Don’t be Scared of Sugar

Don’t be Scared of Sugar

Sugar is getting a lot of flack at the moment. It’s evil. It’s poisonous and oh yes of course it WILL kill you (come to think of it I did choke a bit the last time I had some cake).

Bottom line. We are all eating too much of the white stuff. Sugary foods are not packed with vitamins and minerals whereas foods high in protein, like egg or nuts are. Sugar is really just empty energy. Fizzy drinks, cakes, sweets and biscuits do sweet FA for your energy levels. A quick burst for you then to crash and feel rubbish later on. Too much sugar (like any other nutrient) will contribute to weight gain and will rot your teeth. Ultimately, we could all do with cutting down.

Some bloggers report how going sugar-free has been life-changing. Certain conditions, such as poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can benefit from cutting down sugar intake. The hormone that responds to sugar (insulin) does not work sometimes as effectively in PCOS and can lead to higher blood sugars; not ideal at all. So, if cutting down or even out the sugar has worked in these cases, amazing. Also there will be healthy people who have cut down/cut out sugar and feel completely great. This is fine, as long as the restriction can be maintained, the diet is varied and nutritionally complete and a person is happy.

On the contrary a few people look like they are really struggling with trying to go sugar-free, feeling unhappy and guilty when they succumb to a cup-cake! This bothers me. Of course if you cut down on sugar you may lose weight; you are eating less calories. However, you may find you don’t if you compensate for the lack of sugar and eat other foods, like crisps or chips.

When I consider the media coverage sugar is getting, I think back to my late Grandad (who lived until he was 91). Tall, strong and always a healthy weight. He was active, ate 3 meals a day and adored his cakes and biscuits, washed down with Yorkshire tea (no other tea compares!)  I imagine having a conversation with him, telling him he needed to go sugar-free. Not a chance.

Sugar has been around forever and now it is everywhere and I do mean everywhere. Our diet has changed, foods have changed and we are reaching for more processed foods that have sugar added. The worst thing is some of these foods are marketed as healthy. Tins of soup, pasta sauces, ketchup, yoghurts, low fat products, jars of food, ready meals and take-aways. My Grandad wouldn’t have touched anything like this. His meals were usually unprocessed, cooked from scratch and balanced.

The difference is he chose when he fancied some sugar and he fit it in as part of a balanced diet. He was also very active. No restrictions and full food enjoyment. I try and model my eating on this. If I want a small amount of chocolate after my main meal, I’m going to have it. Because I’ve chosen to have that sugar. It’s not been added to a food that I thought was “healthy”. I then try and avoid foods where extra sugar has been added and here’s how:

  • Trying to cook from scratch – it’s hard doing this all the time but batch cooking can really help so meals can just be warmed up later on. This avoids jars, packets and ready meals where sugar is added.
  • I don’t tend to have low-fat products, just small amounts of normal foods. So I have a blob of Greek yoghurt and berries for pudding and steer clear of low-fat yoghurts. I’d rather have 2-3 squares of chocolate, than have a low-fat alternative.
  • I avoid sugary breakfast cereals and start the day with a boiled egg and granary toast.
  • I snack on almonds, fruit (yes fruit has sugar in it but also a tonne of vitamins and poo-happy fibre so I’m not cutting that out!) and seedy crackers and soft cheese. This avoids the obvious cakes, biscuits, cereal bars, chocolate and sweets.
  • I don’t really drink juice or smoothies – yes they contain some vitamin-packed fruit but they are very concentrated in sugar and, do you really want to drink your sugar?
  • The obvious avoidance of sugary fizzy drinks and squashes.
Life is to be enjoyed. Food is to be enjoyed so there is no need to completely cut out sugar. Cut down where you can and if the rest of your diet is balanced, the odd treat in moderation is fine. Of course don’t cut down on your sugar but then eat a whole bar of Dairy Milk! A treat is a treat and should be a small amount but ultimately allowing yourself that makes eating healthily the majority of the time, a lot easier. You will feel happier and really a little bit isn’t going to hurt!!

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23 Comments

  1. April 26, 2015 / 5:00 pm

    Love reading from a dieticians perspective Sarah! Everything in moderation makes sense to me and you're right it is about choice and just being aware of what you are eating so you don't eat too much of one type of thing. Great post 🙂 xx

    • mm April 26, 2015 / 5:04 pm

      Aww thanks Caroline. Glad you enjoyed the read! It's so true we need to cut down but the scaremongering is just going to make everyone guilty and fed up!! x

  2. April 26, 2015 / 5:04 pm

    This is really interesting.
    I have a fairly rounded diet. I always cook from scratch. 3 meals a day. I snack on fruit. And don't have sugary cereal. I cut a lot of sugar out when I changed my diet and assessed what I really was eating. I don't really do cakes, biscuits or sweets despite the fact that we seem to make lots! But I will still have the odd treat throughout the week. What I do struggle with though is that i suddenly have urges for sugary treats and when I do I admittedly binge. And sadly Im guilty of lack of sugar and then eating a dairy milk!
    I instantly crave something sugary or sweet. Something maybe I need to work on rather than a random binge.

    • mm April 26, 2015 / 5:54 pm

      Thanks Martyn. Sounds pretty good! Odd treats are fine. I think if you let yourself have them, the urge to binge may be a bit less. xx

  3. April 26, 2015 / 5:08 pm

    Absolutely! Fully agree – everything in moderation unless there are medical reasons otherwise.

    • mm April 26, 2015 / 5:54 pm

      Thanks for the comment xx

  4. April 26, 2015 / 9:37 pm

    Great post Saz, I hate the way that some 'healthy' food is marketed as such but actually it isn't, it's almost like you feel cheated. I am a big lover of the squash and fizzy drinks though, I know, I l know slap my wrist ;-), mainly diet coke though but I'm pleased to say we cook the majority of our own meals which always taste better and are a damn site more healthier than ready meals etc! XX

    • mm April 27, 2015 / 11:30 am

      Thanks hun. I know the food industry and have got some things wrong. I'll admit I'm a diet coke lover too no worries! haha. It's so true home cooked stuff can be so much healthier and tasty much better!! x

  5. April 27, 2015 / 9:27 am

    Everything in moderation! I want to be like your granddad and live to that ripe old age. I find that if you cut out the goodies you're more likely to want to binge on them at a later date and I've been cooking food from scratch alot more these days; great post xx

    • mm April 27, 2015 / 11:31 am

      Me too! Bless him. It's true you need to have a little of what is nice or it's easier to binge. Thanks xx

  6. April 27, 2015 / 9:28 am

    I totally agree everything in moderation, i have just started a diet and i have started taking notice in so called 'diet' foods and i am shocked at some of the ingredients in them x

    • mm April 27, 2015 / 11:31 am

      Thanks. I wouldn't bother with him. Non-processed foods and smaller portions can usually help! xx

  7. April 27, 2015 / 11:18 am

    I'm not good at eating sugar in moderation. It's either the whole tin of biscuit or nothing. It took me a while to get used to not having sugar (I quit two years ago) and for a while, I was miserable. I feel much better now though and don't miss that extra sweetness. It took me a few weeks to get over it. I've always been envious of people who are capable of eating the white stuff in moderation. I used to be a hard core sugar addict and abuser. Great post though! x

    • mm April 27, 2015 / 11:32 am

      That's a big thing you have managed! I would have struggled. Glad you are feeling so much better though. That's when it's worth it. I can take it or leave it with sugar – must have been hard been full on addicted! Thanks for the comment xx

  8. April 27, 2015 / 1:50 pm

    Brilliant post – I call myself an addict to sugar and like everything you can go over the top either way. Life is for enjoying but also balance is key X

    • mm April 27, 2015 / 4:45 pm

      Thanks Sam! We all need to cut down but a little isn't going to hurt now and then x

  9. April 28, 2015 / 6:49 am

    I'm afraid I would have to disagree slightly with you, in that everything I've read lately leads me to believe sugar is in fact poisoning us. The problem, as you say, is that it's bloody everywhere. Your 91 year old grandfather would have grown up in a world where there were no sweet things; sugar didn't really arrive in this country properly until after the war, and sugary, fizzy drinks would have turned up well after he was likely to have been drawn in by their advertising. The problem is that it's insidious, and I believe the big corporations know about it, but put their own survival and profits over the greater good – much like big tobacco several years ago. I have cut out most of the sugar in my diet, and I do feel better for it. Eventually I want to get to a place where I'm not eating any sugar, because I do believe the fructose that is stealthily added to so many of our foods is making us all fat and sick.
    Have you seen Fed Up? It's largely US-centric, but is very interesting.
    Great post; always good to have the conversation.

    • mm April 28, 2015 / 7:02 am

      Thanks for your comment. I must say my grandad did eat lots of sugar in cakes and biscuits. The rest of his diet was good as yes those higher sugar foods weren't available like they are now. You can eat a low sugar diet by cooking from scratch, eating non processed and still enjoy your food. I do agree the food companies have a lot to answer food. But unless you are motivated, dedicated and very organised going completely sugar free is hard and can be easy to fail. As a dietitian we would never blame one nutrient as genetics, lifestyle and a whole load of other factors affect weight and metabolism. It would be wrong to say it's poison if someone ate s biscuit and that's the point of this post x

  10. April 28, 2015 / 3:52 pm

    I'm not sure I would ever be able to completely give up sugar but as you say everything in moderation. Good advice to minimise processed food though – it's quite shocking how much sugar is in some things.

  11. April 28, 2015 / 9:53 pm

    Your food philosophy is nearly identical to mine. I find that if I know what goes into all we eat, everything stays in balance. Yes, I have a sweet tooth, but I try to keep it in check. I avoid sodas and take my sugar in the form of chocolate or the occasional muffin. My daughters have a "budget" of 10 sweet treats a week. They self-monitor. And I don't count fruit and other sugars inherent to whole foods in that budget.

    Thanks for linking up at #TwinklyTuesday!

  12. April 29, 2015 / 12:27 pm

    Fantastic post and so very true! Cooking from scratch is a great way to cut down on sugar and salt – I never use salt in cooking at all. Cutting it out completely with certainly give you withdrawals and will make you feel guilty for having the tiniest amount. Like you say, don't be scared of sugar, just be wise with it!
    Sim #WeightLossWednesday xx

  13. April 29, 2015 / 2:13 pm

    I found this really interesting. I've never considered cutting out sugar because I know my chances of success would be infinitesimal, because like you said, it's not a case of avoiding obviously "sugar-y" things because so many "normal" foods are full of the stuff. I would find it difficult to make everything from scratch – although it's something I aspire to, just maybe not in this lifetime. x

    #weightlosswednesday

  14. May 14, 2015 / 9:45 am

    I couldn't agree with you more. Both my grandparents lived into their eighties and I remember them as able people, doing what previous generations did. Lived in moderation, moved, ate, played and didn't do anything to excess.

    What I notice is that everyone assumes that sugar is the problem when in fact just about everything in our bodies is poisonous if it is allowed to get out of control. The body usually has an existing mechanism to deal with the problem and in most cases this process isn't working as it should. The process for sugar is the one regulating when it is stored and when it is released which is controlled by insulin but insulin resistance is becoming common in most people (something like 60% of adults have it).

    What it means is that sugar is left floating around your cells doing damage and basically breaking things (like a toddler without supervision) when it should be locked up tight in a cell. The fix is really straightforward and quite well understood but not by the right people like doctors. The fix is to move because movement quite literally requires sugar. What's been happening is that the cells have stopped listening to insulin because, for sedentary people who don't move much they don't really need to listen to it because they can work just fine with the energy they already have in the cells. Movement creates the need to listen to insulin because the cells need sugar again.

    What this means is that sugar isn't really the problem, it does have bad side effects but everything does, even water, we've just lost the ability to keep it in balance and under control. That is what moving gives us and why moving is such an important tool for improving most of the diseases we now suffer from in the western world.

    I explain this much more depth in How exercise combats Heart Disease, Insulin Resistance and Diabetes http://cell.fit2thrive.co.uk/2013/05/how-exercise-combats-heart-disease-insulin-resistance-and-diabetes/ but hopefully the shorter summary makes the general principle clear.

    The bottom line is what your blog is about. Play a lot and move while you play. Don't fear life and don't fear your food because you're built to eat it.

    Keep up the good work. #weightlosswednesday #fit2thrive