Ways that sugar is good for you

June 4, 2015

Self-Paced Course: Non-Diet Academy


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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

Meet Katy

Boom, I said it.  This isn't going to be a popular opinion, and I don't care.  Our culture's current paranoia around sugar is ridiculous.  Sugar is not causing our bodies harm (nor is gluten, dairy, meat, carbs, fat, or any other food or nutrient). 

Anything consumed in excess can be harmful.  The problem was the excess, not the food.

Few of the people who demonize sugar could actually tell you what it is. 

So what is sugar?  It's a carbohydrate, which happens to be your body's favorite source of energy.  In fact, studies show that the ideal dietary composition is approximately 50-60% carbohydrate.  Your brain can ONLY use glucose ("blood sugar") for energy. 

Sugar is a catch-all term for a variety of carbohydrates that vary slightly in their biochemical composition.  For example, there's table sugar (the white granulated stuff you bake with) which is sucrose, the sugar that naturally occurs in dairy is lactose, and the sugar predominant in fruit and honey is fructose.  None of these is better than another, just different, and none cause harm unless consumed in excess – and, again, the problem is the excess NOT the sugar.

There are times that sugar is highly beneficial to your body.  If you become hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) you need to get your blood sugar up asap because extreme hypoglycemia can cause coma or even death.  The fastest way to get your blood sugar up is a quickly digested carbohydrate – sugar.  In this case doctors and dietitians recommend something like orange juice, regular soda, crackers, or even glucose (sugar) tablets.  The sugar could save your life.

Another example is in athletes.  The body uses circulating blood sugar for energy during physical activity, which provides a very limited supply of energy, so once used up the body taps into carbohydrate stores in the muscle and liver called glycogen, which is then converted to glucose to circulate in the blood.  In endurance athletes, once their glycogen stores are exhausted they must consume additional carbohydrate to sustain their energy, hence the use of sports drinks like Gatorade or energy gels like Gu or Power Gel.  Their performance is dependent on sugar.

For the average person sugar is beneficial on a daily basis in certain situations.  The first being that it tastes good.  (Don't try to deny this, I'm not buying it).  It is perceived as palatable by our brain because the body likes to use it for energy.  The brain's job is to keep the body alive.  Another example of how sugar is beneficial to all of us is when we are hungry but it's still going to be a little while before a meal.  If it's 5pm and dinner is at 6pm, but you're hungry now, waiting another hour sets you up to be overly hungry and thus to overeat at dinner.  So you could have an easily digested carbohydrate (sugar is an example) that would take the edge off your hunger now but still leave you with an appetite for dinner. 

The negative press that sugar has been getting is unwarranted.  By saying things like "sugar is poison" we are setting ourselves up for a dysfunctional relationship with food because none of us is going to be able to avoid sugar for the rest of our lives.  It exists in too many foods and would totally take the pleasure out of eating.  So by convincing ourselves that the sugar is "poison" we are setting ourselves up to avoid it until we can't stand it anymore, and then to overeat when we finally give in, and then beat yourself up afterwards for eating something so "bad."  This story that you've created in your head then sets you up to physically feel like crap, because emotions tend to manifest in our GI tract, and to then convince yourself that the sugar made you feel sick – which isn't true.  Vicious cycle.

So stop blaming sugar.  It's not bad.  In fact, I argue that it's just as good for you as any other food.  When we approach eating with balance our body naturally craves the entire spectrum of food and we don't have excess or deficiency of anything.  Trust your body.

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