6 myths about eating sugar-free

Six myths about eating sugar-free… which really means fructose-free, but I’m going to keep using the term “sugar-free” because this is the language most people use.

It’s no wonder people are confused about sugar, the amount of misinformation on the internet is staggering.

Now, as I have always been clear, if you are completely cool with avoiding regular sugar (sucrose), then fine… I am not here to tell you you should eat regular sugar. I am writing this for those people who would still like to use regular sugar in their diet.

And no, I am not being paid by BIG sugar or encouraging people to eat more sugar. Too much sugar, like too much of anything, has its problems.

dietitian melbourne

So let’s unpack some of these myths…

1. If it doesn’t contain fructose, it’s sugar-free. Sorry people but rice-malt syrup is still sugar.

While this should seem perfectly obvious, most of the “sugar-free” recipes I see contain rice malt syrup.

2. Just because it’s sugar-free doesn’t make it better for you.

A protein ball sweetened with rice malt syrup is not more nutritious than a protein ball made with regular sugar. They both contain protein, sugar, fat and a range of vitamins and minerals.

Eating a variety of core food group foods will give your body the nutrients and energy it needs. The type of sugar you use in addition to these core food group foods will not change this.

3. Sugar (glucose and fructose) is neither healthy nor unhealthy, it’s just sugar, a substance that makes food taste sweet. The same can be said for all other forms of sugar, even those that are fructose-free.

4. Eating sugar-free doesn’t mean you’re healthier than someone who eats sugar.

Read the second point under point 2 again.

You can include regular sugar in your diet and live a long healthy life (you might not, but you might). Likewise, eating sugar-free does not guarantee you’ll be free from disease or ill-health.

5. Eating sugar-free does not help you lose weight and keep it off long term.

To this day, there are no studies that show long-term weight loss through dietary change being maintained beyond about 1.5-2 years.

You may well lose weight initially eating sugar-free but you can also do this eating regular sugar, it’s the maintaining the weight loss beyond 5 years that’s the tough part. There will be people who have quit sugar and have managed to do this, but there are also people who have done so without quitting sugar. Either way, these people are the tiny minority and their (or your) individual experience is not sufficient evidence to say eating sugar-free leads to long-term weight loss.

6. You shouldn’t eat food that doesn’t fit into one of the core food groups.

I read on an IQS post that “fructose wasn’t recognised as a food group, so out it goes”.

Based on that logic we shouldn’t eat a vast array of chemical compounds that aren’t considered food groups, such as vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, glucose and oh gosh, that would also include water!!

Please share to help clear up the confusion around sugar.

dietitian melbourne

Please let’s stop going to extremes with nutrition.

Health, wellness or nutrition are not, and do not need to be, black or white or all or nothing entities. In the wise words of renowned dietitian and therapist Ellyn Satter, finding the middle ground is more difficult than finding the extremes. If you have found the middle ground when it comes to taking care of your health and well-being, well done; if you are still searching, hang in there as the effort will be worth it!

non-diet approach dietitians melbourne

If you want to eat less sugar, eat less sugar, you don’t have to cut it out of your diet entirely. A little sugar will not harm you.

If you want to reduce your intake of more highly processed foods, you don’t need to “eat clean” or “go paleo” and avoid all highly processed food. You can cook and prepare from scratch as much a possible, but then go with the flow when eating out or during an extra busy time where more ready to eat type food is a perfectly acceptable, and may mean you have something to eat when you’re hungry. You might also choose to rely on some ready to eat meals or take-away on busy nights or when you simply don’t have the energy to cook from scratch.

If you want to eat more plant based foods and less animal foods, you don’t have to go vegan. Wherever possible choose mostly plant based food and then for the times when it’s more difficult or doesn’t fit in with social eating or travelling, you can eat some animal products. Choosing to go 100% vegan for ethical reasons is also fine too.

If you want to reduce your intake of more processed breads and cereals, you don’t need to go gluten free or restrict carbs altogether. Consider where you might be able to make different food choices and perhaps try some not so highly processed grain sources such as bread from a local bakery or meals with couscous, barley or fresh pasta (dried pasta is fine too). For breakfast cereals, you could choose ones with less added ingredients and that are good sources of dietary fibre. 

I am not saying doing any of these things is easy, in fact for many people going cold turkey can seem more doable in the short-term, as you don’t have put effort into changing your thinking around food or addressing how you feel about your body. However, very few people stick to the extreme changes long-term and many people end up confused about how to eat, spending way too much time energy thinking about food which can develop into a troublesome relationship with food.

As one of my clients said to me yesterday “I just want food to be food!”

If you feel this way too, then finding the middle ground – HELLO MODERATION – is necessary. You may need help with doing this, so don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you just keep reading and sharing our posts, this will help you in your search for that middle ground. 

dietitian melbourne



Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out


Check out our Moderation Movement ebooks, buy yours today for $9.95, just click the banner!

In this e-book, Accredited Practising Dietitian & Nutritionist, and co-founder of The Moderation Movement, Zoe Nicholson, explains why diets don’t work, that there are no “bad” foods, and offers practical tips to help you begin your Intuitive Eating journey. 

non-diet dietitians Melbourne

Attention all: rice malt syrup is still sugar. 

I have no issue with people being more aware of their added sugar intake and taking steps to reduce this. 

What I object to is the misleading advertising that is taking advantage of our culture’s heightened awareness around sugar and the fact that many people aren’t aware of the different types of sugar and how our body digests these. 

If I make a batch of cookies using regular sugar (sucrose) and someone else makes the same recipe using rice malt syrup, these ingredients will both be broken down into glucose by our bodies digestive process. Sucrose is broken into glucose and fructose, however the amount of fructose in one or even a few cookies is not enough to be harmful in the context of one’s whole diet. The rice malt syrup cookies are not superior or healthier than the ones made with sucrose. Neither sugar offers much in the way of vitamins, minerals or dietary fibre; rice malt syrup has a considerably higher GI than sucrose. If you want to learn more, dietitian Catherine Saxelby wrote this article

non-diet approach dietitians

A key point that often gets missed in the battle of the sugars, whether it’s rice syrup, coconut nectar, stevia, sucrose or fructose, is that these ingredients are not the mainstay of our diet. Provided we nourish our bodies with adequate veggies, fruits, whole-grains, protein foods and healthy fats, we can enjoy food with added sugar, whatever the type, and still be fit and healthy. Importantly, a flexible approach to the types of sugar we use, allows us to engage freely with food in a social and cultural sense which is arguably equally as important as fuelling our bodies well. 

If you have excessive amounts of sucrose in your diet, you may benefit more from focusing on increasing your intake of the fresh whole foods mentioned above, rather than replacing the sucrose with a different type of sugar. Also, for many people who consume excess sugary food, what really needs addressing is not the sugar, but the various factors that have lead to such a high intake in the first place. Such factors include; food accessibility, education, economic status, social culture, media, political, psychological, disordered eating/eating disorders, body image and I’m sure there are some I have missed!

dietitian melbourne

It’s not the use of sugar, it’s the abuse of sugar.

dietitian Melbourne | nutritionist MelbourneAdd sugar to a cake you’re baking, a recipe for a main meal or as a sprinkle on your porridge and sugar is not a problem.

If you regularly eat numerous packaged foods with added sugar, regularly have sugar sweetened drinks and your diet is on the low side for fresh fruits, vegetables and whole-grains, then your health will probably benefit from reducing your intake of packaged food and drinks with added sugar and eating more fresh food.

But this doesn’t mean you need to eliminate ALL added sugar. If you replace store bought chocolate biscuits with home-made ones that contain rice malt syrup in place of regular sugar, the sugar content will still be the same. There is certainly an argument to say the home-made ones are a healthier product, but this has less to do with the type of sugar and much more to do with the fact you baked them yourself. You were involved in the process which gives you a greater appreciation of the food. Baking them yourself also means the biscuits will be free of food additives.

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.

Thanks for reading, Zoe :)

You CAN enjoy your favourite food…

Dark chocolate brownie

Dark chocolate & cherry brownie, an indulgence!

You CAN enjoy your favourite food, be it sweet or savoury, and still achieve your health & fitness goals. 

There is no food you must cut out or avoid completely in order to reduce body fat, tone muscle, improve blood sugar or lower cholesterol.

If you’re 100% happy to avoid sugar and other indulgences, then do so. If you enjoy a sweet or savoury treat, then you may find allowing some in your diet actually helps you manage food cravings and prevent you from over-eating them.

My clients often tell me “Once I start, I find it hard to stop”. In fact my partner used to tell me this until I showed him he could change his mindset.

As with many things in life, if you constantly tell yourself something, you’ll believe it. Keep telling yourself you have no self control, and chances are you won’t.

Unless you have an underlying psychological issue that drives you to over-eat food, you can learn how to “stop at just one” without too much difficulty. It can take a bit of practice, but in time you will find you are quite happy to just enjoy a small amount without feeling guilty.

Feeling guilty (or bad) about eating certain food is part of what leads to over-eating it. Thinking you’ve been bad leads to thoughts such as “I’ve stuffed it now so may as well eat the whole lot” or “I’ll just finish this off and never buy it again!”. It’s these unhelpful thoughts that become the problem, not the chocolate or chips.

Showing you how to enjoy all foods in moderation is part of what dietitians do and are passionate about. Over the years myself and other dietitians have helped thousands of people learn to enjoy all food in moderation.

Please click the Facebook icon and like our page for daily food and health tips!

Sugar free does NOT equal healthy


Brownie cherryAt a get together with friends on Friday evening, one friend arrived with a coconut chocolate slice she had made. She proudly announced the slice was sugar free.

“So it’s not sweet”, I said. “No it’s still sweet, I used rice syrup instead of sugar”, she said. Bemused, I said “but rice syrup is sugar”. Her response, “oh you know what I mean, it’s fructose free”.

While many will argue otherwise, a small amount of fructose in your diet is NOT harmful. All fruit and some vegetables contain fructose and they are certainly not harmful to our health, they are of course, very nutritious and necessary for optimal health.

What bothers me is this notion that eating “sugar free” (fructose free) equates to being healthy. Most people would benefit much more from eating more vegetables than worrying about avoiding sugar. 

So why has the “sugar free” message received so much publicity and have such a huge following? 

A: Marketing.

“I quit sugar for life” with the statement that “sugar is the new tobacco, the health scourge of our times” is much more likely to sell books than say, “I doubled my vegetable intake” with the tag line “now I am the healthiest I’ve ever been”.

In addition, you can “quit sugar” but still eat lots of sugary foods as per the I quit sugar cookbook that “features more than 108 desserts, cakes…” What the? I wonder if the majority of people eating their “sugar free” cakes and biscuits are eating enough vegetables? Probably not given less than 10% of Australians do (refer to survey data below). 

My message is simple. Eat plenty of healthy whole foods, especially vegetables and you can enjoy a little sugary (or fatty) indulgence and still be very healthy! 

Australian Health Survey: Updated Results, 2011-12
http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/Lookup/C549D4433F6B74D7CA257B8200179569?opendocument

For more sensible information on health and nutrition, please click on the Facebook icon and like our page.