Let’s stop demonising sugar!

I remember the sugar advertisements from when I was a child, with sugar being promoted as a source of energy. Today, sugar is being blamed for obesity, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer to name a few. I don’t believe that we are completely wrong for blaming sugar, but is sugar really alone at fault?

Looking at our metabolism in simple terms:

The human body is able to derive energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates (including different types of sugar). Since carbohydrates digest more quickly than protein and fat, our bodies are able to derive energy from carbohydrates very quickly. This energy is transported in the bloodstream in the form of glucose. The glucose is then utilized by our bodily cells, if however, the cells are not in need of energy, this glucose is easily converted to fat which can then be stored for later use.

Therefore, if we consume too much sugar, we gain weight. The problem here is that all carbohydrates, not just sugar, are digested to glucose. Therefore not only sugar leads to weight gain, but all carbohydrate foods (e.g. pasta, potatoes, rice, fruits, candy, etc.). No, I am not saying we should completely avoid carbohydrate foods, but that we should be eating them in the right amounts. If you are consuming the correct amount of carbohydrate, you will not gain weight.

Type 2 diabetes and most types of cancer are strongly linked to obesity. That the energy from sugar may contribute to obesity is undisputed, however, the body also derives energy from protein and fat. When looking at countries with the highest obesity rates, the people in these countries typically consume too much meat, fat as well as carbohydrate, including too much soft drinks, combined with low levels of physical activity. Now, by demonising sugar we are only touching the tip of the iceberg. Sure, sugar intake should be decreased for most individuals and sugar content of most processed foods can be drastically decreased, but what about the amount of meat products we consume, including the quality of that meat? And what about the quality of fats we are consuming?

It is time we start looking at our eating habits as a whole and stop demonising individual foods and stop hailing to so-called superfoods. All natural unprocessed foods are superfoods! Broccoli, onion, apples and oats are all superfoods!

My personal approach, and one that I also recommend to my clients, is that all foods are fine if eaten in the correct amounts. We should be eating mostly vegetables with small portions of starch and protein with most meals, snack on nuts and fruits, and limit sweet treats to max. 1 serving per day. Beverages should ideally be water, unsweetened tea or coffee with an occasional soft drink not being the end of the world.


Ursula Rausch is a registered dietitian at Nutrition A-Z with a speciality in diabetes management, women’s health, digestive health and weight management.  Being bilingual, Ursula consults both in German and English. 

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