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What’s the hype about sugar?

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

It’s that time of year when candy seems to be everywhere in the lead-up to Halloween. The fun-size bags are on sale at the grocery store and candy is displayed in bowls wherever you go. We feel the urge to indulge in the sweet treats, but then the guilt of “eating something bad” sets in.

Why do we crave sugar?

Sugar is our brain’s first choice for energy. We like the taste of sugar. Our taste buds pick up on this flavor right away as a source of energy. When sugar is digested, glucose enters our bloodstream and gives our brains a little hit of dopamine, also referred to as the feel-good hormone.

Since sugar is quick energy for our brains, craving something sweet to eat may be a signal of hunger when our bodies are low on energy.

But there is more to it. If the sweet food you eat doesn’t contain any other nutrients like protein or fat, you may run out of energy soon after eating, which can feel like a “crash.” Concerns about sugar providing “empty calories” can easily be remedied by also eating foods with protein and fat. More about that in a bit.

Sugar as an ingredient in food

● provides a quick source of energy

● acts as a tenderizer in cooking

● carries flavor and promotes enjoyment

Should I cut out sugar entirely?

You've probably seen recommendations on how much sugar you should eat in a day or studies that link sugar consumption with disease. But, as new studies are pointing out, any correlation between food and disease is difficult to prove. To show pure cause and effect, food intake must be meticulously measured and evaluated, but that isn’t how studies are designed. Humans don’t live in laboratories, drink massive quantities of sugar sweetened beverages and wait for disease to develop. Yikes! Studies today fail to show a meaningful benefit to eliminating sugar intake without looking at other nutrition factors.

And often, these guidelines are intended for the general public and not at all adjusted for individuals. Assessing eating patterns and lifestyle are important to consider when making personal dietary changes.

But what about sugar highs in kids?

Studies concerning the reaction to sugar in children have mostly been debunked. There is no relationship between sugar intake and hyperactivity in children (or adults). It may seem like kids get hyper after eating sugary foods at a birthday party or on Halloween, but that excitement is likely because of the environment, not the sugar. If you’re serving cupcakes at a birthday party three hours after lunch, simply serve a more balanced snack first.

So what happens if I do cut out sugar?

Is there a concern? Maybe, maybe not. What is in jeopardy is a healthy relationship with food. We all know the scenario. Limiting a food or drink from our diets seems to increase the craving for them. This is human nature. To build a healthy relationship with food, we need to give ourselves permission to eat all foods, even sugar.

Practice this: When you have a craving for Halloween candy, eat it with a handful of nuts or a glass of milk. Keep sugar-containing foods in the house and serve them with other foods that contain protein, fat or fiber. This assures our bodies use the glucose for energy and the other nutrients for their specific jobs. All foods are okay to eat, especially the yummy ones, and adopting this philosophy strengthens a healthy relationship with food.

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