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[email protected]/Lookup/C549D4433F6B74D7CA257B8200179569?opendocument

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Sugar is not toxic and you can’t get a true substance dependance addiction to it

If sugar were toxic, we would become unwell from eating fruit, some vegetables and dairy products (lactose is a sugar).

Given fruit, vegetables and dairy provide vital nutrients for health and are found in nature, it is ludicrous to suggest the sugar they contain is harmful.

Some will argue it’s table sugar or added sugar that is toxic, but table sugar also comes from a natural plant; sugarcane.

Excess sugar can certainly cause health problems and the excess sugar can come from fruit or added sugar (yes, even too much fruit is not healthy). It’s not the sugar per se that’s the issue, it’s our abuse, or over consumption, of it that is the problem.

My clients often to claim to have a ‘sugar addiction’. While eating sugary foods can increase your desire for sweets foods, this is not a true addiction.

Why not? True substance addiction is accompanied by physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that usually require medical management to overcome. Most people who go cold turkey on eating sugary food, find they stop craving sugar after a short period and suffer no serious adverse effects.

So do reduce your intake of processed food with added sugar.
Do limit your fruit to 2-3 pieces per day and instead eat more veggies.
But don’t label sugar as toxic or “bad”, instead learn how to enjoy small amounts occasionally as a weekly treat or at special occasions.

If you choose to indulge in a small treat such as shown in the picture, limiting this to once per week would be wise.

salted chocolate caramel

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