The Devil’s Advocate

Why sugar is not as bad as you think it is 

Lena Orlova // Contributor 

If we take our information from the news or the health and fitness industry, we come to believe that all carbs are bad. Carbs lead to weight gain, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, acne, headaches, infections and texting your ex when you know you shouldn’t. Well, I wouldn’t want those things either. 

The simple solution may be to cut the sugar, be done with it and live happily ever after. However, is the absence of disease the same as being healthy? 

Let’s begin first with who defines health. Depending on who you ask —a doctor, a fitness instructor, a fashion model, an athlete or a college student—the answer will differ. In 1948, the World Health Organization stated, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This makes sense, since people who get sick aren’t necessarily unhealthy. Everyone is susceptible to the flu once in a while. 

Many factors can make people susceptible to disease like lifestyle choices, genetics, exercise habits or even past traumatic experiences, as demonstrated by the 1998 study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). Sugar can’t take all the credit. 

An examination in the “Low Carbohydrate Diet” by Robert Oh and Kalyan R. Uppaluri, shows that, in the short-term, diets that restrict sugar—like keto or Atkins—promote weight loss and more balanced blood sugar levels for those with type 2 diabetes. Yet, for periods of more than one year, two years or 10 years, findings disconcert. 

In the meta-analysis and prospective cohort study on “Dietary Carbohydrate Intake and Mortality” in 2018, Sara Seidelmann and authors found that groups with the lowest mortality rates obtained 50-55 per cent of their energy needs from carbs. Overall, they associated highest mortality rates with low carb (less than 40 per cent) and high carb (more than 70 per cent) consuming diets. 

Low-carb diets often lead to fatigue, stress, tiredness, cold body temperature and insomnia. Health researcher, nutrition activist, lifestyle and exercise coach Kate Deering makes the link that these are all symptoms of a slow metabolism. Metabolism is the sum of all cellular activities in the body and affected by the absence of carbs. 

A carbohydrate is a nutrient necessary for survival. It exists in fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains and refined sugar. 

The body breaks down most carbs into simple sugars like glucose. Glucose is the preferable energy source—quick cash. There are areas that only use glucose as an energy source: your brain, cells of the retina and your red blood cells. Yes—even your blood needs  

The body needs energy to drive all cellular processes like growth, repairs, detoxification and the immune response. Sugar stimulates the metabolism. A healthy metabolism is linked to better energy, better sleep, better sex drive, better physical shape and overall mood, Deering points out in How to Heal Your Metabolism

Think about the last time you were stressed: you probably craved something sweet. In a stressed state, your body prepares for expenditure of energy by craving energy. 

Popular low-carb diets go by the theory that if you cut the sugar, eventually the body’s energy source becomes fat and you burn fat. Yes, that’s part of the story. However, breaking down fat as the main source of energy for all body functions and for a prolonged period of time inhibits the same physiological processes that normally contribute to detoxification, healthy metabolism and a healthy body. Decades of well-supported, countermovement research has been done by nutritionist and biologist Dr. Ray Peat on the real role of sugar, which goes against the current anti-sugar culture. 

But before you go out eating a candy bar for health, consider that the source and type of carb you eat is also important.  

Anything that spikes blood sugar levels will lead to erratic energy levels and weight gain. Deering recommends that all carbs should be eaten in conjunction with a fat and a protein to slow their absorption into the bloodstream. If you choose to eat a sweet snack—pair it up. Cheese and fruit. Milk and honey. 

Healthy sugars should come from organic sources without toxins, preservatives and anti-nutrients. Ideally, the best sources of sugars are organic fruit, honey and milk. Yes, soy and nut-milk lovers, milk is healthy too. (But that’s another story). 

For thousands of years humans have consumed carbs to meet their energy needs. But unlike our cave-dwelling ancestors, we work, study and deal with crises more frequently than at any other time in history. To flourish and manage everyday life, we need energy. Period. Yet, we’ve collectively been sold the idea that the very thing that provides us energy is absolutely, in any amount, bad for us despite our physiological systems being well-adapted to digest them. What we haven’t adapted to is eating toxin-rich junk food, GMO, processed candy, corn syrups, preservatives and fake flavouring. And what we haven’t outgrown is our psychological insecurities that drive us to diet our way to beauty. Meanwhile, dear Sugar, maybe we can be friends again? 

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