Someone may have told you that people with diabetes can't eat any sugar. Some people think eating too much sugar causes diabetes in the first place. Such ideas make sugar sound like a 'bad guy', but sugar is really just a type of carbohydrate. New Zealand registered dietitian Alison Pask explains that a sugar free diet is no longer the norm for people with diabetes.

Sugar (sucrose) is a carbohydrate occuring naturally in foods. It is the major product of photosynthesis, the process by which plants transform the sun's energy into food.

Sugar occurs in greatest quantities in sugar cane, from which it is separated for commercial use.


What is the difference between sugars?

The only difference between the types of sugar is the amount of molasses which remains on the crystal.

So brown sugar is not more 'natural' than white sugar, it simply has a different flavour and colour due to extra molasses coating the sugar crystal.

  • White sugar is the most popular and widely used sugar - its high degree of purity means it has no additional flavour other than sweetness.
  • Caster sugar is the same as white sugar, but has a smaller crystal size.
  • Icing sugar is granulated sugar ground to a smooth powder and then sifted; it contains about 3% cornstarch to prevent caking.
  • Golden syrup and treacle are produced by partly breaking down sugar into its components of glucose and fructose which stops crystals forming and creates a stable liquid product.

Honey or sugar?

Honey is just as natural as sugar except it comes from a beehive rather than sugar cane. Honey has more carbohydrate and kilojoules than sugar, but is sweeter so you use less. It also has a lower average GI, but this does depend on the nectar the bees have fed on.

1 Tablespoon

Carbohydrate (g)






average 55

Table Sugar





You will not gain any nutritional advantage by using honey in preference to sugar. It is okay to use a teaspoon on unsweetened porridge, but it is important to allow for the extra carbohydrate, as you also must do when using honey in any cooking.

Sugar is now considered more acceptable for people with diabetes when used in small amounts as part of a healthy meal plan. Sugar provides no fibre, no nutritional value, and can contribute to weight gain and poor diabetes control if used in excessive amounts.


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