Just as fat was the enemy of nutrition a short while ago, sugar is being demonized now. See why we need sugar in our diets and how to get it healthily.
The General Opinion on Sugar
In the 1980s, after two food-industry sponsored studies were released on the dangers of fat, especially saturated fat, the diet industry began to capitalize on the low fat fad that arose. Low fat became our mantra as a country striving for thin.
Until we realized, fairly recently, that fat free also means super hungry, dry skin, and higher cholesterol than we thought. And in the absence of a nutrient to demonize, we turned our attentions to sugar. Well-meaning self-experimenters release ebooks for a 21 Day Sugar Detox, bloggers post recipes for no-sugar baked goods, and Facebook groups of fitness worshippers band together to eschew the dangers of this tiny white crystal.
Everywhere you look, there is an article (usually inadequately researched) available describing how sugar causes inflammation, obesity, fatigue, and general malaise.But is sugar really poison?
Science Fact #1:
Sugar acts as a low-risk fuel source for our day-to-day activities, as a digestive aid, and, most importantly, as fuel for our brains, which run primarily on glucose (converted most readily from sucrose and fructose in the liver) and oxygen and use up to 30% of our energy intake each day. (source)
Science Fact #2:
No easily available glucose during the day? Your body is forced to recruit and convert fat or recruit liver glycogen, processes which require adrenal output and will eventually put your nervous system into, essentially, a flight-or-fight state. The long term effects of this state include cortisol output, inflammation, and immune suppression. Put simply, “Stress and starvation lead to a relative reliance on the fats stored in the tissues, and the mobilization of these as circulating free fatty acids contributes to a slowing of metabolism and a shift away from the use of glucose for energy.” Ray Peat, Sugar Issues. (source)
So if we need sugar, but there is a lot of science to support the detriments of too much sugar, what is a health-minded person to do?
This was a big dilemma for me. Having been in the fitness industry for so long, how was I going to start incorporating sugar strategically into my previously sugar-free (or as close as I could talk myself to getting) lifestyle?
- Choose well-sourced sucrose and fructose, which are converted to blood sugar (glucose) primarily via the liver and used easily in the body for its amazing day-to-day and high performance functions.
- Sucrose should come from sources such as coconut sugar, well-sourced cane sugar, and honey.
- Fructose should come from fruit! With the high occurrence of cheap sweeteners on the market, be sure you’re drinking pure fruit juice and eating whole fruit rather than relying on high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners. (source)
Sugar is also a hugely important digestive aid, helping the body process nutrients effectively as they hit the small intestine!
- Have some fruit with your breakfast
- Have some dark chocolate after dinner
- Enjoy eight ounces of orange juice with your mid-afternoon snack!
My favorite new addition: ice cream before bed. Yep. I have a single-serving (really. One of the tiny ones.) at nine p.m. or so each night, which has ended my chronic insomnia! And for those who like to make their own, here are a lot of really good healthy(er) ice cream recipes.
However, there is a burning question if we’re striving to use sugar as a fuel source and decrease overall body stress.How do we burn fat and change body composition if sugar is a more efficient and less stressful fuel source? The answer: most circadian rhythms support highest fat burning potential at night, when the body has time to recruit and burn unnecessary fat stores, but those rhythms can be disrupted by too much screen time or ambient lighting before bed. Turn the lights off and get quality sleep!
Because it all boils down to this: Food Is Medicine.
All or nothing diets or “lifestyles” are inefficient for any kind of long term health benefits because food—including sugar—is medicine! You can have too much or too little of any one “prescription” (fat, carbs, protein) and find that your energy levels are all over the board, your sleep is inconsistent, and your body isn’t responding to exercise. Sugar is just like that: cut it out completely and you may have short term euphoric relief from cravings and a quick shift in body composition—just like you would if you cut all fat out of your diet. But long term, what are you doing to your body’s equilibrium and overall health?
Clients ask me all the time what diet is I think is best. My answer? I don’t. There isn’t any one nutrient prescription that will accurately address the needs of every unique and wonderful human seeking help. So play! Have ice cream before bed! Have some high quality dark chocolate after dinner! Eat a bunch of watermelon before summer officially ends. Read all the science you can find, discover what your body needs, and live your life to its absolute fullest.
*Note: This is a vastly oversimplified look at how sugar plays a part in our day to day lives. My continued resources on this learning journey have been Ray Peat and Kate Deering who have been brave enough to state the exact opposite of the major diet industry marketing gurus. I was referred to them by mentors and coaches who I trust implicitly and am grateful for in spades!
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Claims on this site have not been evaluated by the FDA. Information on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. We encourage you to do your own research.. Seek the advice of a medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle or diet.
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