The Scoop on Sweets: Finding Pleasure in Moderation

Is Sugar Really That Bad?

There have been countless articles deploring how bad sugar is for us, like the New York Times article which asked “Is Sugar Toxic?,” back in 2011. But is sugar really that bad for us? Well, yes and no. It all depends what sugar we are talking about. The best and purest sugar is in fruit (you can have 2-3 pieces a day), and it’s good especially if you remember to eat the fruit rather than drink the juice. Quasi-pure sugar is also found in honey or jam. We actually love sugar, particularly when it’s associated with good fat—read dark chocolate, something we women crave as it provides an appeasing sensation, comfort food par excellence. But learn to enjoy the first three bites: that’s all you need. Eat slowly and savor.

The bad sugar is in sodas, cakes, cookies, etc., all the stuff with HFCS (high-fructose corn syrup). Read labels and don’t buy anything with HFCS. The New York Times article claims it’s no different than sugar, but I maintain that it’s worse (certainly less natural), and it’s added to so many foods (something like 85% of products lining supermarket shelves), even savory ones where it does not even belong. It is directly linked with the overweight/obesity, a major health problem that is getting worse.

If you eat the bad stuff (read cupcakes, donuts, etc.), your body will go into a sugar crave that can last from a few hours to a few days. So think before you eat, pay attention to how fast you eat and remember that once you start eating your brain, not your stomach, will signal satiety. Twenty minutes is required for the stomach to feel full, and since most people gulp down the sweets much faster…it wastes calories and makes you fat.

Why do we want sugar so much?

The reason we love sweets is that we are actually programmed to love sugar, it’s a question of survival. We even have a gene that pushes us to consume sweet and fat foods. And women more so than men. It’s energy that’s easy to use and our body loves it. Today, with an abundance of sweets around us, we tend to look for them even more as if we were going to miss them! Trying to eliminate sugar altogether is useless but we can develop a system to eat less.

What should we do when we want it?

Know thyself—and learn the difference between physiological and psychological hunger. Most of the time, we crave sugar for the wrong reasons (we’re tired, stressed, unhappy, depressed, overworked, etc.) and we are actually not hungry. Develop and use tricks like drinking a large glass of water and waiting 15 minutes to see if you are still “hungry”, trying a fruit or a fruit with a little protein (like cheese, nuts or yogurt) or distracting yourself by going for a walk, listening to music, talking to a friend, anything that will take your mind away from the craving. On the other hand, don’t fool yourself and believe you can do totally without (most people can’t) or replace with artificial sweeteners (they just make it worse, as they temporarily mislead our body but contribute to making us even more addicted to sugar). Cutting back on sugar slowly is a more effective way to reduce calories while helping you build up a greater sensitivity to sweetness. Eventually you will find the taste of too much added sugar cloying.

How much if any should we eat?

It depends…for fruit, as mentioned above, 2-3 a day is fine. More can be ok, even, depending on the type of fruit. If you like chocolate, try a little square at the end of a meal and have dessert once in a while. The important thing is to not consider sugar as a temptation or “guilty pleasure” as some would say (though not a French woman). If you look at sweets that way you’ll crave them even more and give in easily. Find a balance and remember if you have dessert tonight, then no pain au chocolat for breakfast tomorrow. It’s doable with a little practice.

Remember when Sex and the City launched the cupcake craze? Here are my thoughts.