Difference between Carbs and Sugar

By: | Updated: Dec-5, 2017

So you decided to start eating healthy food and really take care of your body. Maybe you read somewhere about how much you have to gain from eating right and reducing the intake of foods that make you dependent, drowsy, and fat. Inevitably, carbs were mentioned in such articles and now you know you must start avoiding them. And sweets, too. Or are they the same thing? Wait. What is the difference between carbs and sugar?

Summary Table

Carbs Sugar
Are a major food group including sugar, starch, and fiberIs a carbohydrate
Are found in fruits, vegetables, pasta, grains (good carbs), and in processed foods (bad carbs)Is extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets to make the substance we add to food; is present as fructose, glucose, maltose, or lactose in fruit, honey, vegetables, beer and milk
Over-consumption of good carbs may lead to weight gain; over-consumption of bad carbs may lead to severe health issuesOver-consumption of processed sugar might lead to obesity, diabetes and other diseases
Good carbs are not addictive; bad carbs are addictiveIs addictive


carb-rich foods
A grouping of carb-rich foods

Carbs are a major food group. They consist of the starches, sugars, and fibers you get from grains, fruit, vegetables, and some milk products. People who are on a no-carbs diet will avoid eating pasta, potatoes, rice, beans, peas, fruit, starchy vegetables, and milk. These are known as naturally occurring carbs, or good carbs, because they should be part of a healthy diet. A low-carb diet is recommended to a no-carb diet as the previous excludes many healthy vegetables that should not be crossed off your daily menu. Bad carbs are in processed food with added preservatives and sugar and are the ones all people should avoid. Some examples of foods high in bad carbs are fruit juices, candy, white bread, pastries, and white rice.

The difference between good carbs and bad carbs consists of their structure. Good carbs are complex chains of sugars that make the body “work” to break them down. They are usually found in foods that are high in fiber, like fruit and vegetables. This changes the way in which the body processes them. Bad carbs are simpler chains, making their sugars ready for use as soon as they are ingested.

When talking about diets, carbs are usually tabu, although, as a macro-nutrient, this group should not be excluded from anyone’s daily meal plan. The main reason why carbs are presented as the enemy of weight loss consists in the fact that they are a very accessible energy source for the body. Once consumed, carbs will constantly be made available for the body to burn, while other resources, such as fat, remain unused and cause the individual to gain weight. Lowering the carb intake forces the body to tap into the fat deposits and burn those instead.

sugar granules
A close-up image of sugar granules

Sugar, also known as sucrose, is a carbohydrate. It can be found in various forms such as fructose and glucose in fruit, vegetables, and honey; as maltose, found in beer and other malted drinks; and lactose, found in milk (this only applies to milk and milk products that are not based on sour milk, in which case the lactose has been turned into lactic acid). When consumed, glucose is used for brain functions. However, this implies a smaller quantity, one we get from milk, fruit or vegetables. Anything extra gets turned by the liver into fat.

Sugar is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. It is processed, then added to foods such as sweets or food products with added sugar, such as ketchup. Over-consumption of sugar is a reality in many cases, especially since it has been proven that it is an addictive substance. The more you eat, the more you crave it. Among the medical issues associated with over-consumption of sugar are obesity, tooth decay, a fatty liver, and diabetes.

Carbs vs Sugar

So what is the difference between carbs and sugar?

First, it is important to understand the connection between the two – namely, that sugar is a carbohydrate. Second, when it comes to dietary imperatives, it is more important and healthier to cut out foods with added processed sugar. Carbs, on the other hand, are an important food group that includes fruit and vegetables and must not be excluded.

Nutritionists recommend the consumption of up to 300 grams of carbohydrates per day, in a balanced 2000 calorie diet. When it comes to sugar, there is no nutritional recommendation, only warnings against excess.

Over-consumption of carbs from natural sources such as pasta, potatoes, rice, and beans, can lead to weight gain unless exercise is included in a person’s daily schedule. On the other hand, over-consumption of sweets with added processed sugar can lead to diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, and other such diseases.

The carbs in fruit and vegetables are harmless. So are, to some extent, the carbs found in starchy foods. However, there are bad carbs – the ones we find in fast food. These are addictive and can ruin a person’s metabolism. Sugar is also highly addictive and can cause intense cravings.

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