Pretty sweet. These 3 stubborn sugar myths just got busted by a chemist.
No, your pancreas doesn’t know the difference between a Kit Kat and a carrot.
As you straddle the seasonal pause between Halloween and the holidays, eyeballing unfinished bags of harvested candy whilst dreaming of sweet treats to come, you may find yourself beset with a nagging thought: I've gotta cut out sugar.
And why not, health crusaders have found a worthy baddie du jour in sugar. While fat enjoys a graceful reprieve, sugar is being vilified as the cause of everything from ADHD to Alzheimer's, to cancer to diabetes to obesity. Mostly obesity. Which almost certainly contributes to all the ills listed above. Still, SciBabe and famous health trend contrarian, Yvette d'Entremont, just debunked a bunch of sugar science. She suggests working a spoonful of logic into your daily intake.
Here are three sugar myths she's busted. Have a read while you finish off those Rockets.
Myth 1: Sugar is a habit-forming drug
Nope. Not a drug. Well, no more than any other things we toss back. Bananas, apples, animal proteins, pumpkin seeds, nuts, avocados: they can all cause a bump in dopamine production (your brain's feel good neurotransmitter). Dosing matters here - the higher the amount of food, the bigger the bump. Sugar is no exception and there's plenty of it in a slice of cake or a stack of brownies. Sweetened baked goods also have a fair bit of fat and salt, both of which stimulate Dr. Feel Good (something food manufacturers readily exploit, so caveat emptor).
d'Entremont is clear that sugar is not singular in that "all food can trigger spikes in dopamine". She sites a 2014 study that found eating patterns to be more problematic than specific food choices. So abuse of food in general needs to be looked at and not just abuse of sugar. Eating more of anything makes you want to eat more of everything as your brain gets hungrier and hungrier for more dopamine. Dr Patrick Owen, a nutritionist and fitness trainer says, "whatever you feed the dragon, the dragon will crave." You're just as likely to form an unhealthy relationship with a salty, fatty poutine as you are a gallon of ice cream. Ostensibly, you could even go ham, as the kids say, eating avocadoes - it's overindulgence that's the culprit, not the sugar molecule itself. Still, avoid getting wrapped up in bingeing your way through an entire sleeve of Oreos (or your weight in ketchup chips). Insert platitude about moderation here and see next myth.
Myth 2: Too much fat is better than too much sugar
Too much of anything is a bad thing. Riding the crest of the syrupy wave that is anti-sugar mania are a host of nutritional experts selling books, blogs and the "one thing" you need to finally get that body you want . While sugar-free living is being touted as a panacea against weight problems, d'Entremont is simply not having it and reminding everyone that "excess calories, no matter if the source is fat or sugar, can cause obesity". She also points out that we're almost certainly struggling with obesity because we're just eating way more of everything - not just sugar. We consume about 450 calories more than we did sixty years ago. Some accounts place that surplus intake even higher. But sugar consumption in particular actually topped out around the millennium and has since declined. In fact, d'Entremont says it's not that much higher than it was in the 70s. On the other chubby hand, fat and oil intake (largely in the form of processed vegetable fats) has gone up by 200 calories a day. That's 1,400 surplus caloric load a week, or 72,000 calories a year per human.
That math matters. The case for calorie counting still holds, and is supported by numerous studies. Part of the problem says Michael Moss, author of Salt, Sugar, Fat is we can't taste when something has too much fat in it the way we can when something is clearly too salty or too sweet - we just like it. And all three get smuggled into an almost endless list of processed foods. So there is some sound logic behind a whole foods approach. Just don't let that give you license to chug honey by the litre or eat a baker's dozen of bananas every day.
When it comes to trimming down you could do worse than to keep this mantra in mind every time you tuck into anything: eat a little less. Unless it's leafy greens, they continue to enjoy their superfood status. Much to the chagrin of bacon.
Myth 3: Sugar from candy is way worse than sugar from fruit
Hang on to your love handles because this is a big one: sugar is sugar - no matter where your taste buds (or spare tire) get it. Bananas or Butterfinger, a Spartan apple or apple pie a la mode, d'Entremont is adamant that "your pancreas really doesn't care where you get those sugars". It does care if you're getting them though - and sugar, like fat and salt, are things that our bodies need in healthy doses.
Though she is careful to point out that some rare digestive disorders make it impossible to process specific sugars, for most humans, a sugar molecule is a sugar molecule - and it gets processed the exact same way whether it came from a Kit Kat or a carrot. (Relevant aside: carrots, gram for gram, have about half as much sugar as apples - keep an eye on those orange traitors - we see you, carrots).
In unpacking a more helpful comparison between an apple and a handful of jellybeans, D'Entremont states the obvious: apples do have less sugar (a typical apple delivers 19 grams of sugar, while 100 grams of jelly beans will serve your pancreas 70 grams) and easily outshine jellybeans in fibre, vitamins and minerals. So, the better choice is clear. But the sugar from one is not, repeat not "better for you". Fruit consumption and management, d'Entremont carefully points out, is a crucial part of any diabetic's dietary choices, and with reason.
The salient (sugary?) take away from d'Entremont is to stay mindful (read logical). You choose what you buy and consume. If you don't feel your best, have a look at your diet and explore an elimination plan with a doctor and a registered dietician. But stop sweating sugar for its own sake. Certainly, once you've forced some optimally nutritious food down your hatch don't panic if a sugar molecule makes its way past your own resolve to fit into a smaller size or the gauntlet of "well-meaning" (in some instances, lucrative) health advice.