Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sugar – I don't think it means what you think it means

"You keep using that word. I don't think it means what you think it means." – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Way back when, I posted about Bodyweight Training, and the mystique of purity that surrounds it. I hope that you bodyweighters went ahead and added some weights or external load if appropriate and felt no guilt about it.

This time, let's talk about sugar, which is crazy controversial. People are against sugar, against added sugar, against high fructose corn syrup, against white sugar, against fructose, against fruit, against sugars that aren't high in fructose, and more. Truly, you can find someone who's for or against sugar or "a sugar" for all the right and all the wrong reasons. ...and sometimes they just say gibberish and shout "sugar!" while pounding their little fists on their keyboards.

Sugar, added sugar, naturally occurring sugar, and WTF, a whole plate of "sugar" with sugar on top!

Take a look at this video. I'm sure she means well...

Again, she means well, I'm sure. While I watched the whole video, I'm only focusing on the sugar, tomato sauce, and pasta drama for today. Let's start with the obvious nonsense:
  • Teaspoons and tablespoons aren't the same thing. Three teaspoons make one tablespoon. I hope she made a mistake, rather than trying to be dramatic as she spooned all that sugar, dramatically, over the pasta. She actually spooned 15 teaspoons over the pasta.
  • Oh my God that's a lot of pasta! She even says the sauce has 5 tsp of "sugar per serving" and starts doling 5 TABLESPOONS of white sugar onto the plate of pasta, implying that the pasta isn't an issue at all AND that this must be one serving. Yet somehow,  it's the added sugar of the pasta sauce that the issue.

About sugar

Tomato sauce may often have some added sugar, but tomatoes are full of naturally occurring sugar. The sauce is usually the least of one's worries. When you make it yourself, using no added sugar, it's still full of sugar. As an example, 1 cup of raw tomato, which will cook down to about a half cup of sauce, contains about 7g of carbohydrate (5g of that is sugar). Safeway Select Tomato Basil (pictured on the video) contains only 4g of sugar in a half cup serving. You can quibble over the slight differences if you like, but a gram here or a gram there is nothing worth warning about.

About pasta and starch

Pasta is one step away from being sugar. Pasta is comprised of starch, primarily. As soon as it hits your mouth, enzymes start to "turn starch into sugar." It's virtually the same thing after about five minutes. That plate is a huge plate of virtually empty calories, most of which will soon be sugar in the body.

I'm not a low carb guy, but I think that foods that are easily eaten, have high caloric density, low nutrition, and are prone to be delicious and/or addictive are a problem for us. Too much of these highly palatable foods can lead to overeating. Processed carbs and sugars are "carriers," similar to Typhoid Mary. Mary wasn't the problem, the typhoid she carried was. Along with most delicious processed carbs, come fats (hence extra calories), more carbs (yet more calories), and salt, sodium, and other taste enhancers (spurring one to eat yet more calories).

Is sugar the problem? Not if eaten in moderation, but as a society, we don't seem to have much luck moderating much of anything, which is why the USDA's current motto (via myplate.org) is so laughable.

“Enjoy Your Food, But Eat Less” – the government

The different 'sugars'

Since the dawn of cane sugar, there has been a stream of sugar alternatives, starting with beet sugar (now interchangeable with cane sugar). I won't dwell on them, as I've droned on and on before on the insignificant differences between them. For a flashback, check out "Tea, but with what?"

For a peak at a recent sugar that claims to be healthy, but is still sugar, see this article over at "The Sweet Beet" on coconut sugar. The article stands for itself, but I'll remind you that if you are worried about how many micronutrients you are getting from your sugar, you are eating too sugar and too little of the foods that actually have a decent level of micronutrients.

The ongoing sugar debate/controversy

While it's true that we eat too much 'sugar,' it's really more true that we eat too much food. Any societal rise in sugar intake also shows even bigger rises in dietary fat, processed foods, flours, breads, and other high calorie, low nutrition foods.

Sugar (along with sodium, salt, flavor enhancers, processed carbs, and fats) are carriers. What they carry, is more of the same, which equals calories, and lots of them. Arguing that it's the sugar is pointless, because people also overeat chips because of the salty, crispy, fatty, carbiness.
This is somewhat of a chicken and egg issue, but if we were eating more chicken and eggs (and other whole, homemade foods), and less sugar and processed food, we wouldn't be having these issues now would we?

What can you do?

To start, for just one meal a day, replace the starchy carbs with an extra vegetable dish. The easy way is to just not have potatoes, bread, rice, or pasta, at dinner. Have your pot roast and carrots, but add some broccoli, green beans, or a salad to the meal. Have bacon, eggs, and fruit for breakfast instead of cereal of pancakes. Have a salad at lunch, instead of a sandwich.

Next, cook and eat more fresh, whole foods. Ditch the boxed foods. Consider high calorie, low nutrition, highly palatable foods to be optional components to the meal.

This is not the be all, end all of diet plans, but it's a start.


  1. As always, great words of wisdom! - Erika

  2. Preach it, brother! I get caught up in the sugar/high fructose corn syrup hype from time to time, but it is because of what you say, that it adds empty calories to stuff that is *#$@ anyway. Before you go jumping on the tomato sauce, walk down the cereal aisle. And most are marketed as healthy choices! I eat bread and all that, but as a garnish, small amounts occasionally.
    I've been using "myfitnesspal" to track my eating, and even eating very well, it is hard to get your USDA of all nutrients. You can't waste eating on vitamin-less, fiber-less, protein-less stuff.(I don't think myfitnesspal is overly accurate- a day where I ate a large sweet potato and a banana, it said I still didn't get enough potassium.)

  3. Nice article. Now when is the book?

  4. Thanks, everyone!

    Sounds like some real common sense there, Anonymous (if that's your real name...).

    RLL, the book is "finished," with the exception of some editing and corrections suggested by our pre-readers! Awesome and scary, all at the same time!



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