The Sugar Debate: Should we eat it or not?

Confused by all the buzz around sugar? Seriously - can we eat it or not? Our resident Nutritionist Janella Purcell provides her expert advice. 

With all the buzz around sugar these days, I can imagine many people are completely confused about what’s healthy and what’s not. And I don’t blame you.

There is really no reason to eat white, refined sugar. This is the highly processed sugar that comes in neat little bags - the perfectly white little granules. You know the stuff; we’ve been using it for decades now. We learnt how to use it in Home Ec’ classes at school (well I did), and many Aussie grandmother’s used to swear by it (an some still do) to make lamingtons, Anzac bickies, cupcakes, pavlova's and fudge. We also put it into our coffee, tea and Milo (which is already loaded with sugar) and some of us with the sweet tooth – sprinkle it by the tablespoon onto our already sugary brekky cereal.

And then it started being added into canned food like baked beans, soups, spaghetti, fruit, veggies and sauces. It’s also in a lot more packaged foods and take away foods like sushi rolls and burger buns. And those healthy looking salads at most salad bars – yup, sugar there too. I haven’t even mentioned sweets like lollies, dairy milk chocolate, and muesli bars yet. Potato chips often contain sugar as does tomato, barbeque and sweet chili sauce and oyster and hoi sin. Yup its everywhere, and it’s BAD.

The reason it’s so awful is due to the refining it undergoes. It turns straight into fat in our bodies, yet we’re still hungry after we’ve eaten it as we’ve received no nutrients from it to keep us full. So that’s why we can eat and eat and eat dairy milk chocolate and lollies (sure we feel sick) without getting full – there's no fibre or any of the other good stuff in it. 

Refined sugar causes or contributes to so many modern diseases and symptoms - premature ageing, diabetes, cancer, hormone disruption, obesity, digestive issues, Candida, insomnia and the list goes on. No thanks.   

So the white, refined stuff needs to go, and now. But what about the gorgeous complex sugars that nature has provided for us. These sugars are perfect just the way they are – without any refining or processing, or damage to our delicate ecosystem. Plus they wont send your blood sugar way up and then crashing down - looking for more sugar, all within the time it takes to send a couple of emails. These heavenly tasting sugars are high in so many nutrients, are sustainable and use about one fifth of the resources white sugar uses to ‘make’.

Try coconut nectar (sometimes called syrup), which drips from the blossom on the coconut tree. It tastes like a caramely toffee. It’s divine. They then sun –dry this nectar to make it onto granules that we can use in baking, curry’s, tea and coffee – anywhere you would the nasty, white stuff. We also have available to us Panela (or it’s sometimes called Rapadura) which is another lovely, complex sugar in granule form with a rich caramel taste.

Then there are the other sweet syrups like raw agave, (the heated type is almost as unhealthy as white sugar as it’s been refined using very high temperatures making it into a high fructose syrup) brown rice, spelt or real maple syrup. All of these are very yummy and completely healthy sugars. Of course adding dried fruit to a dish, drink or smoothie is going to make it sweeter, just be sure to only use organic (or sulphur-free) dried fruit as otherwise you can be sure it will have been preserved with a very toxic chemical called ‘sulphur dioxide’.

Regarding juices – the rule is generally – eat your fruit and juice your veggies. I would prefer we put our veggies in a high-powered blender and have them as a smoothie not a juice – that way we are keeping all the nutrients in and not throwing away the fibre. Drinking fruit juice is not a healthy habit to be in, even if you water it down. It’s just pure fructose. Avoid this habit as it will just create internal fat and more sugar cravings.

So in short enjoy complex sweeteners. There’s a place for the 5 different flavours in our lives. Some say by avoiding sweet foods you’re missing out on the sweetness in your life. Raw dark chocolate anyone?

Do you have a question for Janella? Ask her here

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