Cutting out sugar isn't a sweet deal for weight loss, American Sugarbeet Growers Association speaker says

Simply removing sugar from the diet doesn’t equate to weight loss because when it is removed, another ingredient often is added, Courtney Gaine of The Sugar Association told attendees at the ASGA annual meeting.

A woman in a pink sweater and black dress stands behind a speaker's podium as a a man in a gray coat seated at a table listens.
Courtney Gaine, president and CEO of The Sugar Association, spoke Jan. 30, 2023, at the American Sugarbeet Association annual meeting held in Washington DC, as Nate Hultgren, American Sugarbeet Association president, looks on. Hultgren, a Raymond, Minnesota farmer, raises sugarbeets for Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Co-op in Renville, Minnesota.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The effort by organizations, including the World Health Organization and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to reduce sugar consumption as a way to combat obesity is too simplistic and is not rooted in science, says the president and CEO of The Sugar Association.

“There are a lot of factors that aren’t discussed,” said Courtney Gaine, a registered dietician who leads The Sugar Association, on Jan. 30, 2023, at the American Sugarbeet Growers Association annual meeting in Washington D.C. About 250 members of the association attended the two-day annual meeting. The Sugar Association, which represents 151,000 sugar beet and cane growers across the United State, strives to use scientific-based research to teach consumers about the role sugar plays in a healthy diet.

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The “obsession” with sugar reduction began seven or eight years ago when, depending on the organization, the food was demonized for a variety of reasons, including contributing to tooth decay and increasing caloric intake, Gaine said.

The World Health Organization, for example, recommends that free sugar intakes — added sugar — from all sources be cut to below 10%, Gaine said.

But sugar is not the problem, and instead of focusing on reducing its consumption, health groups should acknowledge that there are other elements, such as fats and oils, that contribute to weight gain, she said.


“If you’re using common sense, sugar isn’t the root of all the problems,” Gaine said.

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Between 1970, when U.S. citizens were consuming 2,024 calories per day, and 2010, the amount of calories they consumed increased by 452 or nearly 25%, according to The Sugar Association. However, during that period, consumption of added sugar increased by 10% to 34.5 kilocalories per day — from 20.8 teaspoons per day to 22.9 teaspoons per day — while calories from added oils and fats increased by 66% to 225 kilocalories per day. Meanwhile, calories from grains increased by 28% to 116 kilocalories per day.

“We should look at the entire diet,” Gaine said.

Simply removing sugar from the diet doesn’t equate to weight loss because when it is removed, another ingredient often is added.

An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition April 2022 study showed that removing the sugar from foods typically affects the bulk and texture of the product, so bulking agents such as modified starch are added to them. The carbohydrate-based products, which typically provide energy, can increase the caloric content of the product compared with what it was in its original form.

Besides working to teach health organizations that diets that include added sugar can be healthy, The Sugar Association is highlighting to them that artificial sweeteners are unhealthy.

Some studies show that non-sugar sweeteners can cause health issues including digestive issues, headaches and weight gain.

“Sugar is functional, sugar is real food. All the alternatives are not,” Gaine said.


While health organizations still are promoting using artificial sweeteners instead of adding sugar, the public distrusts the non-sugar products and want labels to clearly state when they are used in their foods and what kind they are, Gaine said.

She encouraged farmers to educate the public about sugar because they know their product from the ground up.

“The more consumers understand our industry, the more we can expose people to the plant, to the farmer, who is the producer," Gaine said. “Keep talking.”

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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