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Toxic Sugar

July 25, 2010

I always knew that sugar wasn’t a health food, but I never considered it particularly evil. I was therefore quite surprised when I first went to my most recent acupuncturist, and one of the first things she did was put me on a “sugar detox” diet.

“Sugar is a toxin,” she explained.

I didn’t quite know what to say. I knew that I had once been addicted to sugar, and that eating it to that extreme wasn’t good, but considering it toxic? Still, I did the detox diet, even though it was pretty extreme. It consisted of only eating proteins, fats, white rice, broccoli, and cauliflower. The reason I agreed was because I only had to follow it for 24 hours, after which I could go back to my normal eating. I still don’t quite know what it was supposed to accomplish. I didn’t go through withdrawal or anything, nor did I feel particularly “cleansed” in the end.

Then one of my myriad doctors recommended that I go on the Schwarzbein Diet. In general, it’s pretty reasonable, suggesting that you balance your intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc., so that you get moderate amounts at every meal but not too much at any one time. But it also doesn’t allow any sugar – even natural sugars, like maple syrup and honey, are suspect.

I actually did that for about a year, but eventually it got to be too wearing. I wanted to be able to have a piece of cake on someone’s birthday, or partake in at least some holiday sweets, or not drive my friends crazy with my eating restrictions when I was visiting.

I was reminded of all this recently when a woman from church (let’s call her Church Lady) commented about a friend of hers who definitely subscribes to the idea the “toxic sugar” idea. The friend had come to help out for a couple of weeks after Church Lady had surgery, and by the end of it Church Lady was more than ready to say goodbye. “I was afraid to bring anything with sugar in it into the house,” she said. Considering that she has two kids, ages 7 and 2, that must have been particularly trying.

Or, you could go the route of my acupuncturist and not let your children have any sugar, pretty much ever. That’ll keep them free of whatever evils are in sugar (and likely disappoint dentists by keeping their teeth exceptionally healthy), but I would worry about that. What happens when the kid goes to school, or visits friends, and eventually tries sugar and decides they like it? Will they binge on it? Will it make them sick? Will they be ostracized?

I don’t advocate eating hordes of sugar, nor do I eat much of it myself. I can get through a day without it, and I don’t crave it the way I used to. In fact, it’s taken me until now to get through all the frozen things I had, between Christmas, New Year’s, Girl Scout cookies, and a box of chocolates I got in May. It takes me this long because I limit myself to one item a day (with rare exceptions), which somehow doesn’t seem like a toxic amount. For me, it’s all about balance.

I also like thinking about it the way Indians do for their new year, Dhivali. As a friend explained it to me, they have sweets to make the new year sweet. I typically have my treat in the morning, to make my day sweet, and it seems to work quite well. May you find your own balance and sweetness.

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