I have a sweet tooth. Some people (like my husband) don’t. Sure he’ll eat an occasional dessert or homemade cookies, but he mostly has no craving for it. I don’t overeat sugar however, I just really enjoy a high quality baked good once in a while.

I’ve raised three sons, and as a parent, I’ve never banned sugar, sweets, or sugary beverages. This N=3 experiment doesn’t matter, but for the record, none of my sons are overweight nor have struggled with overeating or weight issues. Yet they’ve eaten their fair share of sugar.

When I read articles like this past week’s Washington Post piece about detox and sugar, it makes me a little crazy.

“Sugar is everywhere: It’s in cereal and skim milk, bread, salad dressings, wine, white potatoes, pasta and pizza — not to mention desserts.”

There is so much wrong with this statement. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. Everything we eat can eventually be broken down into sugar (glucose – our body’s energy source). Here are some facts:

  • The sugar in milk is lactose, and it’s the naturally occurring carbohydrate in milk. It’s not the sugar that you should be talking about when you say “I want to reduce my sugar intake”.
  • Bread also provides carbohydrate, along with some protein to the diet. It’s not high in sugar.
  • Salad dressings? Usually a bit of sugar is added to tame the vinegar, but unless you are drinking it, it’s not even worth bringing up.
  • Wine gets its calories from alcohol. Yes, some wines are sweeter and have a higher sugar content, but abusing alcohol is a much bigger issue than sugar.
  • White potatoes have no more sugar in them than orange or purple potatoes. They do have a higher glycemic index, but since you generally are eating white potatoes as part of a meal, this is also a negligible affect. Potatoes are a great source of potassium, vitamin C and fiber.
  • Pasta is made from wheat, and is a complex carbohydrate (starch).
  • Pizza? Not what I would consider a sugary food. The tomato sauce may have some sugar added (I never add sugar to my tomato sauce) but the tomatoes also provide some natural sugars (along with lycopene, antioxidants, and other healthy substances). Pizza is as healthy (or unhealthy) as its toppings. I’d consider saturated fat and sodium, not sugar, the concern with the typical delivery pizza.
  • Desserts – okay he got this right. Desserts are high in sugar and should be consumed in smaller portions, and not daily.

Pasta with a side of salmon and spinach… Does this look like “sugar” to you?

Sugar is Everywhere – I can’t get away from it

Despite my attempt to write about a variety of topics, I often get pulled back in to write about sweeteners (both caloric and noncaloric) – Mostly because they are always being demonized. I’ve worked with industry on these topics in the past (and no, I am not a shill). I am asked to work with industry because of my viewpoint – it’s not the other way around (they don’t persuade me to have a view). My viewpoint has remained unchanged for 30 years: Sugar nor non-nutritive sweeteners (sugar substitutes) are causing the obesity epidemic, or causing cancer, or liver disease.

What can cause these disorders is an overconsumption of calories, poor overall eating habits, sitting too much, and an overall unhealthy lifestyle (poor diet, smoking, drinking, drugs, not following doctor’s orders, and a sedentary lifestyle).

You Don’t Need to Detox

Journalists continue to glamorize the idea of “doing a Detox”, and this is concerning. Why? Because young people are listening for one. They are still forming their eating and lifestyle habits, and when they read these sorts of headlines every week, they feel pressured to detox in some fashion. “Going on a Detox” has become common language that suggests it’s a “healthy way to live”. It’s not.

Randomly depriving yourself of certain foods, ingredients, or food groups, sets you up for disordered eating and an unhealthy relationship with food. It also does not in any way give you any guarantees for health, disease prevention, nor longevity.

Weight Control and Fitness

While I don’t support the Detox method as a healthy way to maintain your health or lose weight, you do want to be aware of extra pounds creeping on.

The number on the scale isn’t the only predictor of health however. Weight loss is hard, especially during middle age, so even maintaining weight (“weight control”) is a reasonable goal. Dietitians will often say “the best diet is the one you can follow”, and this is true. As long as it’s balanced, helps you lose or maintain your weight, it’s good. This could be a higher protein style diet (30-40% protein with less, but a healthy amount, of carbohydrate) or it could be a DASH or Mediterranean style diet, or it can even be the occasional fast (Intermittent fasting has gained ground in research, and can be a healthy way to maintain weight as you age, if done properly).

Fitness is also important to health and well being. So even if you are struggling to lose ten pounds, if you can improve your fitness level, you are going to have a better metabolic profile.

Finally, getting an annual check-up is a good idea. Having bloodwork drawn can tell a lot about your health. But if your doctor advises you to “go on a Detox”, ask for another opinion.