5 Important Things to Know About the Sugar Debate


There has been a whole lot of press about sugar recently. Turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, scan your social media feed and you’ll likely see something or someone talking about sugar. Unfortunately, all of this just muddies the water for people wanting to make the best choice for their health and fitness.

To clear things up a little, here are a few things that you should know about the sugar debate.


We eat food, not nutrients

Nutrition is far too complex to vilify a single nutrient. To lump sugar (pardon the pun!) as the cause of all current health concerns is grossly inaccurate. First and foremost, we eat food, we don’t eat nutrients. We don’t sit down to a plate of iron, folate, beta-carotene, and potassium; we sit down for a plate of steak, mashed potato, and veggies. Similarly, we don’t drink a glass of vitamin C, fibre, and calcium; we drink a strawberry smoothie. To start singling out single nutrients is damaging and does not replicate how we eat food. Each item of food we eat or drink is a complex package of nutrients.

The food choices we make are also far more complex as there is a wide range of reasons why people eat and drink what they do. Very rarely is this solely dependent on the nutrient profile of the food. For example, we also eat for taste or texture preferences; to fondly relive childhood memories at the beach or continue family traditions; and of course, as part of social events and celebrations.


Nutrition is not black and white

Yes, there are situations where high sugar, nutrient-poor foods such as soft drinks can be over-consumed. But there are also situations where it is completely appropriate to enjoy a glass of soft drink. When it comes to sports nutrition, simple sugars (particularly glucose) provide an essential fuel for the body’s muscles and the brain. Without them, we lose our ‘top gear’ and capacity to work at a high intensity, or push the pace during training or sporting competition. To therefore say that ‘sugar is bad’ hugely oversimplifies the situation as there are definitely times where, in fact, sugar can help your body.


‘Sugar free’ alternatives are not nutritionally superior

There are so many sugar free alternatives on the supermarket shelves these days – agave syrup, rice malt syrup, and coconut sugar, just to name a few. While it is correct to say that these are not technically ‘sugar’ (the common term for sucrose – a molecule that is a combination of glucose plus fructose) it does not make them a nutritionally better choice. Nor does it make them any more or less healthy than good old white table sugar. So sure, feel free to try new recipes with alternative sweeteners like agave syrup, but don’t be fooled into thinking that they’re a health fix.


We’re all individuals

Everybody has different experiences with food and what one person passionately believes to be the ‘right’ way of eating, may well be fantastic for them, but may not be at all suitable for you. It’s just like finding the perfect pair of jeans – a pair might fit your body like a glove and come in your favourite colour, but that doesn’t mean that they are perfect for someone else. It’s important to appreciate that we are all individuals and we all have individual nutrition needs. Likewise, sugar recommendations are targeted with the whole population in mind and individual circumstances and goals may vary.


Be careful who you follow

When it comes to food, everyone has an opinion – your training buddy, your hairdresser, celebrity chefs, media personalities, sports stars… the list goes on. However, while all of these people have their own unique experience and beliefs around food (see above) it does not mean that they are a nutrition expert.

If you need help determining the most useful nutrition advice for your own individual situation, always check the credentials. If you’re training seriously for a sporting event or living an active lifestyle, an Accredited Sports Dietitian should be your go-to for evidence-based, factual, and personalised advice. Bound by a strict code of ethics, Accredited Sports Dietitians are not able to use testimonials so you won’t see flashy before and after photos or words of praise on their websites. What you will find are highly qualified experts in nutrition, passionate about helping you achieve your health and fitness goals. To find one near you, search our database.