Do you really have to avoid sugar?

Sugar certainly gets a bad rap in the media these days, but is it as bad as they say?

While I am sure nobody is going to argue that sugar is a health food, it can be included in a healthy diet.

Sugar actually occurs naturally in many foods — e.g., fruits, vegetables, any kind of carbohydrate (including the ‘healthy’ ones such as brown rice), and dairy. These foods do contain other valuable health-promoting components, though — vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and healthy fats.

The Problem with Sugar

The problem with sugar occurs when we eat too much of it. With today’s food processing, this is easy to do. Think soft drink, fruit juice, biscuits, candy, and really any ultra-processed food you find in the supermarket. Food manufacturers know that our brains are drawn to sweet flavors, so they produce food with high amounts of sugar that will leave you craving more sugar. These same foods tend to be low in protein and fiber, which means they don’t leave you feeling satisfied. This is a recipe for overeating!

Unfortunately, added sugar isn’t just found in these ‘sweet-tasting’ foods, though. Other processed foods such as sauces, soups, and savory bread and crackers also have sugar added. High consumption of sugar has been linked with diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, among others.

How to Healthily Consume Sugar

As mentioned, the problem with sugar is excessive consumption. If you are eating a mostly whole foods diet, a small amount of added sugar in your diet won’t be a problem. This means consuming a diet based largely around fruits (not fruit juice), vegetables, whole grains (e.g., brown rice instead of white rice), lean meats, unsweetened dairy, and nuts/seeds. This forms the basis of a healthy diet. With this whole foods diet, you can then indulge in your favorite sweet treats in moderation — e.g., a few squares of chocolate, a slice of your favorite cake, the occasional fruit juice.

These sweet foods are safe to consume when they are included as a small part of your diet, instead of being the main part of your diet.

Remember, when reading ingredient lists, it’s not just sugar you are looking out for, but also corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, or anything similar. To make things easier, opt for items with as few ingredients as possible!


About the author

Cheyenne Holman

Cheyenne Holman

Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD)
Accredited Sports Dietitian
Certified Personal Trainer
Yoga Alliance Certified Yoga Teacher