Sugar = bad. It’s a school of thought that has long been drilled into us, and in turn has birthed a sugar-free trend that’s spilled into the world of supermarkets, cookbooks, restaurants and blogs.
Is sugar bad for you?
It’s important not to get swept up in the anti-sugar phenomenon before first understanding why sugar is dubbed ‘bad’ and what sugar-free really means.
Firstly, sugar is not necessarily bad for us. In fact, sugar is a great source of energy for your body and is generally used in the form of glucose alongside fats, carbs and proteins. Your body needs sugar every day to power cells for growth, repair, movement and reproduction.
If you restrict sugar too much, your body will become stressed and your metabolism, digestion, hormonal health, immunity, sleep and reproductive functions could suffer as a result.
The problem here lies in the fact that consuming too much sugar means the body ends up with excess “fuel” and the liver can’t store any more. When that happens, sugar is converted into fatty acids (yes, fat) and stored for future use. We’re all familiar with the body’s favourite storing areas: the butt, hips, thighs and stomach (especially for men).
So this being said, it seems logical that balancing your intake is the optimum approach. But how do you know what the perfect balance is?
What foods contain sugar?
Sugar is found in bread, fruits, nuts, dairy, vegetables and many other foods that are essential to our diets – and good for us!
Fructose, or ‘fruit sugar’, which some of these foods contain, is actually vital for the body’s various cell processes mentioned above.
Fructose only becomes an issue in processed foods such as soft drinks, sugary cereals and even chips, which all have large quantities of added sugars, including fructose.
Is sugar-free better?
Many sugar-free items use artificial sweeteners, which are intense synthetic supplements with extremely low calorie amounts. They are common in diet soft drinks, lollies, baked goods, jams and so on. But while many products boast that they’re sugar-free, they may be no better for you than their sugary cousins.
That’s because while they may reduce the incidence of conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes thanks to lowering our intake of sugar, they may be harmful in other ways.
For instance, it still isn’t clear what link they may have to cancer, and some researchers believe they may actually cause obesity and diabetes!
The jury is still out on whether artificial sweeteners are healthy or harmful, but it’s true to say that too much consumption is not recommended (much like sugar itself!).
Equally, many labels disguise sugar under alternate names such as maltitol, molasses, corn syrup and maltose.
When buying a product, always be savvy in decoding the label.
How much sugar should you eat?
A handy tip to remember is that the World Health Organisation recommends you should keep added sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of your total intake throughout the day.
To put this in perspective, if you’re following a 1200-calorie-a-day diet, less than 120 calories or 30g of sugar should be coming from added sugars. A 375ml can of coke has 40g of these added sugars!
So, what to do with all this information? Well, one point seems clear: “everything in moderation” is still the best advice to follow.
There’s no need to cut out sugar altogether, but reducing your intake to a safe level will reap huge benefits for your health and weight.
Due to a parasitic issue & bloating I have been sugar free for 4.5 months restricting fruit as well, with the exception of bananas (because I was getting leg cramps and the potassium helped ). I agree with your article, moderation is the key and avoiding high human intervention foods. When you start looking for sugar you will see it everywhere…even salt & vinegar chips, roasted peppers, some natural yoghurts…its in so many things. When you eat empty calories with no nutritional value, your body isn’t satisfied and seeks out more food to find the vitamins & minerals it needs, processed sugar is just empty calories.
I would disagree with most of this article…natural sugars are just as bad as processed sugar because the body responds the same way with an insulin spike. All sugar sucrose, fructose, dextrose is not good for you and should not be eaten . If you eliminate all sugars you will and readjust your taste buds you will start to taste the sugar in things like cauliflower and broccoli.
Natural occurring sugars in their natural form as found in their natural food state are fine it is just the man made and modified processed natural sugars that find their way into our foods in large or concentrated quantities that is the problem.
Agnes: you have misunderstood. The recommendation is in relation to ADDED sugar. There is no added sugar in an apple or a glass of milk.
I don’t think it’s true that “fructose is essential”, only glucose is essential. Fructose from fruit can be tolerated in moderate amounts for those without blood sugar imbalances as it’s accompanied with fibre to alow absorption and has many beneficial nutrients.
Hi Michelle – The term ‘essential’ is used loosely here by the author. She is simply saying that sugars found in bread, fruits, nuts, dairy and vegetables are great for good health and should not be feared.
All the best,
12WBT Support Crew
I would think that generally most shop made/bought breads are NOT good for you, with or without sugar. Any nutrient that is “essential” can easily be found in other more natural and healthy products apart from “bread”.
I don’t think you can use absolute terms like “essential” loosely. You can’t use facts loosely. It’s either essential or it’s not. And it’s not. Glucose is.
There’s nothing *wrong* with consuming fructose (when it’s in fresh produce), but the amounts that was consume through added sugars and processed foods nowadays is absurd. No one is arguing against naturally occurring sugars in their whole food forms, because they are accompanied by fibre and fat to help moderate how much is consumed. Added sugars and processing foods to the point that they are no longer recognisable are huge issues. Limiting these foods harms no one.
It may also be worth mentioning that a percentage of the population cannot process fructose. For these people artificial sweeteners and refined sugar is healthier than the natural counterparts. What is healthy for one group of people, is poison for another group. There is no magic diet that is healthy for everyone.
This is by far my hugest challenge and the main reason I am trying 12WBT. I find the sugar hit I’d get from a chocolate bar or iced coffee (with ice-cream) in nothing good for me. Sugar has ruined my teeth completely. I have drastically cut down over the last 2 months, but I just can’t loose the taste for it. Even reading this article about understanding why, doesn’t make me not want and crave it. Agghhhh! I am way better than what I was, but still majorly struggling.
When looking at the title of this article most people will think of “sugar” as processed sugar cane, not the sugars that naturally occur in foods like bread and fruit. No added processed sugar is good for you. Read the book “The Food Hourglass” written by a Belgian medical doctor if you’d like to learn why. Do I still eat it from time to time in dark chocolate and the occasional treat? Yes. But I know it isn’t good for me. I eat fruit freely as it is full of natural sugars and lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
Yes I agree. Soooo many reasons why processed sugar is bad for you! I have raised all my children with no sugar or white wheat products (which react similarly to sugar) but not limited their access to fresh fruit and veg. I even occasionally made home made muesli bars with a bit of honey and vanilla as sweetener. (after they were 4 or 5) They have the best teeth of all their peers. Plus they do not like really sweet foods like cakes and biscuits from a bakery, which makes it easier to make healthy food choices as an adult.
I never do artificial sugar. When I was a teenager a friend of the family (adult) was diagnosed with MS. He had numbness in his fingers and other symptoms. Eventually with a change of diet and a lot of research he became symptom free. There is research showing that too much artificial sugar can end up with your body having symptoms similar to ms, and that was the case for him. He was having Pepsi Max (or equivalent) all the time and all symptoms stopped when he stopped drinking it. He has been healthy and symptom free since then, more than 20 years ago! No ms, just a reaction to the artificial sugar. Research has shown he is not the only one. (Please do not think I am saying ms is not real, I have a friend who has ms so I am not saying that at all, just that too much artificial sugar can have your body with similar presenting symptoms!)
I agree. I was also diagnosed with MS 20 years ago. I looked closely at my diet straight away and realised that i was consuming a huge amount of artificial sugar in an attempt to be ‘healthy’ and get thin! I believe this was a main reason as to why I had the MS symptoms. Thankfully after a dramatic diet change, all signs of my MS disappeared after one year! Unfortunately 20 years on, I still struggle with eating properly and being kinder to my poor body…yes, I should know better! 🙂
WHO recommends further reduction to less than 5% in their latest guidelines published September 2014:
‘Limiting intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy (2, 5) is part of a healthy diet. A further reduction to less than 5% of total energy (6) is suggested for additional health benefits.’
In a 1200 cal diet it’s about 15g sugar, less than 4 teaspoons, or about the amount found in a cup of milk or a large apple.
Great blog. But it would be nice if you said Type 2 diabetes. Being a parent of two children with Type 1 diabetes I get a lot of misinformed people believing that I have given them too much sugar which led to their diagnoses. If more people who have a large followings can start informing people that only one of the types of diabetes can be due to diet and lifestyle it well help everyone better understand and stop jumping to conclusions.
Good point!! That’s now been updated. We’ve a bunch of other posts on here about Type 2 and should know better. Sorry for the oversight.