Recently I wrote a post entitled “The truth about sugar addiction” in which I likened the newfound certainty around the dangers of eating sugar to my own misguided (but never unsure) youth.
Over the years, we have rotated our focus on what foods are saintly or evil. Whereas the cholesterol and saturated fat found in eggs and red meat used to be the villains to be avoided, today it’s sugar and carbs, which lead to all manor of destruction in the form of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and worst of all obesity.
We were wrong back then but now we’ve got it right.
Unfortunately, we haven’t paid as much attention to the backlash associated with avoiding foods containing cholesterol and saturated fat: when we cut out foods like eggs, red meat, and even shellfish, we added in many foods that were processed to be low- and no-fat that usually had sugars added in.
So the current fervor around the destructive potential of eating added sugars was essentially fueled by the hysteria created over fat and cholesterol. Some people referred to this as the Snackwell effect – people overate fat-free Snackwell cookies rather than enjoying one or two regular (and decidedly much more delicious) normal ones made with butter, taking in more calories and added sugars than ever before.
Like the rebound effect of avoiding fat and cholesterol to an extreme degree, the backlash of religiously avoiding sugar and carbs will be similarly dramatic and distressing. The fact is that our bodies need carbohydrates, and specifically a sugar named glucose, to function normally. As a result, many people find themselves craving and binging on the very high-carb and high-sugar foods – bread, pasta, pastries, candy, and ice cream – they are trying to restrict.
Might there be a middle way?
Our frenzied avoidance of sugar often doesn’t differentiate between naturally found sugars in a variety of foods and sugars that are added to processed foods (including many “health foods” modified to be low-fat, fat-free, or even gluten-free). And it distracts us from the point – or what should be the point – which is to eat in a way that is satisfying, healthful, and nurturing.
Our fixation on vilifying one food or food group over another speaks loudly to our desire for “dietary correctness,” a black and white approach to eating in which the rules are clear and we are safe or in danger for following them or not. Sadly (or perhaps not?) it just doesn’t work that way. Just like cholesterol and fat were not the true enemies of yesteryear, sugar is not the end-all-be-all of poisons to avoid today.
But how do we really know what we know about what to eat? Do we even ask ourselves this question anymore? Or do we just listen to whoever is banging the loudest drum, whether it’s the Paleo drum, the detox/juicing/cleansing drum, or the no white flour/sugar drum?
I’ll be talking about this very topic and taking your questions at the new Upper East Side Equinox. Join me at 3:30 pm on Saturday May 16th for a slow flow yoga class taught by Lelah Nader, followed by a talk and discussion about sugar addiction, cravings, and the pursuit of “dietary correctness.” There will be refreshments and snacks. You don’t have to be a member. Just RSVP to Kelsey.Thomas@equinox.com ASAP. Space is limited!