At this point, most of us have heard it – repeatedly – throughout our lives: sugar is bad for us. That’s why many trainers and health gurus choose to eliminate or minimize it in their – and their client’s – diets. It’s also why magazines promising to improve our lives via slimmer waistlines dish us up recipes with big doses of guilt and sugar alternatives. It’s clear that sugar – in all it’s various forms – has gotten a bad wrap. That’s why I’m writing to tell you why I eat sugar – and why it’s truly ok if you do too!
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH SUGAR
I eat sugar. I eat it daily, in fact. And not just the natural sugary stuff found in fruits and veggies. I eat the white stuff used in coffee, jams, candies, chocolates, pastries – you name it – daily. Before you let your imagination run wild, let me clarify and add that, while it’s true that I don’t hold back with sugar, I’m also not sitting around with piles of bonbons à la Marie Antoinette. At least, not yet!
MY CLIENT’S RELATIONSHIPS TO SUGAR
When I speak to clients and prospective clients (particularly females), about fueling their bodies I almost inevitably am asked if sugar should be eliminated. “Sugar is bad… right?” the question comes paired with sad eyes, weary frowns and set jaws, as if ready for impact at the sound of my response. When I say no, the shock is visible. I’ll remind everyone now, as a disclaimer, that I am neither a nutritionist nor a doctor. That said, it is my job – and part of my professional training – to have a solid understanding of the human body, our metabolic processes and nutrition. So let’s continue.
WHY SUGAR HAS A BAD RAP
Proponents of “sugarless” diets (such as Paleo, which only allows for maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar and the like) often cite the fact that sugar is more addictive than cocaine. (You can read about that study and it’s famous findings here). I don’t dispute that at all. Most people find that the more sugar they’re used to, the more they feel the effects when that amount is decreased or taken away. The same thing happens (to varying extents), with all macro and micronutrients that our bodies need and want, from caffeine (potentially addictive) to lettuce and leafy greens (in no way addictive but chock full of vitamins our body craves when we don’t get enough of them).
Sugar intake – even in the form of fructose – and obesity have also been linked, which, given the national obesity crisis in the United States and elsewhere is something to take seriously. Obesity has been linked to higher rates of diabetes type 2, which (understandably) further compounds the generalized fear of sugar. Additionally, table sugar really doesn’t have any added nutritional value. It’s an energy source, but on a basic level, that’s about it. What does this mean? Simply put, it’s often slapped with the title of “empty calories”, which, in today’s diet-crazed society, is about as bad as it gets.
WHY I STILL EAT SUGAR
Given everything I’ve just said, you might be tempted to run and throw away all the sugar in your home, and you’re most likely raising at least one eyebrow at my claims to be a daily consumer of such a purportedly evil additive. I don’t blame you a bit! But it’s true, I eat it – in all it’s forms, with the exception of High Fructose Corn Syrup, which is limited in Europe due to strict production quotas – on a daily basis.
- It’s a social thing – For better or for worse, many social gatherings center around food. Sharing in that experience is a bonding time. Plus, few things are more wonderful than sharing a sweet moment (and a few decadent mouthfuls!) with a friend or loved one. That first bite … ahh! Delish!
- It’s delicious – Let’s face it, sugar, in all it’s many forms, is delicious. Not only is it a flavor-enhancer, but it’s downright yummy on it’s own. From a juicy ripe peach to a square – or three! – of dark chocolate to a bowl of ice cream, sugar-filled foods are just plain yummy!
- Categorizing foods as “bad” isn’t my thing – For many of us, it can be tempting to draw a hard line and have certain foods that we just say “no” to, period. But by categorizing food as “good” or “bad” we inevitably invite shame to the table with us, which can wreck psychological havoc. Ever noticed how if you let yourself have a bit of what you’re craving, that craving goes away? And on the flip side, what happens when you resist it? Maybe it passes… or maybe it becomes the giant pink elephant in the room until you can’t stand it anymore and that one cookie you wanted becomes a gut-busting 10.
- My body is not a temple – We’ve all heard the expression “your body is a temple”. While the expression has biblical roots, it’s often used today in a strict, appearance-driven way. My body is an absolutely amazing vehicle – a vessel for all the great things I can do and want to do in my life. But my religion is not worshipping it – particularly if that means taking hardline stances about pervasive foods or food groups.
- Life is short – I spent many years agonizing over food and trying every diet imaginable. None of them made me happier. And now that I’m older (and perhaps a little wiser!?), I’m aware of just how precious our time on this Earth is, and how easy it is to spend days agonizing instead of enjoying. I am all for honoring our bodies, treating them well and living healthy, balanced lives. For me, that means moving when it feels good, resting when it feels necessary, eating when I’m hungry, (usually) stopping when I’m full and absolutely enjoying dessert when the mood hits!
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not encouraging everyone to go out and get jazzed on pixie sticks morning, noon and night! But hopefully this article helped share a few of the many ways that sugar can be part of an overall balanced – and delicious! – lifestyle!