Sugar is a class of carbohydrates composed of many different sweet substances that are chemically related because they are all built from oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen. Sugar is available in nature from many plant sources and is refined into many different types of sugar for human consumption. Simple sugars, also called monosaccharides, are glucose, fructose and galactose. The disaccharides like table sugar (sucrose) break down in the body into the simple sugars before they can be used. Providing a quick source of energy, sugar products are important when looking at your diet. So, how many calories are in a cup of sugar?
Calories in a Cup of Sugar
Believe it or not, the number of calories in a cup of sugar will vary depending on the source and how it is processed.
- White Sugar. Also known as granulated sugar, white sugar is what most people think of when they say "sugar". During the processing of sugar cane, the molasses is removed giving white sugar its characteristic white color. A cup of white sugar contains 774 calories.
- Brown Sugar. Brown sugar is partially processed sugar cane that remains brown because some molasses is left in the sugar during processing. A cup of brown sugar contains 836 calories.
- Confectioner's Sugar. Confectioner's sugar (also called powdered or baker's sugar) is ground into a powder from granulated sugar. Often sifted before use in frosting, a cup of the sifted powdered sugar contains 390 calories and unsifted contains 468 calories.
- Turbinado Sugar. Turbinado sugar is produced when sugar cane is compressed in a centrifuge to remove all the juice. The result is the golden colored crystals characteristic of turbinado sugar. One cup of this sugar contains 399 calories.
- Splenda Brand Sugar. Splenda is one of the sugar substitutes made from natural sources. Most people assume that Splenda does not contain any calories. However, when measured by the cup, Splenda contains about 96 calories per cup.
Recommended Daily Sugar Intake
How much sugar should you be getting each day? Actually, the human body does not need any processed sugar so recommendations are based on the maximum amount of refined sugar. A healthy, well-balanced diet will provide enough carbohydrates to fulfill your body's needs so a diet high in processed sugar simply adds calories without nutrition.
The limit on sugar depends on your gender and any health problems you might have. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy men get no more than 36 grams (only 9 teaspoons) of sugar each day. If you are a healthy woman, this recommendation decreases to 20 grams or about 5 teaspoons. The recommended limit for children is 12 grams per day (about 3 teaspoons). If you have problems with your blood sugar (either hypo- or hyperglycemia), you should work with your healthcare provider or nutritionist to determine the sugar you can safely use each day.
Dangers of Too Much Sugar Intake
Too much of anything can lead to health problems and disease. Too much sugar is no different. Dangers associated with too much sugar in your diet include:
- Obesity. Weight gain and resulting obesity are a very real danger from eating too much sugar. Excess calories are stored in the body as fat which results in weight gain that is very hard to lose. Especially in early childhood, studies show that excessive consumption of sugar leads to an increased risk of obesity.
- Insulin Resistance. Made in the pancreas, insulin is the hormone that controls sugar levels in the body. When you eat too much sugar, you may develop a resistance to insulin leading to blood sugar problems and, ultimately, diabetes.
- Tooth Decay. Bacteria love sugar. When you eat foods that contain sugar without brushing your teeth, you are at high risk for developing cavities in your teeth. Fluoride in water and toothpaste has decreased the amount of tooth decay, but bad breath and decay is still a risk from eating too much sugar.
- Cardiovascular Diseases. The American Diabetes Association has done research that shows that high blood sugar levels can lead to atherosclerosis. This hardening of the arteries can lead to heart problems and stroke. High blood sugar levels may also cause an increase in triglycerides which is another risk factor for cardiac disease.
- Kidney Damage. One of the most harmful effects of a diet high in sugar is the kidney damage that can occur as your kidneys begin to work harder to control the blood sugar levels. Although treatable in the early stages, renal failure from kidney damage can be a devastating disease.
- Depressed Immune System. The elevation of insulin to take care of high glucose levels can cause a decrease in hormones that control your immune system. As your immune system is affected, you will be at higher risk for diseases and infections that your body would otherwise be able to fight.
- Mental Problems. The effects of sugar on mental health have been debated for years. There have been studies that link sugar intake to hyperactivity, behavior problems, learning disabilities and decreased attention span.
- Lack of Nutrition. Finally, if you consume a lot of sugar, you will be less hungry for healthier food. Remember that sugar calories are empty; that is, foods that are loaded with sugar typically lack the vitamins and minerals necessary for a healthy diet.