I don’t know how many people are trying to lose weight nowadays, but probably much more than those who are satisfied with their appearance. To be honest, I was also part of that group for a couple of years. I tried all the existing diets; I counted my calories; and I always believed that sugar makes people fat. So most of the time, I followed diets very low in sugar and waited for the miracle. And yes, sometimes I managed to lose some weight but I couldn’t keep it up in the long run.
These days, many people believe that sugar is what makes people fat. They think in order to lose weight the only thing they need to do is to cut out sugar from their diet. Because of that, there are sugar-free versions of almost every product you can find in supermarkets. Experts report that consumption of sugar has been falling over the past decade, but obesity rates are still rising.
But where all of these myths around sugar come from? If you ask your grandparents they will probably say that fat is what leads to obesity. At their time, everyone believed that if you reduce your fat intake you will lose weight. And this theory didn’t look like it was working in the long run: by the 2010s, the Annals of Internal Medicine was reporting that “current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.” So humanity needed to find another food group to blame. This time sugar became the victim and the paradigm shifted to place the blame on sugar. It also helps that our Western culture has a complicated relationship with things that give us pleasure. Alan Levinovitz, an associate professor at James Madison University studying the relationship between religion and science, says that “sugar is intensely pleasurable, so we have to see it as a cardinal sin.”
You don’t need to be an expert in nutrition to know that weight loss is more complicated than cutting out different food groups from our diets. It didn’t work with fat and now it doesn’t seem to be working with sugar. Maybe one day we will blame protein for our weight gain and the circle will come full circle. The reality is that no one will reach a healthy weight only by cutting out sugar. If it were that simple, we would all be skinny by now.
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate and you can find it in many different kinds of food. It has a very pleasant taste and it often makes our soul happy. In addition, it’s indispensable for our survival. When we eat carbohydrates, our body turns it into glucose, which is its primary source of energy. If we don’t consume enough of it we can feel exhausted weak or even depressed. So if our body needs sugar to function well, why do so many people label it as something bad? The problem is that there are different types of sugar and it can be confusing to decide which sugar makes people fat.
So let’s break it down a little bit. Sugars can be extracted from two different categories of carbohydrates: complex carbs and simple carbs.
– Complex carbs are the sugars that are found naturally in foods. These include grains, legumes, and vegetables. These molecules have a more complex structure so the body processes it much more slowly. We shouldn’t be afraid of consuming complex carbs because it has a tons of health benefits.
– Simple carbs are usually the sugars that are added to foods. You can find it in candies, chocolate bars, fruit juices, and energy drinks. These are simpler molecules so it takes shorter for the body to break it down. That’s why we experience fatigue and a lack of energy after eating too many simple sugars. These added sugars are often mentioned as empty calories because they don’t have any nutritional benefits. In the long run, eating too many simple sugars can lead to weight gain and some serious diseases like diabetes.
So if we want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight we should only reduce the intake of simple carbs. But what about fruits? Fruit is also a natural sugar source but it contains mostly simple carbs. The difference between fruits and added sugars is that fruit has fiber, which is very beneficial for our bodies. It also has many nutrients and minerals that makes it extremely healthy.
So sugar by itself doesn’t make people fat, but we do need to pay attention to what type of sugars are we consuming. A few years ago I read a powerful book called The Healthiest Diet On The Planet: Why the Foods You Love—Pizza, Pancakes, Potatoes, Pasta & More—Are the Solution to Preventing Disease and Looking and Feeling Your Best by Dr. John McDougall.
This book really helped me switch my mindset around sugar and not to see it as something bad. The author explains in this book that the reason we have evolved to love sugar is that we need it for good health. He recommends eating a lot of carbs and sugars, but mostly from natural sources. He also posits that the main cause of obesity and diabetes isn’t sugar but mostly animal products and oils.
Since I follow his recommendations I was able to reach my goal weight and maintain it for a long term. And most importantly, I am healthier than ever before. I’m not afraid of sugar nor am I’m afraid of fat. Instead, I try to choose the natural sources of all the main food groups. I eat a lot of grains, legumes, and fruits and I try to avoid foods that contain added sugar. In total, I eat more carbs and sugars than before but it’s way more easier for me now to keep a healthy weight.
What is your opinion about sugar?
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Photo: Noah Buscher via Unsplash