Aristotle was a smart guy. He was a genius in logic, metaphysics, and rhetoric, and, although he was born in 384 BC, his work as a philosopher was so ahead of its time it still gets talked about today. Despite his undeniable brains he also believed that, rather than being born, animals just appeared.
The theory of “spontaneous generation” was so long-standing that it only got debunked in the 1700s. From the time of Aristotle to then, a huge number of extremely smart people had believed the hypothesis. While everyone thought it was true, it was hard for people to question it. I think it’s always good to examine our own beliefs from time to time. Or at least try and see if they stand up to investigation. Sugar, and its effect on us, is one good example.
It’s easy to believe that carbs, and anything that contains them, are bad due to the damning reports on social media and the effects we see with our own eyes. But is everything we believe true? Here are four things you thought you knew about sugar.
Sugar is the cause of the obesity epidemic
Let’s start our walkthrough of the things you thought you knew about sugar with a big one; obesity.
It’s easy to see how these things start. We’ve all got a friend who told us they quit sugar and immediately lost fat, so it seems natural to us that the sweet stuff should be the cause of weight gain everywhere.
The truth is that people more people quit sugar every day but it’s not having the effect on their waistlines that you might expect.
According to data from America’s periodic National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey the amount of sugar that people in the US eat peaked in 1999. However, as you can see from the data, put together in a graph by obesity researcher Stephan Guyenet, even while sugar intake falls, obesity is still rising.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to America alone. The same trend can be found down under in what is being called the Australian paradox. Just as in the states, the data shows a large decrease in, habitual, sugar intake has followed the same timeline as the increase in obesity.
If sugar causes obesity, cutting it out should have the reverse effect. That isn’t happening. The reality is that the obesity epidemic is more complicated than pointing a finger at one thing. What we do know is that, whatever is happening, sugar is not the cause.
Sugar is addictive
The second of the big five things you thought you knew about sugar is controversial. You’ve almost certainly met someone who claims to be addicted to sugar, and if you really do feel like you can’t help yourself around the sweet stuff, I can see why it can seem that way. the truth is that sugar addiction doesn’t exist.
Feeling like you’re addicted to something and really being addicted to it are very different things, and the criteria used to classify someone as addicted make this very clear. If you can’t go to work this week because you’ve got your head stuck in a bag of Tate and Lyle then you might well have a problem, but I’m guessing that isn’t happening.
Science on sugar addiction reflects this view.
Given the lack of evidence supporting it, we argue against a premature incorporation of sugar addiction into the scientific literature and public policy recommendations (Benton 2010)
There is no support from the human literature for the hypothesis that sucrose may be physically addictive or that addiction to sugar plays a role in eating disorders (Westwater 2016)
So what is going on? If we are not addicted to sugar, what does make certain foods feel irresistible? A study by Erica Shulte sought to identify which foods have the most “addictive” qualities. In the study, 120 people completed what’s called the “Yale Food Addiction Scale”. In it, they were forced to indicate from a list of foods which ones they found hardest to resist. The table below shows the top 8.
As you can see, all of the foods are high in sugar, but also pack a punch with their fat content. What we end up seeing is a list of foods that contain the most energy per gram. The real thing we’re craving is the highest number of calories per bite of food. Foods that are high in sugar alone aren’t actually picked.
Sugar turns to fat if we eat it at night
Who’s been warned not to eat carbs after 6pm? This foreboding comes from the idea that any sugar that isn’t “burned” will float around in your bloodstream and end up turning to fat. It doesn’t work like that for a few reasons:
- Carbs can be used for fuel just fine while you sleep.
- Your body can store them in your muscles and liver to use for later really easily.
- The only thing that makes you gain weight is by consuming more calories than you burn. When you eat them doesn’t matter.
As well as not causing obesity, sugar doesn’t make you fat in the evening, either.
Sugar makes your kids go nuts
Disproving that sugar causes obesity, is addictive or turns to fat after six is all well and good. Telling you that sugar doesn’t make kids hyper is harder because you’ve likely seen it. However, physiologically, there should be no reason why it happens, and this has been proven in studies that give kids high sugar boluses and track their behaviour.
That doesn’t change the fact that so many of us have witnessed it. So if sugar seems to make no difference to a child’s behaviour, how have so many of us see it happen? The truth lies less with the actions of the kids, and more with the parents.
- One, crafty, study set to see what else was going on.
- It took 31 five to seven-year-old boys and their parents and split them into two groups. One group of kids was to be given sugar, while the other was given a sugar placebo, while both the groups were watched by the parents and researchers.
- What the parents didn’t know was that neither groups were given any actual sugar, they were just led to believe they were, and it wasn’t only the kids who were being observed, it was the parents.
The results were pretty startling.
When parents thought their children were given sugar, they criticised them more, watched them more intently, talked to them more often, and described their behaviour as hyperactive.
Instead of sugar causing a bad reaction, it was the belief that sugar leads to bad behaviour from the parents that drove the reaction, leading the authors to say the “the child’s behaviour may be a function — under the stimulus control — of “inappropriate” parental behaviour, not the result of any biological effect of sugar consumption”.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to challenge the things you thought you knew about sugar. It isn’t the sole cause of obesity; it doesn’t turn to fat in the night time, give you withdrawal symptoms, or drive your kids nuts. Sugar is a perfectly fine part of any diet, and while you shouldn’t eat too much of it, you shouldn’t fear it either; despite what you’ve heard.
Want to lose weight while still going out to eat the foods you love? Get the eat out stay lean system and never worry about eating out again.