Carbohydrate Series: Sugar vs. Carbohydrate – Is There a Difference?

The buzz in the media around carbohydrates is very loud these days.  This has prompted me to tackle the topic. However, carbohydrates are complex (no pun intended), so I will break it down into a few posts.  This week will discuss sugar and carbohydrates.

Popular fad diets usually come with a list of “good” and “bad” foods they claim are the key to health and weight loss.  Sugar and carbohydrates (carbs) are often interchangeable words associated with being a “bad” food in many popular diets these days.  So are they good or bad and what is the difference between sugar and carbs?

I will come back to the good and bad of sugar and carbs.  Let’s first make sure we are clear on what is sugar and what is a carbohydrate.

Carbohydrates are  nutrients that the body breaks down into a form of sugar, glucose, to be used as energy.   Carbohydrates are in everything, except meats, eggs and some cheeses.  The most common forms are sugars, starches and fiber.    Some foods are higher in carbs than others.  For example, bread is high in carbs, while many vegetables, like broccoli, are very low in carbs.

As stated above, sugar is a type of carbohydrate.  It is found naturally in some foods, like fruit,  and milk.  Sugar is also added to numerous foods, including most yogurts, muffins, cookies, salad dressings, etc.

So now let’s discuss the good and bad of carbs and sugar.

Carbohydrates are an important fuel source for the body.  The type of carbohydrate you choose does make a difference.  Less processed, natural sources of carbs, like whole grains and fruit, can and should be included in your healthy diet.  Processed, and sugar-added foods like cookies, however, should be limited.

Too much sugar in the body is not good for many reasons.  High blood sugar leads to diabetes and causes inflammation in the body.  It is important to limit sugar, especially added sugar.

The main reason carbs have gotten a bad rap lately is because a low carb diet is an effective way to lose weight.  However,  I am not a fan of really low carb diets.    We all love our carbs and sticking to a really low carb diet usually doesn’t work for long and then the weight comes back.  Keeping total carbs in check and making healthier choices with carbs is a better choice for long term success.  Remember, there are carbs in both healthy and unhealthy foods.    Stick to healthier choices, but don’t go crazy with them!

Sugar, on the other hand, should not be a big part of any diet.  Splurge once a while on your favorite dessert, but  dessert every day is not a good idea.  Be aware of added sugar in other  foods too.  Read labels!  Sugar comes in many forms, such as honey, syrup, brown sugar, and agave nectar.  If you see these on the ingredient list of a food, it is added sugar.  Don’t be fooled in thinking some of these are “healthy”; the body sees them all as sugar, so they should be limited.

Try this easy hummus recipe for a healthy-carb snack full of fiber. Serve with your favorite crunchy veggies for dipping. The addition of ricotta adds protein and lightness to traditional hummus.

Hummus and Ricotta Dip (serves 4)


  • 1 can garbanzo beans (or favorite white bean), drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic (raw or roasted), minced
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Optional: 1/4 teaspoon paprika or cayenne pepper
  • Vegetables, for dipping (carrots, cucumber, bell pepper, sugar snap peas, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)


  •  Put beans in food processor and process until smooth.  Add rest of ingredients (except vegetables) and process again until smooth.  Adjust seasoning to taste.
  • Can be served immediately or chill.  Serve with vegetables for dipping.

Nutrition Information

184 Calories    24 g Carbs   9g Fiber   8g Protein


 Next blog: Carbohydrates and Fiber… stay tuned!