Sugar as of late has been the nutrient to demonize. Sugar-free diets or sugar detoxes have been making the rounds on popular and social media. In general, Americans eat more added sugar than is recommended by the Dietary Guidelines. However, that does not necessarily mean that all sugar must be avoided or even that all sugar is even the same. Here are two myths about sugar that really don’t hold up to scrutiny.
Myth: All sugar is the same
When considering if all sugar is the same, it is important to highlight the concept of naturally occurring sugar vs added sugar. Recently the FDA updated the format of the Nutrition Facts panel to include added sugar, but what is the distinction? Many nutrient-rich foods contain naturally occurring sugar, including the lactose in milk, and the fructose in fruits. Both dairy and fruit provide key vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, vitamin D and B vitamins. Fruit also contains a good amount of fiber, which can promote digestive health. Cutting out these natural sources of sugar cuts out many beneficial nutrients.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugar to 10% of your daily calories, but that does not mean eliminating all sugar is necessary or even beneficial.
Myth: Sugar is addictive
Another common myth about sugar is that it is addictive. Some research has argued that sugar induces cravings, withdrawal, and loss of control in a way that could be considered addictive. However, it is important to note that most of the studies on sugar and addiction have been conducted on mice. Similar studies in humans have found less conclusive results. While many of us are familiar with cravings for sweet foods (that good old sweet tooth!), it’s not necessarily true that sugar is addictive.
Sugar is a great example of how an all-or-nothing approach to nutrition can often be problematic. Many healthy foods contain natural sources sugar, as well as vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Consumption of some added sugars can be part of a healthy diet. The key is balance. Rather than labeling sugar as a bad food to be avoided at all costs, it is best to instead consider an approach to healthy eating that is flexible, avoids labeling foods as forbidden, and allows for a focus on enjoyment.