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Sweet Talk: Addressing Common Misconceptions About Sugar

Sweet Talk: Addressing Common Misconceptions About Sugar

 

By Kristen Carli, RD


As a dietitian, I hear a lot of nutrition rumors and myths from patients, family, and friends. One of the topics that comes up the most is misconceptions about sugar. Sugar is in a lot of our food supply, in baked goods, processed foods, in fruit, and even in milk. Given all this interest, I decided it was time to do some myth busting about sugar intake. 


Myth #1: All sugar is bad

This is a very common misunderstanding. With the rise in the nationwideobesity epidemic, and the increase in rates oftype 2 diabetes, it seems like everyone is terrified of eating any amount of sugar. I’m here to tell you that you do not need to worry about all types of sugar. 


Let’s break this down… There are many forms of natural sugar found in fruit and dairy products, like fructose and lactose. These sugars are not to be feared. Fruit, for example, is packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants, as well as fiber. That fiber is pretty important for helping manage your blood sugar. When you eat an apple, which contains fiber, your blood sugar will steadily rise and steadily fall. However, when you drink a sweetened soda, which does not contain any fiber, your blood sugar will spike very quickly and then fall rapidly, leading to that well-known sugar crash. 


Fiber is the key element here leading to more blood glucose control. Additionally, the fiber contributes to yourglycemic index rating, a measurement of how foods affect your blood sugar. Foods high in forms of sugar but also high in fiber, will have a lower glycemic index, meaning you will not experience that energy crash. These foods are healthier for you than those that are high on the glycemic index, like bread, white rice, cereal, and French fries.


Myth #2: Sugar alternatives are best

Another common misunderstanding is that if sugar is bad, then sugar alternatives must be good, so we should eat them in excess. This is not the case. Many sugar alternatives, including Sweet'n Low and Splenda, have been shown to be associated with detrimental effects on one’sgut microbiome, the system of microorganisms (like bacteria, fungi, and archaea) that regulate our digestive system. This is particularly concerning as gut health is understood to be linked to many chronic diseases. 


Additionally, these sugar alternatives are200-700 times as sweet as sugar. For many individuals who get used to consuming sugar alternatives, they find that foods sweetened with table sugar are no longer sweet enough for them. This could lead to further sugar cravings.


Myth #3: I have to cut out all sugar in order to be healthy

This is a common misconception about healthy eating. Many of us assume that a healthy diet has no room for any “fun” foods. It’s my goal as a dietitian to not only help patients achieve a healthy diet, but to develop a healthy relationship with food. 

My advice is to eat real sugar in reasonable amounts, which will allow you to avoid bingeing on sugar when it’s in front of you. A healthy relationship to all foods is a vital part of a healthy diet. 


Kristen Carli is a registered dietitian and the owner ofCamelback Nutrition & Wellness in Phoenix, Arizona.



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