I think we can all agree that sugar isn’t a health food. However, there is a lot of misinformation about sugar. Is it really as bad as it is made out to be? Are some types of sugar healthier than others? Will quitting it really save you from a swathe of health problems? Turns out, the answers aren’t that simple.
Sugar occurs naturally in any foods that contain carbohydrates – all fruits and vegetables, grains and dairy. These foods also contain high amounts of either fibre and/or protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. The problems with sugar occur when you consume too much ‘added’ or ‘free’ sugar – the sugar that is added to make foods and beverages taste sweet.
Overall, the evidence that added sugar directly causes Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer is not strong.
There is an association between sugar and these health conditions, but more research is needed to tease out the details. The only thing that scientists are sure of is that high added sugar intake is the main cause of tooth decay.
When it comes to added sugar, refined sugar is not the only source. Sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup, used in ‘refined sugar free’ recipes are not ‘healthy sugars.’ Yes, they contain more nutrients than white sugar, but in negligible amounts that will have no benefit to your health. Also, they don’t get any special treatment once they reach your stomach. When it comes to digestion, your body has no idea where the sugar came from, it will simply break them all down and use them in the same way. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat those other varieties of sugar, if you enjoy them. It just isn’t worth the extra money thinking that they are somehow superior to white sugar.
Healthy eating guidelines recommend that teens and adults should consume no more than 30g (7 tsp) of added sugar each day; 7-10 year olds less than 24g (6 tsp) and 4-6 year olds a 19g (5 tsp) maximum. On average, adults are consuming double and teenagers three times the recommended amount.
As you can see from the recommendations, you don’t need to quit sugar completely. However, with most teenagers and adults consuming more that the recommended amount, we do need to look at reducing the amounts we are having. The trick is not to completely restrict sugar, or anything else you enjoy. Often when we do this we start off quitting it, before eating too much and feeling ill and guilty, so we quit it again. And then eat too much, feel bad, quit, and on it goes. This is not healthy – physically or mentally!
Instead, focus on your overall dietary pattern. Eat a widely varied diet, include nutrient-dense foods as well as foods that bring you joy. So, go ahead and enjoy that sweet temptation, without a side of guilt.