I hate being bad. Naughty. Unhealthy. If someone tells me that doing something is bad, then I’m likely to feel pretty crappy if I do it. I know a lot of my clients have this experience around food. Eating a food they consider to be “bad” can bring on feelings of shame and guilt.
Last week I did a presentation to a wonderful group of year 11 students. I held up a packet of processed cereal and asked for their thoughts. The word that most students used to describe it was “bad”. In fact, there was only a single voice that rang out with a positive message to say that the cereal was “yum”. Why should it be considered bad I asked? “Because it has sugar”, came back the chorus.
What about the child that is low in energy and iron that gets an almighty nutritious boost from this cereal? What about the individual that absolutely loves the taste and ritual of having this cereal? Is it really okay to label this cereal as “bad”? How do you imagine these individuals feel if they eat it knowing that it’s been labelled that way?
I do a lot of work to help clients in their search for freedom from judgement around food. They get so much liberation from accepting all foods and getting rid of labels such as bad when it comes to food. They often move to simply asking their body to guide them how to eat in whatever form that takes.
The anti-sugar message is often one of the most difficult for clients to release, however. It seems as unlikely concept as believing The Joker has Batman’s best interests at heart. Let’s look at the truth of sugar to see if it holds an almighty “badness”.
Sugars are carbohydrates. Although it is often associated with table sugar, sugar includes all sweet carbohydrates. Sugars occur naturally in some foods such as fruit, honey, and dairy products, and may be added to added to foods during their manufacture, such as the sauce below.
Like almost all food, sugars are digested before moving from the gut into the body. This basically means that the sugar down is broken to really small pieces. The main small piece from sugar digestion is glucose. Here is a computer-generated image of one of the glucose molecules from the added sugar in the cereal in question (thanks to worldofmolecules.com):
As a comparison, let’s take a look at one of the glucose molecules of digested broccoli: Yes, even vegetables like broccoli contain a little carbohydrate that will be digested down to glucose.
Yep, the same. The body cannot tell whether the glucose came from cereal or broccoli at the point it is taken into the body.
What about rice malt syrup, made from brown rice so it must be a different type of sugar, right?
All the same.
I’ve really simplified digestion, but the point is that when foods are broken down so cleverly by the body, the simplest form that our body uses looks the same no matter which food you eat. When it comes to digesting foods with “sugar”, glucose is the simplest form. When glucose moves into the body, your body has no idea whether it came from jellybeans, broccoli, yoghurt or coconut sugar.
There are definitely differences in eating different foods. Some foods may have more sugar in them, some foods may have sugars that take a little longer to be digested, some foods also have heaps of nutrients and fibre while others may be just sugar, and there is a whole lot of difference in what the whole meal looks like. The point of this article, however, is that there is no difference in what the sugar molecule when it is taken into the body.
If the sugar is the same, then why do we consider it so bad when it comes from certain foods?
What if we could just embrace the different forms that sugar comes in?
For example, cereal with milk is a convenient option for breakfast and provides energy to sustain the day.
There isn’t much glucose that come from broccoli. It’s a food that will keep us full and often comes in a really satisfying meal.
A sports drink provides an instant boost of energy during a sporting event.
A slice of cake at a birthday party helps to connect us with family and make someone feel special.
If you are out there working hard to take care of yourself and looking out for information that helps you, you may have heard the message that sugar is bad. Now that you’ve heard a little more, I wonder what it would be like for you to have the freedom to remove the label of “bad” from sugar. What if it was just another food, alongside broccoli and milk?
While it might be hard to accept in our brains, our bodies might just be showing us by example.