Is Sugar A Friend Or Foe?

by Barney St Anton in Nutrition

sugars | strawberries

Sugars seem to have a bad reputation; there are whole diets, products and supplements aimed at those looking to reduce their sugar intake for fear of gaining pounds or even worse, getting type 2 diabetes. I believe that this reputation is a little bit unfair and in this blog will discuss why I think they can be perfectly healthy in a balanced diet.

Firstly, what are sugars? To put it simply, they are basic forms of carbohydrate and your bodies preferred source of fuel at rest and during higher intensity exercise. Current intake recommendations are that sugar should be limited to less than 90g a day, to give you an idea this is roughly 4-5 bananas.

Sugar & Insulin

If you’ve heard of sugar it’s likely you’ve also heard of insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone that is released whenever we consume carbohydrate; its main function is to signal your body’s cells to intake more nutrients. This effect is much, much higher when we consume simple sugars rather than complex carbohydrates such as pasta or jacket potatoes. This can be a great tool after exercise that can help replenish energy levels and refuel your muscles, however if an insulin spike occurs without any exercise insulin actually causes your body fat stores to grow instead.

This can seem quite scary and you might be lead to believe that you should cut out sugars all together. Before you clear out your fridge and fruit bowl, here are some reasons why sugar is a crucial component of a healthy and balanced diet.

Sugar & essential nutrients

Fruits contain sugars in the form of fructose. If you were to completely cut out fruit from your diet you would become deficient in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C. Vitamin C is essential for a healthy immune system and helps protect your body from free radicals. People looking to reduce sugar intake may also mistakenly cut out dairy to limit lactose intake. Such an approach would also strip your body of nutrients such as calcium and essential amino acids which are important for bone health/structure and muscle building/repair.

My view

Personally I believe that sugar should be kept in the diet for health but it should be somewhat limited to make dieting easier and more successful. Most foods that are high in sugar will also be high in fat and salt, this means they taste amazing but are very high in calories. When you’ve been dieting for any length of time it’s quite likely that you may have a bad day and to want to give in to your temptations. Consuming these types of food can lead to a big spike in insulin and calories, the perfect recipe for weight gain and diet disaster.

If you’re faced with the situation where your sweet tooth is taking over and you just can’t ignore your temptations I recommend a cupped handful of your favourite fruit. Wait 20 minutes and your cravings will be satisfied and your progress won’t be compromised.


Sugar really isn’t the bad guy it’s made out to be and is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. The trick is to keeping your sugar intake to fruit and dairy when possible and to time your intake around your exercise to reduce the impact of insulin. I hope you have found this interesting and informative, if you are interested in finding out more be sure to speak to me in the gym next time we meet!