Things parents have said to me in the clinic when I’ve asked about their kids’ diet:
-“Well they only drink clear soda, so there’s not sugar.”
-“We only let him have have one of those per day” [points to 64-ounce cup].
-“We don’t drink soda really, just juice. Like Hi-C.”
It’s been pretty well (and somewhat sensationally) explained that manufacturers add a shit-ton* of sugar to all and sundry packaged foods (see: Salt Sugar Fat, Fed Up). There’s good info here! We all knew soda was a sugar bomb. But even people who pay attention get blindsided. What the heck is “evaporated cane juice” doing in my organic soy milk? Why are there 10 grams of sugar in my spaghetti sauce? Good grief. This is kind of startling, no? So, here comes the backlash. Don’t bite!!
There’s a whole world of people out there who are saying that sugar is toxic, that sugar is poison, that sugar is the devil. I mean, now that fat is ok again, we have to pick on someone, right? It seems so simple. . . but I think that’s the problem. As I wrote about, we as “the public” latch on to catchy and simple ideas about health. We feel like if we can follow a simple rule that will “fix” us, everything will be coming up milhouse. But the thing is, we start with something that’s pretty much true, and carry it out to absurdity.
This is a shocker (NOT), but I’m going to preach moderation here. Do I try to do more scratch cooking and avoid the trap of eating what a corporation decided would make me come back for more? Yes! Do I buy “unsweetened” stuff? I do. Do I swear off fruit (because it has sugar) and flagellate myself for eating a mouthwatering rosemary pecan scone from the Raging Sage? Hell no!
Here’s a good start to avoiding the sugar trap without going nuts:
- Read the label. Buy unsweetened if you can— soy milk, almond milk, yogurt, applesauce. . . this used to be a healthfood-store thing, but no more. You can find better versions at safeway! Look for sugar and sugar-aliases where it doesn’t belong. If you need a little sugar, add it yourself. I guarantee it will be less.
- Cook from scratch! An oldie but a goodie. If you made it, you know what’s in there, and it’s there because you added it. Can you use sugar? Sure! Or honey, or maple syrup, or coconut sugar, or agave, or, my favorite, dates! And here’s a hot tip: start with way less than the recipe asks for. Experiment. You’ll be surprised.
- Stick close to the earth. Are fruits sugary? Yes! Are they still good for you? Yes, in moderation. They have lots of nutrients and fiber if you enjoy them the way they came.
- Watch the drinks! Soda, duh. Juice? Tonic water? (I’m looking at you, G+T). Tea? Frappuccino? This one’s a bear for a lot of us. Try making/ordering tea without sugar. Try herbal tea. Try water or seltzer with mint, lemon, a splash of fresh juice. . . a lot of times the stuff we drink is a habit. We’re so used to it we think we can’t do without it. Habits are hard to change, but if you get over the hump, you’re good! I used to drink diet coke. . . now I just don’t buy it. I’ll still order one at a restaurant or a bar now and then, but I don’t need it with lunch, or to get through the afternoon, or because it’s there. It’s not that I won’t— it’s not a rule. . . I just don’t.
- Try not to rely on artificial sweeteners. Most of them are really, really sweet— ultimately, this makes you just want sugar more. If you keep sweetening everything, you won’t ever learn to realize that lots of food doesn’t need sweetness to be amazing. You know what? If I drink a soda, or a soy latte with sweetened soymilk, it tastes insanely sweet to me now.
- Take a deep breath. We’ve all been here, right? You are eating cookies. (Thin mints, anyone?). Then, suddenly, there are no more cookies. Oops. So try this: take two out of the box. Put the box back in the freezer (duh, that’s where thin mints go!). Eat ‘em! Enjoy. Mmm, thin mints are good! Then get up, walk the dog, swiffer, exfoliate. . . whatever. If you HAVE to have another one after that, OK. Then it’s because you actually want it! This works with other food issues, too.
Here’s why I’m preaching the middle road on this:
1.Strict rules don’t work for me. I will eventually cave, give up, or get sick of it. I know I’m not alone! Most people either feel stifled and cave in, or go to extremes and develop unhealthy obsessions.
2. Across-the-board condemnations of any kind of nutrient that naturally occurs is nonsensical. Period.
3. Sugar is out this week, but whatever we replace it with will probably be on the shitlist soon. Being single-minded about this kind of thing causes cycles of confused eating!
Are you confused? How do you cope?
*a technical term