As an avid reader of research that suggests sugar is the devil, the daughter of a woman whose life changed when she cut it out of her diet and the human embodiment of the Cookie Monster himself, I was intrigued when my favorite contrarian media site, The Outline, published a knock-out piece on sugar last week: “Who’s Afraid of Sugar?”
The byline in particular caught my attention: Yvette d’Entremont.
D’Entremont is an “analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology,” but she’s made a career out of writing about health trends: unpacking them, debunking them and questioning them to a pulp. (She loathes the “egregious abuse” of the word “toxin,” to paint a picture.) According to her site, Scibabe, she’s “long looked at the alternative medicine and pseudoscience movements with a skeptical eye.” She came into viral fame when she wrote “The ‘Food Babe’ Blogger is Full of Shit” for Gawker in 2015, and she’s been writing similar pieces ever since.
Now, she’d like to talk about sugar.
“Apparently sugar is killing us, or is it?” she asks. “Whether it’s cancer, obesity, acne, or whatever is happening on Steve Bannon’s face, there’s someone out there saying it’s sugar’s fault…Let’s look at the science behind all of it to get a little smarter about the sweeter parts of life,” she says.
She goes on to address the many accusations lodged against sugar in recent years, such as it resembling a habit-forming drug, being worse than fat, inciting hyper-activity and causing Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer. She debunks them one by one. Her piece is worth a read in its entirety, but there’s one point she makes that I can’t get out of my head: sugar is sugar, no matter where it comes from.
You know all the talk around added sugar versus natural sugar versus honey versus high-fructose corn syrup versus refined sugar? Bullshit, she says. “It’s a commonly held misconception that sugars from fruit are ‘better for you’ than sugars from, say, jelly beans, but that’s only because an apple has much less sugar than jelly beans,” she says. “The simple sugars in each are metabolized in the exact same way. Your pancreas really doesn’t care where you get those sugars from, just if you’re getting them or not.”
I have to admit, this bowled me over. Not in a bad way — the apple addict in me feels personally attacked, sure, but the Cookie Monster in me feels vindicated. She goes on to explain other material differences between jelly beans and apples (like that apples have fiber, vitamins and minerals, and are therefore the better choice in terms of dietary efficiency), but makes it clear the sugar is the same. She says calories are still the most important dietary measure for concerns like illness and obesity. It’s just that certain foods do a better job at helping you meet your nutritional needs faster. “But hey,” she says, “there’s not a lot of money to be made in writing a diet book that says ‘maybe just eat fewer calories.'”
D’Entremont isn’t the final say on this, of course, but it’s nice to hear someone approach this topic with skepticism rather than extremism. Ironically enough, she’s the first food writer to get me to actually change my behavior in regards to sugar: I’ve stopped thinking of fruit as a free pass, for instance, and I’ve also stopped feeling guilty about having sweets when I’ve had my greens and think I can calorically handle them. It’s been a relief, this looser approach. It took this piece for me to realize how ready I’ve been to let go of the sugar hysteria and re-embrace moderation. Fake ice cream just won’t cut it.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Creative Direction by Emily Zirimis.