9 science 'facts' about sugar that are completely false

Veruca Salt, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Sugar! Our taste buds might love it but society has taught us to hate it by feeding our minds with ideas that sugar is addictive, toxic, and disease-inducing.

Fortunately for anyone with a sweet tooth, that’s not true.

Several recent studies debunk the myth that sugar is uniformly bad for us. And in a recent book, called “The Gluten Lie,” James Madison University professor Alan Levinovitz tells us why.

With help from the studies that Levinovitz cites as well as a few other expert sources, we’ve debunked nine sugar “facts.” Here they are:

Sugar causes hyperactivity in children.


If your kids are going crazy with hyperactivity, you can't blame the sugar. Numerous scientific studies have attempted and failed to find any evidence that supports this off-the-wall notion.

Levinovitz traces the myth back to 1974, when Dr. William Crook wrote a letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which the academy later published, stating 'Only in the past three years have I become aware that sugar ... is a leading cause of hyperactivity.'

A letter does not include the rigorous scientific research that a paper does, and according to the National Institute of Mental Health: 'The idea that refined sugar causes ADHD or makes symptoms worse is popular, but more research discounts this theory than supports it.'

Natural sugar is better for you than processed sugar.

Some nature gurus might have you believe that a granola bar made with natural honey instead of high-fructose corn syrup is better for you. They would be wrong.

'Scientists would be surprised to hear about the 'clear superiority' of honey, since there is a near unanimous consensus that the biological effect of high-fructose corn syrup are essentially the same as those of honey,' Levinovitz writes.

The sugar in natural products like fruit and synthetic products like candy is the same. The problem is that candy, and other related products, usually have more sugar per serving, which means more calories. That's the difference you should be watching out for and not some hyped-up myth that high-fructose corn syrup is an evil, toxic poison.

Children who drink soda are at a greater risk of becoming obese.

In 'Fed Up,' the widely popular film that addresses some of the supposed causes of America's obesity epidemic, you hear the alarming statistic that 'One soda a day increases a child's chance of obesity by 60%.'

Even the authors of the study this statistic comes from know that their findings 'cannot prove causality,' they write in their 2001 paper. (But that's not what the 'Fed Up' sugar-shaming producers would want you to think.)

Yes, drinking too much calorie-loaded soda is likely unhealthy, but it's not the sole factor driving the child obesity epidemic in America.

The CDC advises parents to do what they can to protect against obesity by encouraging healthy lifestyle habits that include healthy eating and exercise, both of which will likely do more for a child's waistline than trying to completely cut sugar.

Sugar is as addictive as heroin.

Roma Koshel/Shutterstock

In the 2009 book 'Fat Chance,' the author, Dr. Robert Lustig, claims that sugar stimulates the brain's reward system the same way that tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, and even heroin does, and therefore must be equally addictive. Lustig even cites studies that show parts of our brain that light-up from a sugary reward are the same parts that get excited for many types of enjoyable activities, from drinking alcohol to having sex.

The problem, however, with these types of scientific studies of the brain is that 'In neuroimaging, there is no clear-cut sign of addiction,' Hisham Ziaudden, an eating behavioural specialist, told Levinovitz.

So, scientists don't know what addiction in the brain looks like, yet, and until that mystery is solved we sho udl not be living in fear from something as fanciful as sugar addiction.

No sugar in your diet is healthier than some sugar.

If you believe that sugar is addictive, then you also might think that just a little of it can potentially do a lot of harm. This mindset can be useful when applied to addictive drugs like cocaine: Even a little can be lethal. But sugar is not addictive, as far as we know.

Still, people who think of sugar in this way have a hard time accepting that a low dose is not harmful while a high dose can be dangerous, Paul Rozin, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania told Levinovitz.

Of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't avoid foods with super-high sugar concentrations. A 20-ounce bottle of soda, for example, has roughly 65 grams (about 16 teaspoons) of sugar, which is more than twice the amount) of sugar the World Health Organisation advises that adults and children consume in a whole day.

Sugar is a gateway drug.

The idea that sugar is addictive has led some biased anti-sugar advocates to go as far as claiming that sugar is a gateway drug that opens doors for more extreme substance abuse.

There are a couple of problems with this, however: First, sugar is not addictive, so its role as a gateway drug is entirely speculative.

Second, the idea that using one drug makes us more prone to trying other drugs is 'variable and opportunistic' a team of researchers announced in 2013 after an in-depth review of the scientific literature on the gateway drug hypothesis. In other words, the gateway drug theory is still a theory and not scientific fact.

Sugar is an aphrodisiac.

While you might have never considered sugar to be an aphrodisiac, your ancestors probably did. In the mid 19th century -- before sugar purportedly caused diabetes or hyperactivity -- sugar was thought to ignite sexual desire in women, children, and, more controversially, the poor.

Levinovitz cites a vintage Kellogg advertisement that said 'Candies, spices, cinnamon, cloves, peppermint, and all strong essences powerfully excited the genital organs and lead to the (solitary vice).'

Sugar myths have come and gone for over 150 years. And, in case you're wondering, there's little to no evidence to support the notion that food, no matter what kind, stimulates sexual desire.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.