We’ve all heard it a million times: Don’t eat too much sugar. From parents afraid to feed their young ones sweets, to the “I Quit Sugar” campaign, it’s easy enough to understand why so many people fear the sweet stuff.
It’s bad for our teeth, it’s bad for our brains, it’s as addictive as hard drugs… these are the warnings that flood our health magazines and pop up our Facebook feeds from our most health-conscious friends.
But people have been eating sugar since the beginning of civilisation, right? Our parents grew up eating ice cream in the summer and puddings at Christmas and they turned out fine, for the most part, didn’t they?
While everybody is different, and every person might respond differently to different foods, could it be possible that the demonisation of sugar is going a little bit too far? Sure, it might not be the best thing for you, but is it really as bad as it’s made out to be?
To find out the answer, I gave a listen to the Fit and Fearless podcast which focused specifically on this issue.
Created by fitness professionals, Tally Rye, Zanna van Dijk, and Victoria Niamh Spence, the BBC 5 Radio Podcast covers all topics related to fitness and health. The episode in question, “The Truth About Sugar”, shed light on the reality of sugar consumption and just how much we should worry about it. With professional dieticians Helen West and Rosie Saunt as guests, the podcast delved into all things sweet from the vilification of sugar, to how kids react to sweets, to artificial sweeteners.
In layman’s terms, the discussion broke down the biggest fears and rumours today — and finally gave a baseline measurement for just how much sugar is too much sugar.
As fitness professionals themselves, the podcast hosts seemed surprisingly relaxed about sugar, admitting to their sweet tooth tendencies and reliance on sweeteners in coffee. And when dieticians West and Saunt weighed in, their perspectives were surprisingly (but thankfully) chilled as well.
While sugar is not necessarily good for the body, the dieticians reminded listeners that many fruits and vegetables contain naturally-occurring sugars which shouldn’t be shirked just out of fear.
The dieticians drew a distinction between naturally-occurring sugars and “free sugars”, like the table sugar you’d add to coffee, to highlight that the sugars that are found in fruits and vegetables are accompanied by many beneficial vitamins and nutrients as well.
When asked about feeding sugar to kids, the perspective was similar. While it’s a personal choice what each person feeds their children, the dieticians suggested that giving kids an option would help lead them to healthier habits in the long run.
The perceived “sugar spike” that people worry about when feeding sugar to kids might be more situational as well, they suggested. If a child is always denied sweet foods and goes to a birthday party where they have candy at the tip of their fingers, of course, they’re more likely to go overboard. Not to mention, the novelty might add to the excitement of an already hyper atmosphere, that being the cause for wild behaviour as opposed to the sugar itself.
Similarly, the dietitians approached sweetener with a similar mindset: Everything in moderation.
While people have irked artificial sweeteners as cancer-inducing, it’s important to note that the studies conducted on this have all been tested on animals — and the amounts of artificial sweetener ingested were far more than a person would typically consume throughout their entire lifetime.
While artificial sweeteners obviously won’t replace the nutrients that might accompany the natural sugar in an apple, for example, there is no cause to fear them and think that one sugar-free soda will lead to cancer later on in life.
So just how much sugar is too much? The podcast recommends the baseline number of 30g. This fits within the range estimated by the Australian Heart Association which advises for no more than 25g for women and 35.7g for men in a given day. While this might seem minimal to some with a sweet tooth, simply adding more whole foods will leave less wiggle room for sugar.
While it’s tempting to reach for a sweet in the afternoon slump, a natural, whole foods based snack will leave you feeling much more satisfied in the long run. While sugar shouldn’t be feared or equivocated with the likes of hard drugs, a simple mindset shift towards focusing on natural whole foods and vegetables will naturally stop you from eating too much.
And when you really want that chocolate chip cookie, go for it: A treat every now and then isn’t the end of the world.