There is no denying that the abuse of sugar is a major issue in our modern western diet. In particular sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) such as soft drink and cordials have led to excess consumption of sugar which is linked to Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease and numerous dental issues…so you can understand why any health conscious person would be tempted to cut it out all together!
But is “sugar-free” really the answer?
Recently I heard a young women tell her friend that she couldn’t eat a banana because it was too high in sugar! Even breakfast TV has thrown in their two cents and decided to run a segment called ‘Not all Veggies are Made the same”, in which viewers were told which veggies and fruits are best to avoid due to their high carbohydrate and sugar content.
According to a recent ABS survey, only 54% of Australians meet their recommended daily intake of fruit and just 6.8% met the recommended vegetable intake. So any advice to restrict these things, to me, seems extremely counterproductive.
This is not the first time the idea of cutting down sugar boarded on to the extreme. Bikini Model Ashy Bines’ “Clean Eating” diet plan forbade followers from eating more than one piece of fruit a day and eliminated all dairy products. More recently, newspaper columnist Sarah Wilsons’ “I Quit Sugar” franchise encouraged followers to completely eliminate fruit (both fresh and dried) for 8 weeks because of the high levels of fructose.
Neither Ashy Bines or Sarah Wilson have any nutritional qualifications, but because of clever marketing, it’s these “restrictive” messages of “sugar-free” that have attracted a large following.
As Zoe Nicholson (figureate Dietitian) eloquently explains, it isn’t the natural sugars in fruit and diary that should be getting a bad rep, but rather the added sugar that’s found in so many processed foods:
“The abuse of sugar is a result of the food industry adding sugar to many packaged foods and drinks and from the high level of advertising of these foods. Rather than blaming sugar for the health issues of our time, how about we spend more time and resources actively promoting the food most people don’t eat enough of, such as fresh fruits and veggies. We also need to spend more time and resources addressing the issue faced by many people, of accessibility and affordability of fresh food”
IF WE KNOW THAT SUGAR IS SO BAD, THAN MAYBE “SUGAR-FREE” IS FOR ME?
In conversation, we tend to paint all sugars with the same brush. But like everything in nutrition, it is just not that simple.
There are two classes of sugar that you have to consider before jumping on the “sugar-free” band wagon:
Free Sugars (or Added Sugars): which are added to food and drink, as well as sugar found in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates
Naturally Occurring Sugars: which are found in fruit and milk.
When people advocate a “sugar-free” lifestyle, they overlook the numerous positive nutritional attributes of these naturally occurring sugars and the foods they are found in.
As Sydney nutritionist Cassie Platt explains;
‘Sugar is our cells’ preferred source of energy and is absolutely critical to proper metabolic function…your food choices should be based on biological and metabolic needs. What we eat should fuel our cells, facilitate growth, repeat and reproduction and most importantly, enable your body to function at its very best”
Going “sugar-free” can also have a negative impact on our mental health. As Eating Disorder Specialist, Paula Kotowicz observed:
To some vulnerable people in our society, it [quitting sugar] simply provides an excuse to restrict and control and can trigger these people into disordered eating or even into bona fide eating disorders.
Being hard on ourselves will only make us feel so much worse in the long run. It’s impossible to point to Sugar as the sole cause of modern ailments, rather it is compound of multiple things, inactivity, lifestyle factors, increasing portion sizes and a decrease in fresh food consumption.
She goes on to explain why such restrictive diets will not work:
Research has shown repeatedly that serious restriction and deprivation can be pathways to
1. binge eating episodes,
2. disordered eating or
3. eating disorder development, in some individuals.
As with everything, exercising moderation and common sense are imperative.
Any diet plan that tells you to reduce or eliminate your fruit intake, should be regarded with extreme caution. In a country where only 8% of the population actually meet the recommended daily intake of 5 veg and 2 fruits, it’s clear to see that these things are not the problem when it comes to Australia’s growing waist line. And as we’ve discussed in the past, these types of restrictive diets are not sustainable and can be incredibly damaging to your body and mental health.
Like most things, sugar should be consumed in moderation. Remember that it’s ADDED SUGARS that you should keep to a minimum (you don’t have to give them up completely!). The majority of your sugar intake should come from fresh fruit, vegetables and milk as these foods also provide us with vitamins, minerals and fibre which are vital for our body to function. So forget going “sugar-free” and instead practice balance and moderation, which in the long run, will be much more beneficial to your mental and physical health 🙂