Relax. You don’t need to stop eating sugar (unless you want to). Removing sugar from our lives is all the rage. And I absolutely love the philosophy and support the reduction of the consumption of sugar generally. As a global community, we consume far too much sugar, even the World Health Organisation thinks so. I know from my own experience how much better I function with less sugar running through my veins. But do you really need to remove all sugar (this includes fruit too!) to experience abundant health? I don’t think so.
Nature provides us with bountiful, plentiful sources of quick energy. But it does so in a way that we no longer respect. We no longer eat seasonally, locally and moderately. This is really important for our health and the environment (and our wallets too).
This is the Healthier Habits advice:
Eat fruit in its whole form, in season and sourced locally if possible
Eat food as close to its natural state as possible (ie. If you want to bake with sugar, use rapadura sugar, if you want to sweeten a lunch box choose a whole piece of fruit rather than dried fruit, source raw honey rather than honey that is heat treated – health food stores stock raw honey and it is so much better for you than heat treated honey, or better still use Manuka Honey, our blog post on immunity discusses the benefits of Manuka honey)
Make vegetables (particularly of the green leafy kind) the biggest part of every meal (you don’t get credit for green leafy vegetables if you have a single layer of baby spinach leaves on your foot long sandwich from a fast food outlet by the way!)
Be sensible with nature’s sweet treats, they are what they are and can be eaten respectfully and with utter enjoyment
Cut your dessert or piece of cake portion size in half and see if it is enough to satisfy not only that desire for something sweet but also that awesome feeling of social participation
Listen to your body, if you think you’ve had enough, stop eating (we promise it won’t be the last time that you eat something delicious so you don’t need to gorge this time)!
But there are some times that you may want to consider not eating sugar (for a short while at least). You might do that if you want to:
Sugar can cause us to put on weight. It instructs our brain to store excess energy as fat. This was really useful when food sources were scarce but these days we have access to food 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every single day of the year. We no longer experience feast or famine or a winter of short food supply. So when we consume too much food (not just sugar) we put on weight but we do not naturally give ourselves the opportunity to lose that weight.
If you are looking to improve your immune system you may benefit from limiting the amount of sugar you consume. Sugar is often the fuel for disease and illness that enables it to spread quickly and easily. When you consume foods that your body needs (like protein and vegetables) and you limit sugar, you are giving your immune system the best chance to fight off disease.
Many of us know from experience or have seen it in children, the impact of food on mood. Our blood glucose levels impacts on the way we feel and behave and the decisions we make. We can make life easier for ourselves by minimizing the peaks and troughs of blood glucose by eating foods that slowly release their energy (low GI) and limiting foods that release energy quickly (high GI). When we listen to our body, eat when we are hungry and fill our bellies with the good stuff (protein and veggies), we experience less of the peak and trough which provides more space to be productive, learn, play and get more out of our day without managing a bad mood!
Sugar is highly addictive so we sometimes find that the more you eat the more you want to eat. Sometimes it is helpful to take stock of exactly what we are consuming on a day to day basis and be honest with ourselves about whether we really need all that sweet stuff! There is also a lot of advocating for sugar substitutes such as rice malt syrup, stevia and chemical sweeteners so let’s discuss these.
Rice malt syrup is 100% natural however it is highly processed (does rice taste sweet to you at all?). The greatest benefit of this as a sweetener is that our brains do not treat it the same as other energy in our body. We use it sometimes in our recipes as an alternative to other forms of sugar but we use it in moderation to keep with our philosophy of limiting processed foods. Stevia is a plant based sweetener. If you are going to purchase stevia ensure it is 100% natural without chemical additives. It is perfectly safe to use however my family find the after taste is chemical so I have not had much success incorporating it into my recipes so I don’t tend to use it. I advocate avoiding chemical sweeteners all together. They block the brain’s energy requirement receptors and studies have shown people who use artificial sweeteners consume more food than people who use a natural form of sugar and are able to hear the signal that they have had enough to eat.
Vegetables should always be the biggest serving portion on your plate, regardless of whether you do or do not eat sugar, grains, processed carbohydrates or any other food source. Veggies rule and once you love piling your plate full of vegetables, you can be a bit more relaxed about the other stuff you are putting in your mouth.
We live in a world that is full of sugary treats, take away foods and supermarket shelves full of packets of processed chemicals that is sold to us as food. We need to learn for ourselves and teach our children how to navigate this world of eating. Banning sugar from our lives doesn’t help our children to make choices about how they feel when they eat certain types or quantities of food. We know that when we restrict something from our children (and ourselves if we are honest!), they (we!) want it even more. We can help by using non-emotive language around food. Foods should not be labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s more useful to talk with children about respecting our bodies, putting the stuff in that our body likes to eat and consuming less of the stuff that gives us short term happiness but perhaps makes us feel not so good after a while. When children know that they can control what they eat, food no longer has control over them and this is an important lesson that will see them through their adult life.
I am going to be brutally honest here and I hope you understand. OK here goes. There are some people who don’t think the way I do (you included I am guessing if you are reading this). For some people, giving children lollies and sugar in other forms is as normal and acceptable as the birds in the trees. Our children know this, they experience it every day. I think it is more helpful for children to talk to them honestly about what sugar (and the chemicals that often accompany that sugar) does in our body rather than remove it from their lives. There are two simple things we can do:
let them enjoy that birthday party and be there with a beautiful, wholesome meal for dinner when they need some extra support afterwards
surround yourself with like-minded friends and family who respect children and provide real food at parties (including natural forms of sugar!)
The movement away from sugar also attacks natural forms of sugar such as fruit, honey, maple syrup and dates. Yep all of these natural products are high in sugar (carrots are a form of sugar too by the way!). But what these products also give us is fibre, vitamins and minerals and quick energy. Not to mention often heaps of joy! Nutrition is a really important part of living a healthy life but something that is more important than nutrition is mental health! We know the two go hand in hand and I believe that life is for joyful living and part of that is eating with respect, enthusiasm and without guilt. I believe it is more important to celebrate and enjoy shared meals than restrict ourselves to such an extent that the dinner invitations stop because we are too difficult to cater for. In this busy modern world we also need to sometimes feed children and ourselves on the go in a quick and cost effective way. Nature provided fruit for such an occasion!
There’s a lot of conflicting health, wellness and nutrition advice available to us. It is important to know what you believe in. What is your food philosophy? The Healthier Habits food philosophy can be found here. I provide information and advice based on my nutrition studies and my philosophy of food, family and life. Ultimately you are responsible for your health and happiness and you need to know what you are and are not happy to live with. There is no right or wrong in this, just an opportunity to source some information to help you to craft the life that you love.
As always, if you have any comments, questions or thoughts you'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.