You’ve heard it all: Sugar is bad. Sugar is toxic. Sugar will destroy your health.
Fear-mongering messages around sugar abound. They are extreme, unhelpful, and take the joy out of eating dessert.
Truthfully, nutrition science is just not that simple – cutting out one ingredient (like sugar) or groups of food is not what will lead to better health. In fact, it can be detrimental to health. I know from experience. I used to avoid sugary foods thinking they would somehow make me unhealthy if I ate anything other than dark chocolate. And now I watch many of my clients struggle with the same fear, and for some of them, it’s life crippling fear.
In our society, which upholds disordered eating practices, it’s unfortunately often looked at as “willpower” or “healthy” to cut something “BAD” like sugar out of the diet. Well, contrary to popular belief (and all the garbage that’s out there from people like attractive celebrities who write nutrition books), I’m here to tell you that cutting out sugar is not going to make you healthier. It also won’t make you “GOOD,” or a better person.
The Scoop on Sugar:
Sugar is glucose, and glucose is the primary energy source of our bodies. We all need glucose for our organs to function properly and to have adequate energy.
Naturally occurring sugars are those found in milk, cheese and unsweetened yogurt (lactose), and fruit (fructose). Lactose and fructose are both broken down into glucose in our bodies.
Added sugars are any sugar or syrups added to foods during processing and preparation, and are found in things like baked goods and soda. They include ingredients like honey, agave nectar, maltose, corn syrup, maple syrup and molasses.
Natural & Added Sugars
Your body does not know the difference between sugar from a fresh apple (natural sugars) and sugar from a traditional chocolate chip cookie (added sugars). The difference is in how the sugars are digested.
The apple is full of fiber, which creates a feeling of satiety, and a steadier release of glucose (or sugar) into the bloodstream. The cookie typically has a high glycemic index with refined sugars, which go into the bloodstream quicker (causing insulin and blood sugar levels to spike), and do not create the same feeling of fullness (at least, not for long).
But they deliver something else — pleasure.
While food is fuel, it is also a part of joyful living. It brings people together, it helps us celebrate family traditions, birthdays and holidays, and can be a source of comfort. Can you get pleasure from an apple? Absolutely. But there’s nothing like a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie right out of the oven.
Give Yourself Permission
Some people feel if they give themselves permission to eat foods with sugar, they won’t be able to stop, they’ll just eat sweets all day, or they have extreme sugar cravings that they can’t seem to satiate.
If you experience similar situations, ask yourself these questions:
Have I eaten enough at my meals today?
It’s important to eat regular meals and snacks every three to five hours throughout the day to keep blood sugar and energy levels stable. A complete meal includes foods from each macronutrient category – carbs, fat and protein. And it’s also enough food that leaves you feeling full and satisfied. If your nutrient and/or energy (calorie) needs are not met because you are not eating enough, you will not be satisfied physically or mentally (at least not for long) and that’s when over-doing it later will happen.
Am I eating primarily out of emotional needs?
Pay attention to why you are eating if you aren’t physically hungry. Is it simply because you want to share a treat with your friend? That’s cool. Or is to soothe yourself when you’re having uncomfortable feelings. That’s fine too. I believe we all have some kind of emotional relationship to food. Eating can be a way to comfort ourselves during stressful times when done so in a mindful way, but it should only be one way. There are a host of ways to self-soothe and practice self-care, including journaling, talk therapy, practicing meditation and breath-work, spending time with family, pets and friends, taking a nap, going in nature and practicing intuitive movement (this is very personal – it’s what helps you!).
Have I placed extreme, rigid rules on myself?
Depriving ourselves from our favorite foods (whether it has sugar or not) almost always makes us want them more, and may potentially lead to a binge on said foods. It can also lead to extra stress (DYK stress is the source of many chronic diseases??… and really, who needs MORE stress?), and disordered eating behaviors like preoccupation with food and social isolation. In fact, dieting and any type of food restriction like cutting out sugar can lead to full-blown eating disorders.
On the contrary, when we allow ourselves regular access to all foods year-round (not just at birthdays or holidays), we can truly enjoy them in amounts that make us feel good, and then move on to more important things in life.
Wanting to eat and eating sugar does not make you or me bad, or unhealthy people – it makes us human – and it can fit into an overall nutritious and balanced eating pattern.
So, here's to enjoying our dessert!
In true health,
Oh, P.S. If you want the recipe for the Tres Leches Cake shown in the image with this post, go here. 🙂