Everything in moderation.
With the average US adult now consuming 22 teaspoons per day, there’s no doubt sugar in large amounts is bad for our bodies. But we’ve all been digesting the ingredient for years, so what has suddenly caused the natural substance to become the devil?
Granted, sugar has been linked to causing the rate of obesity and type 2 diabetes to increase and, according to a 2015 study by a team at Tufts University in Massachusetts, a byproduct of it (sugary drinks) accounts for 184,000 deaths worldwide. However, new research proves the issue is not with sugar itself but how we are programmed to consume it – in excess – and, thanks to extreme processing, that it no longer comes hand-in-hand with any of its nutrients.
So while celebrities like Jamie Oliver continue to freeze out sugar, the joke seems to be on them and those who are naive enough to believe sugar could suddenly bare teeth and cause us incredible harm, when really we should be welcoming it with open arms.
Still on the fence? Here are eight reasons why removing the sweet stuff from your diet may not be in your best interest…
1. We’ve been eating sugar for centuries
Thanks to evolution, there’s a reason our bodies like sugar in the first place. Daniel Lieberman, evolutionary biologist and author of The Story the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, indicates our body’s yearning for sugar stems from when apes gained their energy from sugar-rich ripe fruit.
“Sugar is a deep, deep ancient craving,” says Lieberman, and our early ancestors wouldn’t have survived or been able to pass along their genes without it. It’s all because of sugar that we’re here today.
2. Natural sugar is actually good for you
In its natural form, sugar is found in an abundance of food and is packed full of nutrients we need in our diet, such as fibre, vitamins and minerals. Sugar can naturally be found as glucose in milk products and as fructose and glucose in fruits and vegetables such as lychees, figs, mangoes and grapes. So don’t shy away from those fruit salads. Instead, it’s the supplementary sugar we need to watch out for, says dietitian and sports nutritionist, Robbie Clark.
“Added sugar is considered the single worst ingredient in the modern diet, and the main reason it receives such negative criticism is due to its lack of nutritive value and its potential to damage your metabolism in the long-term.”
3. Sugar alternatives are just as bad
While sugar is traditionally extracted from sugar canes, alternatives such as rice malt syrup, coconut sugar, maple syrup and agave nectar are just extracted from different plant species. Clark notes that even despite the increased use of artificial sweeteners, the obesity epidemic is still on the rise, since we tend to eat more after consuming them.
“Researchers have found that artificial sweeteners do not satisfy our biological cravings for sugar in the same way sugar itself does, and could therefore lead to an increase in food consumption. Since these sweeteners can be up to 200 times sweeter than sugar, the strong sweetness may cause us to become dependent on sweet flavours, which could increase our desire for sweet foods in general.”
4. It’s about quantity, not quality
Lieberman notes that while your body is used to and needs sugar to run effectively, it’s the amount of sugar we are consuming that’s doing the damage, not the substance itself.
“We need to note our bodies are not adapted to the amount of sugar we are pouring into them and it’s the excess which is making us sick.”
5. Less is doing more harm than good
“By eliminating any food group, you may be depriving your body of vital nutrients and energy it requires for optimal health. Nutrient deficiencies lead to a host of all kinds of negative health conditions, some that are not so obvious but will impair your long-term health,” explains Clark.
When your body is deprived of sugar, it notices. If your cells don’t get the right levels of sugar, your body will get its energy by breaking down your fat cells. This change releases adrenaline and cortisol, which will give you sensations of clarity, weight loss and energy. While you may see it as a bonus, the body is not designed to live off these stress hormones, which can destroy your metabolism, accelerate ageing, weaken your immune system and cause serious mood imbalances.
6. (The right) sugars can be a great source of energy
When eaten correctly, sugar can acts as a positive fuel and provide the body with with health benefits, particularly when it comes to energy levels and brain function.
“It is important to understand that sugars are carbohydrates and, like all carbohydrates, they play a vital role in making sure you have energy to perform daily tasks, to exercise and to carry out the most basic functions of your body, including brain activity,” explains Clark.
7. Your diet could be the real issue
While eliminating additional sugar from your diet will certainly provide health benefits, sugar itself may not be the sole reason you’re gaining weight or having one too many pimples popping up.
“It is important to look at your diet as a whole and to stop vilifying a single ingredient and treating it like it is solely responsible for your ill health,” explains Clark.
Instead, bad health could be attributed to excess salt or fats, a nutritional imbalance in your diet or a lack of physical activity.
8. Eliminating sugar completely is impractical
Let’s be honest, cutting sugar out of your diet completely is pretty impractical. While it may have epic short-term results, it’s not sustainable. Clark also highlights that abolishing the ingredient from your diet will have damaging effects on your relationship with food.
“The pressures of eliminating something to achieve a health goal can be crippling, and if you are unsuccessful in achieving this goal, it can have many psychological ramifications.”
Plus, let’s be honest, are you really never going to eat sugar again? Hello, birthday cake and cocktails…
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Comment: Do you believe the hype surrounding sugar being bad for your health?