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Is Sugar Bad for You?

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(Image credit: Byron Solomon (donkeyrock) / Stock.XCHNG)

Over the past few years, some soda makers switched from corn syrup to sugar to sweeten their soft drinks. This was partly in response to a corn shortage, but also because many people believe that sugar is healthier or more natural than the high fructose corn syrup previously used. On the other hand, countless products are advertised as "sugar free," and everyone agrees that people eat too much sugar.

So what's the deal? Is sugar bad for you or not?

Sugar consumption has been associated with a variety of health problems ranging from dental cavities to obesity, but definitive links between sugar and ill health are difficult to make because sugary foods are also often high in fat as well. Diets high in sugar tend to be unhealthy, but that does not necessarily mean that sugar itself is unhealthy.

Many parents are cautious about giving their children candy , though despite popular myths about a "sugar high," sugar has not been linked to hyperactivity in children.

"Sugar does not affect the behavior or cognitive performance of children," concluded researchers who investigated a link between sugar and behavior in a study published in 1995 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Instead, the researchers found that the assumed link between sugar and hyperactivity "may be due to expectancy and common association."

Sugar is not necessarily bad for you, but, like salt , fat and other tasty ingredients, it should be consumed in moderation. This is difficult, however, because much of the sugar that most Americans eat is "hidden." Everyone expects to find sugar in candy bars and soft drinks, but significant quantities of sugar can also be found in many common foods, from ketchup to salad dressings to pasta sauce. And, of course, there is naturally occurring sugar in many fruits and vegetables.

Because sugar contains no vitamins or minerals, it provides only empty calories taste without the benefit of nutrition. This, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with sugar: it's not bad for you, but it's not good for you either.

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Benjamin Radford
Benjamin Radford is the Bad Science columnist for Live Science. He covers pseudoscience, psychology, urban legends and the science behind "unexplained" or mysterious phenomenon. Ben has a master's degree in education and a bachelor's degree in psychology. He is deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer science magazine and has written, edited or contributed to more than 20 books, including "Scientific Paranormal Investigation: How to Solve Unexplained Mysteries," "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore" and “Investigating Ghosts: The Scientific Search for Spirits,” out in fall 2017. His website is www.BenjaminRadford.com.