by Terese Weinstein Katz, Ph.D.

As the bad news on sugar grows ever more grim, we may find ourselves overwhelmed—worried, yes, but not sure just what to do.   Solid science now labels sugar a toxin, an addictive agent, and the key culprit in metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar), obesity and related disease.  So, what to do with this worrisome news?  Are we really to stop eating sugar completely?

The reports may well scare you into trying to do so.  It almost goes without saying, though, that this is easier said than done.   Sugar flavor-boosts many grocery and take-out items, even those that don’t taste sweet.  Also, there’s that “addictive agent” part—and this prevents many people from stopping, despite their best efforts.  The flavor-boosters work to make us crave more and more, and some among us are particularly susceptible.  Few foods challenge us more than sweets when it comes to choosing and shopping well.  And few foods challenge us more when it comes to “eating just one”.

Recently, Psychology Today blogger Alexis Conason Psy.D. addressed this issue from the point of view of avoiding the deprivation-diet mentality.  This makes good sense.  If we can relax and stay reasonable about it, we can reduce without triggering binges, and without completely losing a source of occasional pleasure.  For some, though, this kind of moderation seems impossible.  And a lot of misery attends the trying.

In our current world, we all need to find ways of coping, of staying healthy and sane, in the midst of the near-constant call of too much fattening food.   Several of the paths that offer their followers solid dietary footing  rely on sugar abstinence.  These include not only 12-step, addiction focused groups like Overeaters Anonymous, but also some of the reliable weight loss plans, such as the South Beach Diet.  With these regimes you aim for no sugar at all.  You pick yourself up and plant yourself back on the path if you slip.

Many people who worry about weight, though, and over-attraction to sweets, do learn how to pick and choose, to eat just one, to relegate sweets to the occasional “treat” category—in other words to eat them in moderation.   This does require a shift in how sweets are conceived.  Clearly, as Dr. Conason noted, their lure proves too powerful as “forbidden fruits”.    Moderation tends to backfire, too, when thoughts of fairness (“Everyone else can eat them…why can’t I?!”) or of deserving (“I’ve had a tough week, I deserve this!”) go unchallenged.

Noting that people do learn to eat sweets in moderation does not mean that it comes easily or immediately.  In fact, people of all sizes usually find that learning to resist the call for “more” takes effort and practice.  I provide a link here to an earlier blog with ideas on how to get started:  Eating Sanely With a Sweet Tooth

Learn more on the recent science:

60 Minutes, CBS, 4/1/12 segment,  “Is Sugar Toxic?”

“Is Sugar Toxic”, by Gary Taubes, New York Times Magazine, 4/17/11,

Nutrition Action’s April issue focuses on sugar and belly fat and metabolic syndrome.  Available in print, upcoming online