Sugar: Prisoner of War

If you want to wage war against food, there are plenty of ways to do it. We have vegans, who writhe in disgust at the thought of eating animal foods. And we have meatatarians, who eat animal foods almost exclusively (and writhe in disgust at the thought of being vegan).

There's low-carb and low-fat, high-protein and low-glycemic. Raw or cooked. Good fats and bad fats, good carbs and bad carbs, soaked grains and grain-free...

And, of course, there are limitless combinations. "Hi, I'm a low-fat, grain-free raw vegan." Or, "Hey, I'm a low-carb, high-fat meatatarian." There are low-fat meatarians and high-fat vegans. The list goes on and on.

Even with all of these different ways to wage war on food, there is really only one mission: to eat healthfully. Everyone's just trying to get there in competing ways. Vegans spread smear campaigns against meat and dairy. Low-carb gurus preach on the perils of the bread basket. Raw foodies condemn frying pans (even the safe kinds).

With so much hate flying around, something was bound to get caught in the crossfire. And it was something considered so evil, so sinister, so addictive, it's been likened to cocaine and heroin because of the destruction it leaves in its wake (or so we've been told).

You may have heard of it. It's called sugar.

Almost every single one of these food camps can agree on at least one thing: sugar is the bane of modern society. It's a poison. It's a drug. Some folks want to tax it. Some even want to outlaw it.

The problem? It's your body's favorite fuel.

Sugar: We Love to Hate It... and Hate to Love It

A few years ago, I knew sugar was bad. And I knew I was bad for craving it. Wanting something sweet was a weakness, a flaw in my very nature, an addictive behavior that needed to be swiftly eradicated. I could never be healed, I could never really be whole, as long as I gave in to this monster we call sugar.

But slowly--very slowly--a different explanation began to dawn on me: maybe my body was craving sugar because it needed it.

Blasphemy! I couldn't speak of this idea to anyone. It was nutritional heresy.

I did more research, I experimented with purposefully adding sugar to my diet. I educated myself on some basic biological functions. At first it was difficult to acknowledge, much less actually believe. But all the while I was coming to the realization that my ideas about sugar were--if I dare admit it--wrong.

Sugar Myths: "Sugar Makes You Fat!"

Whole Health Source blogger Stephan Guyenet put together a fascinating post about whether or not science really points to sugar inherently being fattening. It turns out, sugar itself isn't a determining factor in weight gain and obesity. Obesity is a multi-faceted issue, to say the least, and blaming it all on sugar is not looking at the bigger picture.

Sugar Myths: "Sugar Causes Diabetes!"

The connection between sugar and diabetes seems obvious on the surface level: type II diabetes is characterized by high blood sugar, and sugar can raise blood sugar levels. But high blood sugar issues are more likely to be a result of high stress hormones, which impair the body's natural ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar. High blood sugar is more of a symptom than a cause.

Sugar Myths: "Sugar Causes Adrenal Stress!"

In fact, just the opposite happens. Chronic low blood sugar promotes high stress hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol). What combats this effect? That's right. Sugar! Pair it with a little protein and you've got yourself an anti-stress snack. That's why some fruit and cheese or hot cocoa may be the perfect antidote to your insomnia at bedtime.
Stress hormones are also required when you force your body to burn fat or protein as fuel. Giving your body a more efficient fuel source (like sugar), keeps those hormones in check.

Sugar in Context

Obviously, this post barely even scratches the surface when it comes to sugar. Each of the issues I've touched on could easily be expanded into multiple posts. Plus there are other issues to consider, like:

  • What types of sugar are best (fruit vs. juice vs. honey vs. table sugar)? 
  • Does diet and lifestyle affect how we handle sugar? 
  • Are other ingredients in sweets (like sodas, cakes, candies, etc) to blame rather than just the sugar? 

These questions are definitely worth asking.

I know by now I've inspired oodles of hate mail just from daring to question sugar's bad reputation. Believe me, the last thing I want to do is stir up more controversy--I've been on the fence about posting this for a couple years now.

In the end, I hope to inspire curiosity and a healthy level of questioning rather than hate and confusion. I want to break down the walls of dogmatic thinking, not build another layer of them.

Want to Learn More About Sugar?

I don't pretend to be an expert in nutritional biology. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend checking out some of these blog posts by those far more versed in this field than myself:

Sugar: Pure, White and Awesome by Danny Roddy

Fructose to the Rescue and The Benefits of Fructose by Cliff McCrary

Blood Sugar by Rob Turner

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