Sugar isn’t exactly a health food, but eating sweets smartly can be part of a joy-filled life.
When it comes to healthy eating, there’s always a villain in the nutritional narrative. Today, the bad guy turns out to be one of my best friends—sugar.
Books like The Case Against Sugar by the science and health journalist Gary Taubes make a strong case that sugar is as dangerous as tobacco, that it’s an addictive substance that opens the door to diseases ranging from tooth decay to diabetes to heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s.
I am not here to argue with this science or defend sugar as a health food. But I am here to offer some tips for those whose love for sugar feels like more than mere biochemistry.
As the wonderful British chef Yotam Ottolenghi recently wrote in The New York Times, it’s not the sugar itself that he craves. Instead, he says, “it’s the comfort, surprise and delight that dessert, or any food, can bring, that ideal match of the right dish and the right moment.”
So if you are like me and feel neither the desire nor the capacity to eliminate sugar from your diet altogether, here are some ways to make sure its impact on your life is just enough to bring you joy.
1. Choose Your Sugars Carefully
If you are going to consume sugar, why not get some nutritional goodness as a side dish? Molasses, raw honey and maple syrup are examples of natural sugars that contain antioxidants, minerals and other nutrients, as well as slightly lower levels of white sugar’s most unhealthy components.
And then there’s chocolate. Read the wrapper to learn the percentage of cacao—pure chocolate from the bean—the product contains. Simply put, the higher the cacao, the lower the sugar in the bar. Cacao can be bitter, so taste a variety of percentages until you find one that still brings you the joy of a chocolate bite, but without the extra sugar of lower-cacao brands.
2. Avoid Hidden Sugars
Knowing how to read labels to discover hidden sugars can allow you to keep your sugar intake where it belongs—in your dessert. Many jarred pasta sauces, salad dressings, ketchups, packaged breads and fruit-flavored yogurts contain alarmingly high amounts of sugar.
Check food labels for high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, malt or maltodextrin, and ingredients with “-ose” endings, like glucose, dextrose, sucrose, maltose, and lactose. Buying foods that are less processed will help stave off some of these hidden sugars.
3. Eat Mindfully
There are two main reasons to eat—one is to fuel your healthy body, and the other is to bring pleasure to your life. Focus on the latter when you are enjoying something containing sugar, and remember that sweetest of famous Greek philosophical quotations: pan metron ariston, or “Everything in moderation.”