galactose does not occur in the free state but is a constituent with glucose of the disaccharide lactose or milk sugar. It is less sweet than glucose. It is a component of the antigens found on the surface of red blood cells that determine blood groups.[37]

Fructose or fruit sugar occurs naturally in fruits, some root vegetables, cane sugar and honey and is the sweetest of the sugars. It is one of the components of sucrose or table sugar. It is used as a high-fructose syrup, which is manufactured from hydrolized corn starch that has been processed to yield corn syrup, with enzymes then added to convert part of the glucose into fructose.[36]

Glucose, dextrose or grape sugar occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices and is the primary product of photosynthesis. Most ingested carbohydrates are converted into glucose during digestion and it is the form of sugar that is transported around the bodies of animals in the bloodstream. It can be manufactured from starch by the addition of enzymes or in the presence of acids. Glucose syrup is a liquid form of glucose that is widely used in the manufacture of foodstuffs. It can be manufactured from starch by enzymatic hydrolysis.[35]

Glucose, fructose and galactose are all simple sugars, monosaccharides, with the general formula C6H12O6. They have five hydroxyl groups (−OH) and a carbonyl group (C=O) and are cyclic when dissolved in water. They each exist as several isomers with dextro- and laevo-rotatory forms that cause polarized light to diverge to the right or the left.[34]


Types of sugar

Magnification of grains of refined sucrose, the most common free sugar