Looking back over the last 40 years, there has always been some sort of ‘dietary villain’ haunting our food decisions. This is a food or food group that people were avoiding, or heard they should avoid. Food manufacturers and marketers then pounced upon this fear and cookbook creators developed recipes to support this fear. Whether you were told to quit sugar, salt, fat, carbs, gluten, or meat, at one time or another, each of these foods became something we wouldn’t dare let cross our lips, as though it was poisoning our body.
Today I have settled down at my desk to dig deep into one of the more frequently feared food ‘villains’; sugar.
What’s the matter with sugar
According to Australian health surveys and stats, Aussies are eating way too much of it. 35% of an Australian adult’s total daily calorie intake is coming from ‘discretionary foods’. What are those? Think soft drinks, chocolate and lollies. Not good, right? Our scientific experts are continually revealing that excessive sugar consumption may lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, dental cavities, heart disease, certain cancers and more obviously, an ever expanding national waistline.
As I dig deeper, the research is clear: sugar is far more complicated than believed by most. Sugar is not just those discretionary treats… It’s also in our fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and yogurt, aka foods that researchers and government guidelines support as beneficial to our health… So what do we do?
The answer is understanding the makeup of sugar and how they exist in our food.
Added sugars are the simple sugars put in food and drinks during production by the manufacturer, cook or consumer as well as the sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juice and fruit juice concentrates.
If sugar isn’t added then it’s an intrinsic sugar. These are found naturally in fresh fruit, vegetables, milk and yoghurt.
If we quit sugar, including those sugars naturally occurring in wholefoods, I worry that this perpetuates the ‘food is a villain’ cycle and may lead to developing an unhealthy relationship with food. In addition, that whole ‘forbidden fruit’ idea could kick in, where you want it more simply because you cannot have it. Let’s also not forget people opting for sugar free chemical alternatives…
What’s next then?
You’re probably thinking… let’s just enjoy those natural sugars and stop using the simple sugars, the added sugars. That’s CLEARLY the best way to go, right?
But I pause and think further… Do we stop eating Thai food because it traditionally uses added sugar to balance out flavours? Do we stop making ANZAC Biscuits because they require golden syrup? Do we never buy fruit juice again because… hello, sugar???
No, we don’t.
If you know me well enough, you know that my mantra is ‘it’s what we do consistently that makes the difference’. So, there is no way I am going to say eat chocolate biscuits every day! BUT… if you do have a chocolate biscuit, I don’t want you to feel as though you are killing yourself!
What I will say though, is we cannot continue to make 35% of our calories come from discretionary foods. So I suggest pulling out a pen and taking note of an entire week of food choices. Look at where the refined and added sugar is, and accept that you might need to make some changes, and quit sugar where it is needed. But rather than treating sugar like a poison to be avoided at all costs, treat it like a precious item that comes out occasionally. When it does, treat it with awe and savour it… and leave it at that… without the guilt.
Reviewed By: Lisa Donaldson, APD, M.Nutr&Diet, B.Edu