The role of dietary sugars in health: molecular composition or just calories?

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2019 Sep;73(9):1216-1223. doi: 10.1038/s41430-019-0407-z. Epub 2019 Feb 20.


This review will focus on the question of whether dietary sugars are a relevant determinant in the global rise of overweight and obesity in adults, adolescents, and children. Initially, the review describes the current definitions for sugars in the diet and makes reference to them while analyzing their role in overweight and obesity as well as diet-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer. Second, it will focus particularly on sucrose and the question of whether it is the molecular composition of sucrose (glucose and fructose) or its energy content that promotes body weight gain and diet-related diseases. Finally, the review will clarify the molecular characteristics of sucrose regarding the release of the gastrointestinal glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide (GIP) compared to other energy-providing nutrients and its relevance in metabolic diseases. Current data indicates that dietary sugars are only associated with an increase in obesity when consumed as an excess source of calories and with that an increase in the risk of diet-related diseases. Furthermore, it was shown that a diet rich in fat will stimulate GIP secretion more than a diet rich in sucrose. Taken together, current scientific evidence does not support the conclusion that dietary sugars per se are detrimental to human health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / etiology
  • Diet / adverse effects
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / adverse effects
  • Dietary Sugars / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Sugars / adverse effects*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Gastric Inhibitory Polypeptide / physiology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / etiology
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Overweight / etiology


  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Sugars
  • Gastric Inhibitory Polypeptide