How Bad Is Sugar?

With New Year's Day come and gone, you probably have a brand spanking new resolution or two? Eat better? Exercise more? Get more sleep? Despite the many different resolutions out there, it comes as no surprise that a sizable percentage of those resolutions are diet-related (43% according to one poll). And for a good many of you, that includes eating less sugar.

Have you seen the recent NYT article on sugar? It claims that "[o]ne of the best things you can do is the cut back on foods with added sugar." We all know that even the best news sources are in the business of selling, well, news. For example, one line from one study might be taken out of context, blown up and sensationalized...all with the purpose of getting readers to click through. So, does this particular article hold weight?

To answer that question, we first need to understand what added sugar is. In a quick poll-my-friends survey, it was surprising to me how few of them knew what added sugar was. If you're also in this camp, added sugar is the sugar that is added to processed or prepared food. And of course, looking for the word "sugar" on an ingredient label might be misleading, as sugar can come in as many as 61 different forms/names, according to one source.

Now that that's out of the way, let's explore this article a bit more. It's true that sugar is everywhere; the Times states that it's in almost 70% of our packaged foods - our breads, yogurts, condiments, sauces, etc. Ketchup? Toast? Plain organic waffles? Check, Check, Check. And as a result, not surprisingly, we eat a ton of it - two to three times what we're supposed to be eating. How is this habit affecting our health? Well, there's lots and lots of science that unfortunately links high sugar consumption to heart disease, cancers, liver disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome, and of course, obesity. So, if your New Year's resolution is diet- or sugar-related, you've got science backing your thought process.

What, then, do you do about it? The Times suggests a 7-Day Sugar Challenge. And if you want to try it, that's your choice! But, as dietitians, our favorite approach to eating, well, anything, is intuitive eating, a non-restrictive, weight-neutral approach that changes the way you see food altogether. It is all about listening (and responding!) to your body's signals as a means to honoring your health and psychological and physiological needs. And part of that is rejecting the idea of restriction and food-related guilt, as it can do more harm than good. Do you want a piece of cake at a birthday party? Then have one...but have it mindfully.

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