Is Sugar The Devil?

Hi all! I know it’s been a while since I’ve been on here, I’ve been in vacation-brain mode since I was away! I have a couple of full recap posts coming for ya soon, but they’re not quite ready yet. Since it’s been a little too long since my last post, I wanted to jump in today with these thoughts on diet and nutrition.

For the past few years on this blog, I’ve been fighting the good fight when it comes to dietary restrictions. I’ve put my foot down many times in the defense of fat, and even saturated fat and the necessity of these things in your diet. It’s been a very long time since I’ve jumped on the “low-fat” or “no-fat” train, as I’m very well aware that the research backs up the positives of including fats in your diet. Thankfully, it seems that the “no-fat” craze of the 90s has officially fizzled out, save for a few chemical monstrosities masquerading as food here and there.

As the media and general public finally catch on to the ideas that fat and cholesterol aren’t actually the devil, there has been another victim of fear mongering to replace these two. Sugar. I’m not here to break down research studies and tell you what exactly sugar is doing to every cell of your body, rather I just want to have kind of a philosophical conversation about all of this today. Now that fat and cholesterol are “okay”, is sugar really the poison that’s going to bring down the human race? Should we really be demonizing sugar and removing it completely from our diets, or looking at the bigger picture?

There have been a few articles that have come out over the past several months detailing the new food guidelines and the changes between fat, cholesterol, and sugar. I read this one a while ago, and although I’m very happy about the changes, I can’t help but wonder are we just going on another witch hunt?

Again, devil’s advocate here.

I agree that sugar needs to be controlled, I’m all about moderation — but is this really the singular key to a healthier society? Or should we be looking more at “bigger picture” — sedentary lifestyle, posture, time spent outdoors, working too much, etc. I just have a really hard time believing that sugar is everything that is wrong with our society’s health as a whole. I went completely sugar free last year, and stayed very low sugar up until my wedding in July. But do you want to know what happened when I became a little bit more lax with my sugar intake in the months following the wedding? I lost weight. In fact, I lost about 8 pounds which is pretty significant on my frame. And believe it or not, that weight is still off. I kid you not when I say that I even thought something was wrong with my health because I couldn’t figure out why weight was just falling off of me.

Do I think that eating more sugar than I had been previously is what made me lose this weight? Of course not– I think there were a lot of other factors at play– less stress, for example. But the point is, it was the bigger picture that lead to this, not my sugar intake.

Scientific research this is not, in fact it’s hardly even anecdotal evidence of anything at all, but my point is that when I stopped being the sugar police, I saw improvements in my body that I had been striving for until then– and failing. So yes, I agree that as a whole, our society consumes far too much sugar. From sodas to juices to sugary coffee drinks, it’s pretty out of control. But what I don’t want to happen is for people to place more value on sugar than is necessary, and miss the importance of other big changes that may be necessary.

Reducing sugar but still sitting hunched over at a desk for 8-10 hours a day is not going to make you that much healthier, in my opinion. Reducing sugar but remaining sedentary and spending 90% of your time indoors is not going to make that big of a difference in your health. Yes, reducing sugar from an extremely high level of consumption is important, but it’s just one small piece of the health puzzle. There is so much more that we need to focus on, so much more that we need to be conscious of in order to make true strides in our health.

So am I saying that we should all eat all of the sugar that we want? No, of course not, I just don’t think we need to become fanatical about eliminating sugar from our diets. A little sweetness in life is not a bad thing, and as long as sugar is treated as a treat, and not a constant component of your meals, it’s not something to stress about.

Besides, I like cupcakes, and a life without cupcakes is no life at all.

Readers: How do you treat sugar in your diet? Do you eat it without abandon? Do you limit it or restrict consumption completely? How do you feel about the newer dietary recommendations? 

17 thoughts on “Is Sugar The Devil?

  1. Another wonderful post. I am constantly thankful for your defiance towards the witch hunts. Sugar is the new villain. I’m so exhausted by the media driven fanatical ideas that food-fat, carbs, sugar- is somehow scary enough for society to wage war against. Because all that really means, as people need food to live, is that we are told to wage war against ourselves. Our bodies are amazing. Why should we aggressively fight ourselves and hate the very food that keeps us.

    I just returned from Paris and calories on food labels are listed as ENERGIE. This doesn’t solve the problem but for me, it reminded me how precious my body is and how the food I eat allows my body to walk and see and feel the joie de vivre.

    Thanks again for being a voice against the ferocity of hate towards food and our bodies.

    1. Thanks Tammy!! I think the most wonderful thing about Paris, and most of Europe, is that the carb phobia simply does not exist. And I’m pretty sure the US has much more of a health crisis than any of Europe! I love your observation and the translation to “Energie”.. a much healthier way to think about food!

  2. I love this post! I’m all about moderation with what I eat. I honestly have dessert every single night — and i’m talking real dessert, not “berries in a cup” or “a piece of fruit: type crap. 🙂 But, I also make healthier choices throughout the day, most days. I try to get veggies every lunch and dinner, and though my dessert is decadent, it’s not five servings worth. Restricting too much leads to binge-eating, and that’s never good.

    1. I have dessert just about every night too.. small, but a little something to quench my sweet tooth. Glad I’m not the only one!!

  3. Great perspective looking at the other side. As my mom always says, the body needs a little bit of everything to function. She worked in health care for three decades.

    1. That sounds like a great philosophy about the body 🙂

  4. Definitely believe you are right, sugar has been cast as the new villain. I have thought about this a ton, and think it’s wrong for anybody to eliminate a food group in it’s entirety. And am happy to eat my dark chocolate and put maple syrup on my yogurt. But, the problem with sugar is it’s added to foods where people aren’t even noticing, so it adds up. If it’s deliberate eating of cupcake, awesome. But if it’s in your yogurt, your tomato sauce, your applesauce, your cold cuts, your bread, your cereal, soda, etc….and you don’t realize it, you could find yourself going so over the limit in what it healthy. I think that’s the problem–for those who aren’t into label-reading and eat a ton of processed foods. Anyway, sugar needs to be deliberate for me–I decide when to have it, but if it’s hiding somewhere, I avoid. But so agree to your point–so many people who demonize sugar don’t factor exercise into the equation, that doesn’t sit well with me either. Thanks for your post!

    1. Great point about sugar being added places that we don’t know — there are so many brands of peanut butter and even pasta sauce that have added sugar, both things that definitely do not need it! I’ve become a label reading maniac, not because I want to cut out sugar entirely, but as you said, because I don’t want to eat it where it doesn’t belong. Thanks for your comment!

  5. A welcome voice of sanity in a sea of dooms day sellers!!
    This even works with food sensitivity. If you cut out a food group for long enough because you’ve had a mild reaction to it – gluten-bloating, milk-indigestion – then you’re teaching your body to treat that food as the enemy. You lose vital bacteria that break down that food and if you try to eat it again its no surprise the body reacts violently towards it!! My daughter was diagnosed as lactose intolerant and nut sensitive…… my insides did not like gluten, milk, bananas, hazelnuts. So what do I do…. we both have those foods every day. Small amounts to begin with but every day we each have these foods in our diet. No bad reaction, no allergy! So a little of everything but not a huge amount of things that are obviously going to make us ill. A whole cheesecake is not a healthy choice, a slice is okay though. Moderation….its all about moderation!!

    1. Excellent point! This is something that I’ve tried to get across to people who cut out a food group, then try to add it back in and feel kind of crappy. They then say “see? I don’t tolerate this”, when really, most likely they just changed their gut flora so that it CAN’T tolerate it anymore… until they add it back into their diet! I like what you do with your daughter, I think outside of certain medical conditions, we can control to a certain extent how our body handles certain things.

  6. Fantastic post- I couldn’t agree with you more! While I am guilty of consuming probably too much sugar, I don’t think i’d be any “healthier” if I cut it out completely. I think the biggest point is that in order to be healthier, we really do have to look at the whole picture and tweak/adjust all areas of our lives: move more, eat more fruits/veggies, less processed crap, get outside, reduce sugar, etc. But cutting one of those things out entirely to “fix” something just doesn’t seem feasible, or necessary, in my opinion. As you stated in your comment on RM’s review of the Whole30 program, we have to figure out what’s best for us and while we should all cut down on some food groups, that’s not the end all be all to a healthy lifestyle!

    1. Thanks Monique! Cutting out entire food groups is just not in my DNA, and I really don’t think it’s necessary in order to be healthy!

  7. Just as people want a quick, easy fix to all their health woes in the form of a pill or piece of equipment, it seems they also want a quick, easy enemy to blame. It was fat in the 90’s, now it’s sugar, and it’ll probably be something else in the next decade. Its just easier and more comfortable to blame an external factor (sugar) than it is to acknowledge a bigger, truer culprit like lifestyle choices (internal factor).

    1. Exactly — Sugar is not great, but it’s not causing all of our problems. Thanks for your input!

  8. I completely agree – it’s one factor in being healthy, but not the only one. I keep my sugar – both processed and natural low, but mostly because I start to notice how sluggish I get when I consume high amounts like I used to before my weightloss journey. I let myself be flexible, but recognize when I need to stop because I’ve had enough. Great post!

    1. And I think that’s the important thing — knowing how your body feels and knowing when enough is enough. There is certainly a thing as too much sugar, but knowing how to keep things in moderation is the key to keeping yourself healthy in my opinion!

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