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Sugar: is it ok to eat?

Is sugar bad for you? And what kind of sugar can you eat without being unhealthy? There are a number of sweetener options - from honey, to processed sugar, rapadura, agave, artificial sweeteners and fruit - that are included in our foods. Here chiropractor Kate Wood discusses the different types of sugars, which ones are okay to eat.

Natural vs. refined sugars

Sugar: is it bad or is it not? What about refined sugar verses unrefined sugar? Or natural sweeteners? Liquid verses granulated? Fructose our glucose or sucrose? There are so many variations, no wonder people are so confused!

Food (and indeed, sugar) are part of our lifestyle. Celebratory foods such as birthday treats and wedding cakes, rewards, break up foods, Halloween trick or treats, Christmas foods, Easter eggs… you name it, we have added sugar to it! And that’s not including the cheeky sugar that is slipped into unsuspecting foods, that are often promoted as ‘health foods’ – such as sauces, flavoured yoghurts, popcorn, chips, bread…. The list goes on.

It’s important to note that whilst sugar gets a bad rap, it is not classified as a toxin. Whilst it shouldn’t replace real food, if you are eating a whole food, nutrient dense, low toxin diet then I believe there is a place for small amounts of sugar in your diet as long as you understand what it truly is… a treat.

Whilst refined sugars have no nutritional value and can be highly processed (think high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)), unrefined sugars are still sugar. The difference between to the two are that unrefined sugars like honey, maple syrup, molasses, dates, fruit sugar, coconut sugar, rapadura sugar, and brown rice syrup can contain some natural nutrients. The sugar in these foods – glucose – can be used by the body as an immediate energy source.

On the other hand, the problem is that many of the sugars that are being touted as ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ (like agave) are very high in fructose (depending on what you read, some research shows agave to be over 90% fructose). This is not ideal because fructose has to be broken down by your liver, which can put a huge strain on it, and limit it from processing other dietary or hormone waste products – such as hormones.

Many people prefer to use honey, but remember to use raw honey over processed honey, as processed honey does not have the same benefits as raw honey. Many experts believe that honey should only be used for medicinal purposes. An example of this is Manuka honey, and is well renowned for its antibacterial properties. From a sustainability point of view, it’s believed that 22,700 trips are needed to fill just one jar of honey. The bees themselves need to utilise the honey as fuel so good to think about these factors when using honey as a sweetener in cakes etc.

What about fruit, I hear you say? Humans have been eating fruit since the beginning of time and it’s believed that we have the capacity to easily process the fructose contained within the fruit. Not to mention that eating a whole piece of fruit contains fibre and other nutrients, it’s very difficult to over-eat fruit because of the satiety you feel with the added fibre (unless you are FODMAP intolerant).

Does sugar make you fat?

Chris Kresser’s research indicates that whilst refined sugar, including fructose, can be problematic, that it is only problematic if you are eating more than your body can healthily process. When your calories are excessive, that’s when it can contribute to weight gain.

Is sugar safe to eat?

Excluding those with health concerns such as diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity or metabolic syndrome, it would be perfectly fine to follow the World Health Organisation’s recommendations of 400g or 3-5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.

So unless you have specific health concerns you are working on, adding a few treats is not going to kill you. The guilt and stress you create around the treat is often worse than the treat itself sometimes! When you are eating well, sleeping well, have a low stress lifestyle, are hydrated and exercise regularly then a good rule of thumb is 80% optimal, 20% indulgence! When you do indulge, then enjoy it! Remember this as you come into the silly season.

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