There is no doubt that eating too much sugar is harmful to our health, especially when it is consumed from sources that don’t provide us with any nutritional benefit (like lollies, chocolate, soft drink, cakes etc). People who consume excessive amounts of added sugar in their diets (more than 5-10% of total energy) are more likely to be overweight, develop dental caries and may be at a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The extent to which sugar has been demonised over the past few years, however, is probably also having a detrimental effect on our health. Sugar is not “toxic” or “poison” and we definitely do not need to “quit sugar” entirely. There is no evidence that consuming a small amount of sugar each day causes poor health. This sensationalism and hype causes fear, and has probably triggered many regular people to go on a radical diet (that likely lasted just days, weeks or months, contributed to a poor relationship with food and caused initial weight loss followed by weight re-gain and self-loathing).
Maintaining a nutritious, healthy diet that will provide optimal health is all about balance (though that message is not going to sell books and make me an overnight millionaire). Demonising one particular nutrient will cause an increased intake of other nutrients. Very low sugar or carbohydrate diets are very high in fat. We know that these low carb high fat diets often lead to health gains in the short term, however they are very hard to continue long term. Most people get so sick of the taste of high fat foods and just crave carbs! We also don’t know if there are any health concerns in the long term (i.e. 10 or 20 years down the track). Will such a high intake of saturated fat cause heart troubles? Potentially.
The biggest gripe I have with this fear of sugar is the myth that low fat dairy is “full of sugar”. This is absolute nonsense!! Unflavoured low fat milk and yoghurt is simply regular milk and yoghurt that has had the fat removed – nothing else is added! Dairy contains the natural sugar lactose, which is low GI and perfectly healthy when consumed in reasonable amounts (unless you are lactose intolerant of course). The fat component of dairy does not contain lactose, so when this is removed, the leftover dairy is lower fat and has a slightly higher concentration of lactose – the result in terms of sugar content and health however is negligible. So from a nutrition perspective, low fat milk and yoghurt (unflavoured) is still the recommended choice.
My other gripe concerns the natural sugar “alternatives” like brown sugar, raw sugar, coconut sugar, rice malt syrup, honey, maple syrup, agave etc. All these sugars are natural, true, however they are still SUGAR! A recipe made with rice malt syrup instead of caster sugar is NOT SUGAR FREE. If it tastes good, sure have a serving, but remember it’s still a treat food and not a “health” food.
So in summary, no you don’t have to “quit” sugar. Though make sure you only consume small amounts and it is preferable to consume your sugar from nutritious foods that will provide other important nutrients like fruit and dairy. You do not have to eliminate added sugar from your diet, though if you do have a “treat” food, enjoy it, don’t feel guilty about it and try to stop when you feel satisfied (if you need help with this, check out my location details on the contact page to book an appointment).
Try my Balanced Banana Bread recipe that has a little bit of fat, a little bit of sugar, a bunch of good nutrition and a whole lot of flavour!