the christmas season is upon us. and with it, as many sugary delights as you could ever want or imagine.
the more research that i do, the more that i realize that sugar is one of the most damaging foods to human health. being the very black and white, all good or all bad thinker that i am, it is easy for me to want to completely reject sugar and condemn everyone who eats it (which is pretty much every american every day... especially considering that the government suggests that up to 25% of your daily caloric intake come from sugar... another reason we need to downsize government!! let me step off of my soapbox...)
but it is hard to divorce myself from our sugar-saturated country, especially during the holidays. and the truth is, the more i have thought and prayed about it, the more i have realized sugar is not all bad. nutritionally, it would be hard to argue that it is anything but bad for our bodies. if your sole goal in life is to live as long as possible, avoiding all sugar would probably be a good choice for you. but as a christian, i want to live long and healthfully, without worshiping food or health. i do think that God has given us different foods for different reasons, and one of the reasons for sugar is celebration, which is especially appropriate during this time of year.
the main problem is overindulgence. in america, sugar is a very cheap food item and our bodies are wired to crave it. some health professionals have even gone so far as to call sugar a drug, which is an appropriate comparison in my eyes since it is very addictive and habit-forming, and most people go through withdrawl symptoms when they completely go off of it. moreover, sugar (specifically the fructose component) is now known to actually be a toxin to the body (more on that later), which makes the drug comparison even more appropriate.
because we love sugar and it is cheap, most people eat sugar every day, multiple times a day, which has lead to many of our health problems (sugar has been implicated in diabetes, obesity, multiple types of cancer and there are even theories it is linked to autism). this overindulgence (and potential addiction) is particularly concerning for christians, since we want to show the world that we worship nothing but God, as God is far and above the most satisfying thing on earth.
a better way to handle sugar is (in cookie monster's words) to make it "a sometimes food" (and the rarer the sometimes the better!). not only is this MUCH better for your health, but it also helps you appreciate it more when you eat it (which makes it more celebratory, a much more appropriate use for it).
my journey with sugar
in the beginning of college, i decided to start eating healthfully. unfortunately, my definition of health at the time was very american: low in fat, low meat, with lots of low fat dairy, fruits and veggies, whole grains and carbohydrates. fruits and veggies are expensive, and i was a poor college student, so my diet consisted of a lot of grains (like cereal and bread), which usually contained sugar, or were paired with sugar, for flavor. i knew sugar wasn't incredibly healthy for me, but i justified it as a flavoring aid to whole grains (as well as low-fat dairy, like yogurt). any time was tired or hungry, i turned to my sugar fix, which lead to lots of high/low blood sugar cycles. this happened a lot since i was constantly sleep deprived in college. little did i realize that low-fat dairy and grains are almost the same to the body as sugar (and just about the same amount of nutrients) and so i was truly addicted to sugar.
about a year after i graduated (still eating like this) i began to have really bad GERD/heartburn. at age 23, i was on the strongest daily prescription medicine for heartburn! long story short, i changed my diet pretty dramatically and my health improved. currently, i eat sugar about every other day, and usually in the form of unrefined sweeteners like maple syrup and raw honey (which are slightly better than white sugar, but should still be limited). also, i usually eat sugar in my own homemade items, in which i use much less sugar than store-bought items (or stuff that other people make). i am to the point now where i get heartburn when i eat desserts or sweets made by other people (because they are much higher in sugar), which is a good motivation to avoid them (a blessing in disguise!). however, i do choose to indulge every once in a while, such as on thanksgiving (though i did pay for it the next day... with heartburn!).
why artificial sweeteners are NOT the answer
i have to add this caveat... in typical american form, we want to have our cake and eat it too. in other words, we don't want to practice biblical self-control, but we want to indulge frequently without any consequences. in response, food companies have developed chemicals that taste sweet without the calories or carbs contained in sugar.
long story short, these chemicals are not the answer, and they actually cause WORSE health problems than sugar itself (and interestingly enough, studies show that artificial sweeteners do not aid in weight loss).
the exception i would make is unrefined stevia (read more on that here if you are interested), which actually isn't artificial (if it is unrefined) but usually gets lumped in with chemical sweeteners.
so what is the answer?
glorifying God is the answer. more on how to do that tomorrow.