Myths You Should Stop Believing About Sugar

Behind many health-conscious claims, sugar is often made to be the culprit. Restrictive diets abound. Diet sodas line supermarket shelves. Sugar-free products have become a league of their own in the food industry. It leaves us wondering "what's really good for us?" As consumers, without understanding, we can be easily swayed into going along with the latest trend. Should we cut out sugar altogether? Well, diet choices are not one-size-fits-all. So, we're here to highlight some surprising nutrition info and challenge the way you look at sugar. 

Before we dive into myth-busting, we'd love to empower you to do the same. Always ask questions. Search out the answers for yourself. Stop at nothing to be sure you know what's healthy for you and your family and what's not. We encourage you to read through with an open mind while we debunk four of the most popular assumptions about sugar. Are you ready?

Myth 1: Sugar causes diabetes

Does sugar make people diabetic? That answer is complex. Here's what we know: type 2 diabetes can occur as the result of too much sugar circulating in your blood, according to Mayo Clinic. Additionally, Medical News Today states that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is higher for overweight people. So, can an excess sugar consumption lead to obesity? Yes. Will obesity increase someone's risk of developing diabetes? Affirmative.

The nuance here is that the type of sugars that are harmful versus healthy matters. Healthline sums this up quite well by stating that natural sugars found in whole fruits and vegetables aren't likely to lead to diabetes. However concentrated sugars, like those in juice, artificial sweeteners, and regular sugar, like those found in sweetened beverages, can lead to diabetes. Experts suggest it's likely due to negative effects on the liver and a higher risk of obesity. So, while sugar may not directly cause diabetes, the effects it has on the body can lead to you developing the condition.

Myth 2: Avoid fruit at all costs

You may have heard through the grapevine that fruits are bad because they contain sugar. However, health experts debunk this, advocating for fruit's ability to provide essential vitamins and nutrients, according to Medical News Today. Even the word fructose has gotten a bad rap in the health community. But nutritionists from Integrated Eating confirm that fruit sugars (aka fructose) give our bodies the fuel they need to perform and function optimally. We absorb these natural sugars and gradually convert them into energy. 

Beyond important nutrients, whole fruits also contain fiber, which can actually help control blood sugar and reduce our risk of certain diseases, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, a 2014 large cohort study noted that five servings of fruit and vegetables per day significantly reduced the risk of all cause mortality. So perhaps keep the strawberries, they're good for you.

Myth 3: High sugar intake leads to cancer

This myth abounds in many health circles, but clinical health experts hope to eradicate it for good. An oncology dietician from The Dana Farber Cancer Institute notes, "To date, there are no randomized controlled trials showing sugar causes cancer." There's no direct connection, but interestingly, similar to diabetes, excess sugar intake does lead to obesity which puts people at a higher risk of developing cancer. 

While many believe that sugar "feeds cancer," there's no current evidence to support it (per The Dana Farber Cancer Institute). While it's more accurate to say cancer cells use glucose for fuel, it's important to note that all of our cells are fueled by glucose. Further, researchers say cutting out glucose isn't going to lead to a reduction of cancer cells. In fact, what it may do is starve the healthy cells of this important molecule. Health experts warn against cutting out carbohydrates in fear of glucose, since doing so can actually lead to malnutrition. A better approach may be to exercise caution with added sugars that provide no nutritive value and opt for whole foods versions of natural sugars instead.

Myth 4: All sugar is unhealthy

Experts suggest cutting out all sugar is unnecessary and moderation may be the key here (via Medical News Today). Additionally, having knowledge of which sugars to choose and which to pass on can help us make wiser decisions. And while reducing intake can make sense for many people, especially in the form of soda, health experts encourage us to focus on making quality decisions and choose whole fruits more often than candy bars. The idea of inclusivity (which healthy things can we include in our diet?), rather than focusing on restricting ourselves may lead us to better results over the long term. 

That said, if you feel like you need a sugary food or drink so often that you crash without it, it could be a concern to address with a healthcare provider. Complete Care says once the dopamine (feelings of pleasure from sugar) goes away, you hit a sugar low that might show up as irritability, shakiness, and headaches.

Now you can make healthier choices

The Standard American Diet is known for its abundance of refined foods and incorrect assumptions cause confusion. But, with proper research and trusted health advice, we can all make better decisions for our health.

Just remember that some sugars are naturally occurring and beneficial for us for many reasons and refined sugars from processed foods may not be something you want to consume daily as excess consumption can lead to deleterious health conditions like diabetes and obesity over time. Be sure to prepare plenty of fresh, whole foods, allowing treats on occasion. This will ensure you're receiving a full spectrum of necessary nutrients without unnecessary restrictions that can later lead to food binges.

Additionally, since sugar abounds in so many foods without us knowing (hidden sugars), it can help to read nutrition labels before making that purchase. For specific questions, healthy substitutes, or meal plan ideas contact a dietician or nutritionist.