In defence of sugar.

Good, I got your attention. I bet you’re thinking I’m just another crazy dietitian defending the poisonous, toxic substance called sugar. Or you’re another dietitian, like me, who also defends the poisonous, toxic substance called sugar. Or you are just my family & friends reading this to support my crazy endeavours. Anyway, whatever your thoughts are, hear read me out.

I was going to mention a number of foods and have you guess what they all have in common. But smarty pants here writing this blog put the bloody answer in the title.

Anyway said number of foods: Coca cola, muesli bars, chocolate, bananas, yoghurt and flavoured milk.

These foods come from different core and non-core food groups, yet they all have one thing in common.

Sugar.

In fact, when we compare them per 100g or ml, you’ll find it a bit like this:

– Chocolate (56g)

– Muesli bar (18g)

– Banana (17g)

– Coca Cola (10.6g) Chocolate milk (10.6g)

– Flavoured yoghurt (9.4g)

 So as you can see, it’s official – the banana industry is trying to poison us.

But if we break it down into the ‘usual’ (I use this term lightly) serves sizes. In order from highest sugar content to lowest, per serve.

– 375ml coca cola (40g)

– 300ml chocolate milk (32g)

– 50g dairy milk chocolate (28g)

– 1 medium banana (18.6g)

– 170g tub chobani yoghurt (16g)

– 1x be natural trail bar (5.7g)

Making a little bit more sense isn’t it? But still, nearly 5 teaspoons of sugar in the banana?

First of all, let’s look at the Coca cola and chocolate milk. Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll be drinking the same amount of sugar. But does this mean they are equal? Milk contains a naturally occurring sugar, known as lactose, which will account for some of the sugar content. The rest is, well yes, added. The sugar in coca cola, 100% added.

However, when we consider these products as a ‘whole’, you’ll find that the flavoured milk also contains protein and calcium. Protein is not only important for optimal growth and development, but it also helps keep you full, meaning you may not need to reach for a snack soon after. Milk is also one of the best sources of calcium from the diet, which we know is essential for bones and teeth.

What do we also know? That overall, only 10% of our population are meeting their recommended serves of dairy per day, and only 1 in 5 Australian primary school children are consuming enough dairy. Our children are building bodies for a lifetime, and if flavoured milk can help develop healthy bones and teeth, is the couple of teaspoons of sugar so bad in the grand scheme of things?

Next up: Chobani, chocolate and the banana.

That one tub of Chobani yoghurt has the equivalent sugar content to just over half that chocolate bar. In fact, so does the banana.

Yoghurt is like milk, a great source of protein and packs a punch of calcium.

A banana is a natural wholefood, picked from a plant. It hasn’t been processed or chopped or diced or sliced or put in some plastic. There isn’t any sugar added. The sugar present is the naturally occurring sugar called ‘fructose’ which you’ll find in all your fruits. In addition to minimal packaging and natural sugar, the banana also contains an array of vitamins and minerals, and dietary fibre. Dietary fibre is beneficial for regular bowel health, and like protein, helps keep us full.

But there’s more to this.

Think about if you were to eat chocolate or drink a glass of soft drink. How long would your body be able to function well before you go looking for something else?

Chocolate melts in your mouth. You don’t have to chew. It doesn’t absorb water and bulk up your stomach like fibre. I’m going to be dramatic and say that it’s pretty much digested once your body heat melts it.

Now go grab a banana. You can’t scoff that down. Grab a muesli bar. Try eat that fast and it will be death by toasted-oats. Chewing food also slows you down and allows you to be more in tune with your hunger and satiety signals.

So to wrap it all up in a nice little sweet summary.

As I have written in an earlier post: We do not eat nutrients. We eat food. And the foods we eat form the collection of foods known as our diet or eating pattern.

Just to be clear: I think it absolutely fantastic that we are becoming more interested in what’s in our foods and reducing the amount of added sugars we consume. We are eating too much added sugar. But to be honest, we are just eating too much food. Period. Sugar isn’t the main culprit. It’s the large amount of discretionary foods we’re consuming.

The point of my post here is that I just feel that we all need to embrace something.

Something that I believe is essential to ensuring we eat well for our overall health, and not just our physical health.

Perspective.

There’s a reason so many people go to a Dietitian and hear ‘Well, it really depends’ to the age old ‘Should I be eating X?’

Relative importance. Because, Perspective is the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.

Where does this one food fit within the whole context of your eating pattern?

So your child has a Big M once a week, after their Saturday morning game of soccer. They get in a serve of dairy, which you know can be battle on a good day. Is it really worth cutting out those 4 teaspoons of sugar?

Is the fish and chips you have once a month really the reason you suffered a heart attack? I’m sorry but I’m sure there are bigger fish to fry. Pun totally intended.

If you only have a dash of milk in your tea and coffees, do you really think switching to low fat milk is going to make a difference?

Using some perspective is important. And I think in today’s society where we are exposed to so many mixed messages and the there is that pressure to conform to many ideals, it important for our psychological health.

Healthy eating shouldn’t be stressful and it shouldn’t be about eating the most perfect collection of foods either.

Healthy eating is about eating a wide variety of nutritious foods from the core food groups. It’s about enjoying foods that keep us energised and satisfied, plus foods that help nourish the mind and soul.

It’s about getting the basics right: plant based and minimally processed, and focusing more on what you do on a daily basis. It’s including fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fish, and some lean meat, chicken and low fat dairy. And when looking at those every day foods like yoghurts, muesli bars and breakfast cereals, looking for those with the least amount of added sugars.

It’s about limiting the cakes, the biscuits, the ice cream & the liquorice allsorts (etc, etc..) to the occasional treat (read: not every day) and loving the absolute shit out of them when you do eat them.

Healthy eating is about using some perspective, considering the foods you choose as a whole and within the context of your entire eating pattern. It’s about balance.

Because really, just as the banana industry isn’t trying to poison us with all that fructose, a small big M isn’t sending us on a spiral of ill health.

Emma xo

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6 thoughts on “In defence of sugar.

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