SUGAR:The Dark Side of the Sweet Stuff

My first order of business upon arriving in Paris was satiating the craving that had been clawing at me for weeks: the desire for the delectable, extraordinary, dream-worthy morsel that is the Laduree macaron. And of course one was not enough. I clung to every bite and saved some for later, knowing the desire for this dreamy indulgence would strike again.

I am a shameless sugar addict. “Cake over steak” is my life motto. Not to say that I don’t like steak, because I certainly do. However, when given the choice between something sweet and something savory, I need no moment of hesitation—I will always choose the sweet.

This poses a couple of problems; the first of which is that I am also, conversely, really into being healthy. Despite my love of sugar, I enjoy regular workout routines and consume otherwise healthy meals. At least 99.99 percent of the time, I’ll opt for a fresh kale salad over an order of chicken wings, but don’t expect me to make such wise decisions when sugar enters into the equation.

I know sugar is bad for me, which brings me to my second problem: I’m not sure just how bad sugar is for our bodies, and I know I’m not alone in wondering.

Fat: The Ultimate Red Herring
We’ve been told again and again how bad fat is for us, but current research indicates this isn’t the whole truth. Fats come in many different compositions—and they aren’t all villains when it comes to our health.

Take avocados, for example. Ever wondered why avocado toast became the trendiest food of the summer last year? Avocados used to have a bad reputation because of their high levels of fat. But the fat found in avocados isn’t the scary, double-quarter-pounderwith- cheese fat. It’s an incredibly beneficial fat that, according to Mayo Clinic, can help lower risk of heart disease and “improve the function of your blood vessels.” Additionally, avocado fat (monounsaturated fatty acids) also appears to be beneficial to insulin levels and blood sugar. So let’s lay off making fat the bad guy and focus our attention on the real culprit here: sugar.

The Addiction Is Real
It’s primarily the addictive qualities of sugar that make it the ultimate demon in disguise. Underneath that fluffy and innocent pastel-colored macaron lies a substance that, when tested on rats, has been found to be even more addictive than cocaine.

In small doses, sugar isn’t terrible for us. But that’s just the problem: how sugar works in our bodies means it’s nearly impossible to consume it in small quantities. This is why I’ve essentially banned myself from buying pints of ice cream, because I know all too well the serving size suggested by Ben and Jerry is certainly not my serving size.

If we follow the rules set forth by the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, sugar should make up no more than 10 percent of our daily calories. More strict guidelines suggest a maximum of 100 calories, or six daily teaspoons of sugar for women and nine for men. To give you a better idea of what that means, a single can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Sugar: The Biggest Threat to Human Health
With obesity rates at an all-time high and diabetes more prevalent than ever, we can’t ignore the link between increased sugar consumption and chronic health problems. Here are just a few things that are problematic about sugar:

1. Overeating & Weight Gain
Fructose (which, along with glucose, makes up table sugar) isn’t metabolized by our bodies in the same way as carbohydrates. It’s thought that fructose plays tricks on our brain and makes us believe we aren’t full, thus leading to overeating. Additionally, when we consume excess fructose, it can’t be converted into energy, so instead it’s turned into liver fat. This causes our bodies to develop a resistance to insulin, which results in problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

2. Lack of Proper Nutrition
When you fill up on sugar, you’re likely missing out on other nutritious foods your body needs.

“It’s primarily the addictive qualities of sugar that make it the ultimate demon in disguise.”

3. Tooth Decay
Before it ever even reaches your stomach, sugar creates the ideal breeding ground for bacteria on your teeth. Heavy sugar consumption leads to cavities and other oral complications.

How Do We Break the Addiction?
Many times when I consume sugar, I feel guilty. I know it’s terrible for me, so the guilt sits like Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder. At times, Jiminy is loud enough to keep me from eating it, other times not. So what’s the best way to start listening to your conscience and make the right decision when it comes to consuming sugar?

Quit cold turkey. Don’t wean yourself off of it—it’s a powerful substance that will keep pulling you back. Set a goal to go two weeks without any sugar. The first days will be a struggle, but once you’re over the hump, the cravings will die down and you’ll find you’re more easily able to say “no” to that extra treat. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been off and on the sugar wagon, but I do know that when I overindulge, the best thing to do is simply begin again.

It’s also crucial that you educate yourself. The more you know about the negative effects of sugar, the more you’ll be turned off by it. Most importantly, though, be realistic. Know that there are times (such as the holidays) when it would be easier to rip off your own arm than to turn down a slice of pie. Don’t beat yourself up too much about a slip-up, just get right back on track.

No matter how much I read about the deadly aspects of sugar, I know I’ll never turn down a Laduree macaron, and that’s okay. But with a bit more effort and determination, maybe someday I will be able to flip my motto to “steak over cake.”