Food Glorious Sugar

This post is about one of my favorite subjects and something I know a lot about: FOOD! It's also something I'll circle back to many times because there's so much to write about and so much crap information out there that has to be dissected and thrown in the garbage (or down the in-sink-erator).

Let me state for the record that I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian. I have, however, been eating almost every day for 50 years so I view myself as an expert in eating. I also grew up eating haggis and black pudding and deep-fried pizza and chip butties (french fries on a sandwich) and curly-wurlys (I won't explain what that is but if you've never had one you're missing out). How many other people (who are still alive) can say that?

In my professional life as a triathlon coach and corporate fitness specialist I talk about food, nutrition, and diet(s) a lot. And I mean A LOT. There's an old saying that goes something like "you can't outrun a bad diet", the point being that no matter how hard you exercise you can seriously screw it all up and never quite get in shape (whatever that means to you) by consistently eating the wrong foods. So you'll quite often hear me make comments like "drink an extra protein shake today", "try some 'real' food for a change", "drinking beer is NOT a good way to rehydrate", "of course you can have A pancake on your birthday", and various other fabulously witty retorts.

But let me get to the point of today's post before I forget that I had a point. Sugar is bad (I'll link to some of the research in a later post). Most of us have seen at least one story on social media about the man/woman/family who gave up (added or free) sugar for a month or longer and how they felt better, looked better, lost their cravings for sweet foods, and probably lost at least some weight.

And I just know for sure that you've all looked at the nutritional label on the back of your favorite cereal and wondered why there's no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sugar. How randomly strange! We've managed as a race to figure out exactly how much Vitamin A (or B or C or D or E or K, etc, etc, etc) your body needs but apparently we don't have a clue about sugar. If I were a cynical bugger I would posit that there is mischief afoot. But I'll stay away from the politics and just say that sugar producers and food manufacturers might have something to do with this.

What I will venture into is a little bit of education. We actually do know exactly how much sugar is deemed healthy, at least as measured by the World Health Organization. In guidelines issued this year WHO issued a 'strong recommendation' (which basically means go for it) to restrict free sugar intake to less than 10% of total energy intake, with a further conditional recommendation to go to 5% if possible. So at 10% (I'll be generous for now) of the typical 2000 calorie diet that's 200 calories, or about a medium-sized doughnut (disclaimer: I love doughnuts). But remember that's only if there's zero added sugar in everything else that you eat, which is way more difficult than you would think.

I understand that this might be bad news for some of you (and for me too: I once ate 12 doughnuts after an ironman race), but the good news is that there's no evidence that naturally occurring sugars in fruits and vegetables (or even milk sugars) are responsible for adverse health findings. I'm also not suggesting that we all suddenly quit sugar overnight, but maybe we start reading those labels and getting an idea of how much added sugar we consume. If we do that we can also start to identify the foods and drinks that maybe, just maybe, we can cut down on or cut out altogether. Our lives may ultimately depend on it.