Sugar definitely is one of the most problematic foods out there, especially the refined sugar we have today. In the past, nobody had refined sugar. Everyone used honey or perhaps maple syrup in certain parts of the world. But sugar as we know it today did not really exist. And any society that did introduce refined sugar ended up with various health (and dental) problems, particulary when eaten to the excess that western society does. We know that the world health organization is predicting that if people continue consuming the amount of sugar and refined carbs that they do now, diabetes is going to increase and become a huge problem in the future. Already now it is a big problem. The solution is to already educate our children and ourselves about the dangers of overconsumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates. People in western society tend to eat a lot of cookies and cakes, candies and chocolates, pasta dishes, white bread etc. All of those can raise sugar levels. We need to rethink our way of eating.
But even people who claim to be sugar free yet they use a lot of honey or maple syrup or even fruit juices, lots of dried fruits etc. also can find that they do not feel so well because overconsumption of sweet foods can unbalance a person. Many people crave sweet foods but what they really need is protein. If they eat the sweets instead (like people often do when they are hungry and they grab a quick sweet snack) they may find that their blood sugar fluctuates suddenly after that and they feel tired, nervous, nauseous etc. It is far wiser to learn to snack on vegetables, salty foods, and to increase healthy protein foods. That can include bean dishes or foods made with eggs etc.
Too many carbs can also make a person sleepy and gain weight, especially if the carbs are refined. But if eaten in a moderate amount, carbs can be useful to provide energy. However, it also depends upon what type of carbs are consumed. In today’s society, we have bakeries galore that offer cakes, cookies, danishes and all types of things to fill the stomach and to satisfy the sweet tooth: but those foods are consumed to excess and provide very little nutritional value. That is one reason the western world is overweight in general. And those cakes and cookies are not only made from refined carbs in general, such as white flour, but also utilize white refined sugar in most cases. A terrible combination!
It is worthwhile to point out that if one eats a proper balanced diet, such as healthy whole grain bread for breakfast , some protein (it can be eggs or almond butter or perhaps some miso soup) suddenly the craving for sugar and excess carbs will not even be there. Once you eat a balanced diet providing proper nutrition, your body will not need all kinds of excess foods. For example. you will find your craving for sugary treats and chocolate will go down a lot. With a proper breakfast and diet, you will start to feel balanced within yourself. You will satisfy your sweets with a dried date rather than a candy. You will find with time you no longer even want the candy! And here it is worthwhile to note: candies should be avoided as much as possible because of the corn syrup in most of them, and the coloring and other artificial ingredients. Children should be trained to eat healthier snacks. I used to taka out pomegranate seeds and present them in little packages to my children as candies. They loved it and I knew it was healthy for them.
In general, our bodies may need, or sometimes crave, something “sugary” but it does not always have to be refined sugar. You can use maple syrup instead or honey. Agave nectar is not very healthy either and is best avoided. Artificial sweeteners should be avoided as they are really not healthy. Diabetics may have no choice and cannot eat sugar, but even diabetics can eat healthier foods and avoid much of the sweet n low etc. As we age, our bodies often do not handle sugar as well , so limiting sugar consumption is advisable, at least refined sugar. And that includes maple syrup and honey: even the so called healthier sweet foods are not good when eaten to excess. If we do overeat sugary or sweet foods, we often will suddenly feel weak or nauseated. Our bodies can only process a certain amount of glucose or fructose. The liver deals with that and if we overeat sweet foods or the wrong types of sugars (such as high fructose corn syrup) our livers cannot handle it. Each day our livers can only handle about 15 grams of glucose, which is not too much.
Some people develop fatty livers because of drinking sodas and lots of fruit juices (yes, even 100% fruit juice is not healthy for the body). Rather than making smoothies full of fruit, try to eat the whole fruits, including the fiber. In juices or smoothies we tend to overeat fruits (ie . fructose and other sugars as sometimes people even add sugar or sweetening to smoothies or juices) and that can have a detrimental effect on the body. (a mother who is pregnant or nursing may require more sugar than an average person but it should be in moderation or a healthier type of sugar overall. But this is an example of how different people’s circumstances affect changes in diet)
Interestingly, even in areas of Italy which are called “the blue zones”, people do consume some sugar and sugary desserts or snacks. But these are eaten in moderation for special occasions and the ingredients are more natural and simple. However, this just goes to show that sugar is not exactly the culprit society makes it out to be, if used in the right way and right amount. The problem in the western world is that sugar is added to everything and consumed in far too many foods every day. We overeat everything: sugar, fried foods, flour products, baked goods, chips and snack foods etc.
There is no one culprit as far as food goes. It all depends how much of a particular food is eaten and when. Nevertheless, certain foods are best avoided or curtailed in general.
But truthfully, health is not only about diet. There are many blue zones in the world and the diets are very different. It is not really about any one strict dietary regime. There is far more to health that only a diet. (there is air quality, exercise, how happy a person is, family life, social life, productivity etc. )
Carbs are an important part of one’s diet but it is preferable if they are whole grain and organic. White, refined carbs are not very healthy, but again, in moderation some are fine. There are cultures that consume a lot of rice, but basmati rice, for example, is better because it has a lower glycemic index. In fact, studies show that basmati rice is even easier to digest and has a lower glycemic index than brown rice. Many studies have actually shown that rice is one of the best carbs: it is easy to digest, light, and it is good for the stomach. Someone who had a very severe case of ulcerative colitis once went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rebbe advised him to eat more white rice. In many societies, especially Asia and the middle east, rice is a staple of the diet. Even though they consume a lot of white rice, it is not harmful. Not everyone feels good with brown rice, in fact. So it is not an absolute rule to consume only whole grains but certainly a good portion of one’s diet should include whole grains for adequate fiber and nutrition.
Carbs depend on which type and how much is eaten. Some people become bloated with too many carbs (too much rice or too much bread etc.). Many people believe in low carb diets. I believe in balance. Maybe lower carb, but not no carb. I think the body needs some carbs. For breakfast, for example, some healthy sourdough whole grain bread can be good. Or organic oats can be used in many ways (I say organic oats because regular oats are sprayed with glysophate , which is a dangerous weed killer and hopefully the organic ones do not contain glysophate and are not cross contaminated). Even if you prefer a low carb breakfast, have some cooked vegetables, some scrambled eggs and perhaps a bowl of berries and nuts. There are many options that are healthy and give adequate energy.
In general, eating breakfast is an important habit to get into. Some people just grab a cup of coffee and a muffin. Many people, and especially children, have a bowl of sugary cereal with milk. But neither of those are good options in the long run. Children who eat a healthy breakfast learn better in school, concentrate better and are in better moods. The same goes for adults. People function better with a healthy breakfast. Usually it is good to have a healthy carb, some protein, and some healthy fat like butter or almond butter. Avoid sugary foods or drinks at breakfast. Even fruit juices or a bowl of fruit can be too sugary first thing in the morning, unless it is balanced with protein. If you eat a lot of sugar for breakfast, it usually causes you to feel tired shortly afterwards. Some people develop headaches or light headedness if they eat sugar in the morning. The best type of breakfast to give sustained energy is a good quality carb such as sourdough organic spelt bread, possibly with a bit of butter, some plain yogurt, if you eat dairy, and if you can eat eggs, then a boiled egg is also good. Coffee is fine but not as the main meal. It is fine as an accompaniment to the meal. But most importantly is the quality of your food. With the right breakfast, one can go hours without eating and can function to one’s best capacity. I really believe productivity at work as well as school would increase if the breakfast meal is proper. Most children start their day with sugary cereals and then we wonder why they have difficulty concentrating in class or sitting still.