A Dietitian Explains Why You Shouldn’t Give Up Sugar

I saw a debate on Facebook recently in which a woman warning about the horrors of arterycloggingsaturatedfat! replied to someone disputing her advice with You do realize you’re arguing with a registered dietitian, don’t you?

A registered dietitian?!  Oh, goodness.  The infallible have spoken.

An appeal to authority is a weak argument, especially when the authority you’re appealing to is yourself. And of course, whenever I read I’m a registered dietitian, I can’t help but interpret it as I earned a degree by parroting what I was taught in a curriculum designed and funded by the makers of industrial foods.

There are some good dietitians out there. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of nincompoops with the awe-inspiring title of registered dietitian. I was reminded of that today when a reader sent a link to an article titled A Month Without Sugar—One Dietician’s Day-by-Day Tell-All. Let’s look at some quotes.

As a dietitian, I’ve heard of every crazy diet. No dairy, no carbs, no sugar, no tomatoes, no gluten, no fat—you name it, I’ve heard of it (and have probably rolled my eyes at it).

No dairy is a crazy diet? No sugar is a crazy diet? No gluten is a crazy diet? Amazing … humans somehow managed to thrive for 99% of their time on earth living on nothing but crazy diets. And now that the craziness ended, we sure are healthier, aren’t we?

The problem with these restrictive diets is they aren’t sustainable and often cause you to crave whatever you gave up. But no matter how many times I tell my clients this, I’m met with resistance.

So the dietitian is against restrictive diets. Just keep that in mind for later.

So I decided to try it for myself, and I stopped (correction: I tried to stop) eating all added sugar for 30 days. Spoiler alert—it sucked!

Aw, shucks, I was hoping you’d keep me in suspense. Oh, well.

First, added sugar refers to sugar that is added to a food, not sugar naturally found in fruits, vegetables, grains, or dairy. Cutting out all those food groups would just be cray cray. Regardless of my lack of desire for sugar, I still add a bit of brown sugar to my oatmeal, enjoy a pre-workout granola bar, and top my spoonful of peanut butter with mini chocolate chips. But that’s the extent of my sugar habit, so I figured I would be fine. Reality hurts.

The registered dietitian regularly adds brown sugar to her oatmeal, eats granola bars with sugar before working out, and adds chocolate chips to her peanut butter. But she lacks the desire for sugar.

Day 1

While eating whole-wheat crackers with my super-healthy salad (feeling great about my food choices), I check out the crackers’ ingredients label. WTF? Cane sugar! Day 1=fail.

Oh, no! Those otherwise healthy wheat crackers contain sugar! If only she’d checked the label before buying, she could have bought wheat crackers without sugar and been super-healthy.

Day 2

My oatmeal definitely tastes a little bland without a scoop of brown sugar, so I head to the store and pick up some naturally sweet foods, such as dates, bananas, red grapes, and papaya. Problem solved.

The dietitian lacks a desire for sugar, but couldn’t get through her oatmeal until she added dates and bananas.  Problem solved.

Or so I thought… until lunchtime, when I add Sriracha to my rainbow grain bowl. Surprise—Sriracha has sugar. I guess I need to read EVERY single food label.

Dang! Two days in, and she still hasn’t managed to avoid added sugar.

Day 5

I’m getting the hang of this no-sugar thing, but I have a dilemma. Today I’m running the Brooklyn Half. Since this is my 10th half-marathon, I have a pretty standard fueling routine that consists of water for the first six to seven miles, followed by a sports drink for the second half of the race and a CLIF Shot Blok around mile eight or nine.

I’d never heard of CLIF Shot Blok, so I had to look it up. Here are the ingredients: Organic Tapioca Syrup, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Organic Maltodextrin, Pectin, Citric Acid, Watermelon Extract with Other Natural Flavors, Sea Salt, Potassium Citrate, Colored with Organic Black Carrot Juice Concentrate, Organic Sunflower Oil, Carnauba Wax.

So to get through a half-marathon, the registered dietitian normally needs a sports drink (if it’s a 16-oz. Gatorade, that’s 21 grams of sugar) plus an energy bar with another 24 grams of carbohydrate, 12 of them in the form of sugar.

In other words, my usual fueling plan is loaded with sugar because sugar (a.k.a. glucose) powers muscles during endurance activity.

Actually, sugar is not a.k.a. glucose. Sugar is half glucose and half fructose. And we don’t need to consume either for endurance activities.  I’ve somehow managed to spend five hours pushing a mower up and down the hill in our back pasture several times without consuming sugar (a.k.a. glucose) beforehand.

Luckily, another dietitian (and marathoner) told me to try dates, stuffed with peanut butter and sprinkled with sea salt, for the right mix of sugar and sodium.

Thank goodness another registered dietitian was able to suggest an alternate source of sugar to replace the sugar from a sports drink. Disaster averted.

The only problem was I got an annoying cramp around mile seven that wouldn’t go away, so I gave in and reached for a sports drink.

So that would be yet another day in the “sugar free” month when the dietitian failed to go without added sugar.

Day 7

All in all, I feel like the first week was much harder than I anticipated. #fail. Between the added sugar in my crackers and Sriracha and my sports drink during the half-marathon, I’m beginning to understand how incredibly difficult it is to omit an entire ingredient from your diet.

Yeah, you wouldn’t want to omit an entire ingredient from your diet. That would be just plain crazy – especially if it’s added sugar, which of course humans have been eating forever.

Day 15

Halfway there, and it’s finally starting to feel easier. I’ve become accustomed to sweetening my morning oatmeal with bananas and eating pre-workout snacks with natural sugar (dates and peanut butter, anyone?). I can definitely do this for two more weeks.

Wow, I’m impressed with your ferocious discipline. You can actually avoid added sugar (most days, anyway) if you eat enough bananas and dates to replace the added sugar with natural sugar.

Days 17-22

Status quo. Omitting added sugar from my diet has made my already healthy diet even healthier. I have no choice but to eat plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains.

Glad to know that already healthy diet full of grains and added sugars has become even healthier because you substituted natural sugar for the added sugar.

Day 23

All self-control goes out the window when I’m tired. We arrived in California last night, and I’m super jet-lagged. I need an afternoon cookie to make me feel better. And let me tell you… it worked.

Yet another day in the “sugar free” month when the registered dietitian couldn’t get by without eating added sugar. Glad to know that sugary cookie helped you get over an exhausting day of sitting in an airplane seat.

Day 26

I’ve done this long enough, and I give up! Being on vacation and trying to “diet” isn’t fun. It’s actually really terrible. So I cut this little experiment short and ordered an espresso shot in a chocolate-rimmed ice cream cone. And I’m not sad about it.

Well, dang. The registered dietitian just couldn’t continue the “month without sugar” experiment, even though she broke down and ate sugar several times. I wonder what conclusions she’ll draw from the experience.

The Big Takeaways

This confirmed my right to roll my eyes at diets that eliminate entire food groups, because it’s nearly impossible to sustain that change for the long term. I’m a dietitian, and I wasn’t able to do it for longer than a week without a slipup.

Impeccable logic. The registered dietitian is a sugar addict who couldn’t go a month without added sugar, and that confirms her right to roll her eyes at diets that eliminate entire food groups.

And now for the punchline … curious about who this woman is, I looked her up. Here are some quotes from another of her articles:

As a vegetarian, I pretty much hate barbecues. While the meat-lovers pile on burgers, hot dogs, and steak, I’m usually stuck with a plateful of potato salad.

… You can almost always count on one thing at a barbecue: burgers. And with burgers come mustard, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and pickles. Although it’s not the most creative sandwich ever, combining these ingredients on a bun will definitely equal a sandwich that will probably keep you full for a few hours.

A meatless burger will definitely probably keep you full until your next dose of sugar a few hours later.

… Take a creative dish to the barbecue, and you may pique the interest of vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. How about some carrot hot dogs or cauliflower steaks with chimichurri sauce?

… When all else fails, throw your own party! … Let them know what you’re serving is all veg-head friendly. Encourage them to step out of their meat-eating comfort zone and get creative with plants.

Hmmm, let’s combine quotes from the two articles:

This confirmed my right to roll my eyes at diets that eliminate entire food groups.

As a vegetarian, I pretty much hate barbecues.

The problem with these restrictive diets is they aren’t sustainable and often cause you to crave whatever you gave up.

Let them know what you’re serving is all veg-head friendly.

So there you have it. You shouldn’t give up added sugar — even if you substitute with the sugars in dates and bananas — because it’s just crazy to eliminate an entire food group — added sugar, of course, being a food group.  But giving up meat is fine and dandy and good for you, and you should encourage your friends to try a meatless diet by throwing a vegetarian dinner party.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t try to survive the rigors of a cross-country flight without a cookie.  If a registered dietitian can’t handle it, neither can you.

That’s the kind of dietary wisdom we so often get from registered dietitians.

My apologies to the good dietitians out there.

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199 thoughts on “A Dietitian Explains Why You Shouldn’t Give Up Sugar

  1. Ash

    I am a doctor who runs a busy functional medicine clinic. The other day we got a call from a Registered Dietitian who was asking if we’d like to hire her to provide nutritional counseling to our patients. Um, no thanks! She might have been one of the good ones, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance. We don’t do politically correct nutrition in my practice.

    Reply
    1. Archie

      Ash, should another such application arrive, it might be quite a good idea to do a bit of education…

      During an interview, you could ask, for example, “Is ‘Atkins’ a swearword?’ Or “What do you know about the effect of ketone bodies on cancer cells?” Or “Is LCHF a healthy way to reduce adipose tissue?” Or “Is Type II diabetes reversible with dietary measures?”

      If the candidate answers correctly, you could then hire her or him without worrying.
      And if the wrong answers are given, it would be a golden opportunity to present one more of the diet-sheeple with a healthy dose of information.

      Reply
      1. Stephen T

        Good point, Archie.

        A couple of weeks ago, as I left my gym, I was approached by a dietitian and I told her that she wouldn’t like my views. This started a conversation and her views were very similar to mine. She thought low-fat foods were terrible and had no fear of natural fat. Predictably, she worked privately and not within the health service.

        Reply
  2. JIllOz

    A major red flag of any practitioner is when he/she says first off that he/she is “accredited” “registered” etc.
    Some of the worst practitioners talk about their credentials and how they “empower” patients blah blah. They are soft-soap incompetents. NB – they might do the odd good job but it’s rare.

    The good ones just get on with it, explain what you need and get into the science when asked questions. And if they don’t know they tell you and suggest possibilities.

    Reply
  3. mabelle

    on the 3rd august i went to see a cardiologist about my heart health hoping i can get a calcium scoring test done so i know if i have some form of atherosclerosis (from all the 37 years of damage possibly done before i changed my lifestyle to zero carbs for 1.5 years now). He advised against calcium scoring as there is a risk of contracting breast cancer for women going through CT scans. That did scare me off the test completely on the spot. I thought since im on the right track in the food that i eat it shouldnt matter if i know where my heart health stands if the test carries such risk, since whatever results will not gonna make me change what i am doing currently.

    So I showed him my blood test hoping he sheds light that all the readings points to a healthy heart, with HDL at 37mg/dl, LDl at 139mg/dl and triglyceride at 57mg/dl and he exclaimed that my LDL was high. I asked if it could be that my type b LDL (the smaller denser ones) is only a small part of the whole LDL count, and he said they are all the same and they eventually is bad for my heart. I ended the consultation right there and then and didnt plan to come back for the followup appointment they set for me.

    All that coming from a cardiologist.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Nah, I don’t want to troll the lady online. Making fun of her stupid advice on the blog is enough.

      Reply
    2. Emily

      I read some of her blog, and was surprised to find that she does eat eggs. Usually lacto-ovo vegetarians are smarter about nutrition (and everything else) than vegans. But if her recipes are anything to go by, she eats very, very few eggs. I didn’t find much dairy in them either. Tons and tons of sugar, though. Going by her blog, she’s got severely disordered eating. She likes tasty foods that are burned up very quickly and avoids foods that are filling. I’d feel really bad for her were she not trying to sell her issues to others.

      Reply
  4. Ash

    I am a doctor who runs a busy functional medicine clinic. The other day we got a call from a Registered Dietitian who was asking if we’d like to hire her to provide nutritional counseling to our patients. Um, no thanks! She might have been one of the good ones, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance. We don’t do politically correct nutrition in my practice.

    Reply
    1. Archie

      Ash, should another such application arrive, it might be quite a good idea to do a bit of education…

      During an interview, you could ask, for example, “Is ‘Atkins’ a swearword?’ Or “What do you know about the effect of ketone bodies on cancer cells?” Or “Is LCHF a healthy way to reduce adipose tissue?” Or “Is Type II diabetes reversible with dietary measures?”

      If the candidate answers correctly, you could then hire her or him without worrying.
      And if the wrong answers are given, it would be a golden opportunity to present one more of the diet-sheeple with a healthy dose of information.

      Reply
      1. Stephen T

        Good point, Archie.

        A couple of weeks ago, as I left my gym, I was approached by a dietitian and I told her that she wouldn’t like my views. This started a conversation and her views were very similar to mine. She thought low-fat foods were terrible and had no fear of natural fat. Predictably, she worked privately and not within the health service.

        Reply
  5. Butter Fury

    >”Omitting added sugar from my diet has made my already healthy diet even healthier. I have no choice but to eat plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains.”

    Hmmm, what is this feeling of discomfort and expectation of incoming cringe? Why does my hand reach for the nearest weaponisable object seemingly on it’s own?

    >As a vegetarian

    Ah, that’s why. *Sigh*, i’m so bloody tired of these plant fetishists, i can’t even start to describe it.

    Reply
  6. Dave

    Having made the mistake of experimenting with a low-carb diet once upon a misguided time, I can understand why you yourself consider pushing a lawnmower an endurance exercise.

    Mowing your lawn ‘several times’ is not, however, remotely comparable to running a marathon. As someone who engages in many actual endurance and high-intensity exercises (mountain biking, CrossFit, ice hockey) on a daily basis, I can say that sugar undeniably leaves me happier and more energetic doing so. And that experience is widely shared among my very fit, lean – many previously overweight – acquaintances.

    If I were to succumb to sedentarism one day, I would probably consider curbing my sugar intake. As a means of adjusting my calorie intake to suit an inactive lifestyle, not because it’s the metabolic boogeyman.

    You’re not an athlete. Don’t mock athletes for sharing dietary choices that improve a lifestyle you don’t understand.

    Reply
  7. Butter Fury

    >”Omitting added sugar from my diet has made my already healthy diet even healthier. I have no choice but to eat plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains.”

    Hmmm, what is this feeling of discomfort and expectation of incoming cringe? Why does my hand reach for the nearest weaponisable object seemingly on it’s own?

    >As a vegetarian

    Ah, that’s why. *Sigh*, i’m so bloody tired of these plant fetishists, i can’t even start to describe it.

    Reply
  8. Dave

    Having made the mistake of experimenting with a low-carb diet once upon a misguided time, I can understand why you yourself consider pushing a lawnmower an endurance exercise.

    Mowing your lawn ‘several times’ is not, however, remotely comparable to running a marathon. As someone who engages in many actual endurance and high-intensity exercises (mountain biking, CrossFit, ice hockey) on a daily basis, I can say that sugar undeniably leaves me happier and more energetic doing so. And that experience is widely shared among my very fit, lean – many previously overweight – acquaintances.

    If I were to succumb to sedentarism one day, I would probably consider curbing my sugar intake. As a means of adjusting my calorie intake to suit an inactive lifestyle, not because it’s the metabolic boogeyman.

    You’re not an athlete. Don’t mock athletes for sharing dietary choices that improve a lifestyle you don’t understand.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Well, gee, I’m very sorry I made fun of a sugar addict who couldn’t get by without sugar (despite running a HALF marathon exactly once) for 26 days. Clearly she needed that sugar before and for many days after running a whopping 13 miles. After all, who can possibly survive an airplane flight without some sugar?

      A dietitian telling people — all people, including those who don’t run a half-marathon once in awhile — not to give up the “entire food group” of sugar isn’t an athlete sharing dietary choices with other athletes. That’s a sugar addict justifying eating added sugar and telling everyone it’s fine to do so.

      No, I’m not a competitive athlete. But in five hours, minus 10 minutes rest or so per hour, I push a mower more than 15 miles, up and down a very steep hill, often in 95-degree weather. I’m pretty sure I burn more energy than the sugar addict does during her half-marathons.

      Reply
      1. Michele

        I am currently training for a marathon. I am pretty sure I couldn’t push a lawn mower up and down a steep hill for 15 miles! Wow – that is impressive!

        Reply
    2. Firebird7478

      I’m a former pro athlete and I have been a bodybuilder/weightlifter since I was 13. Been at it for 40 years and I am sure you manage your day by Crossfitting, playing hockey and mountain biking all in one day (Is that the new triathlon?) quite well. When you find time to work at a job…beats me. But I can tell you from PERSONAL experience that I DO understand her lifestyle because I was there when it was first incorporated and I was hoodwinked into it, too.

      How sad for me that I scoffed at the Vince Girondas of the world who were preaching meat and fat and limit carbs back in my youth for I suspect following what this “registered dietician” still recommends did permanent damage to my metabolism. How sad for you that YOU would MOCK US who have learned that the hard way and have adapted.

      Reply
    3. Mike

      It is arguably the case that certain kinds of athletic activities work better with some carbohydrate intake. If that is the case, such athletes should be eating glucose or starches. Eating table sugar might make you happier, but half of that caloric energy isn’t immediately available to an athlete. If sports drinks were serious about fueling athletes it wouldn’t contain table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. One may as well make the argument that a pre-race cigarette makes you happier, since what we are talking about here is a dopamine response and not fuel.

      Reply
    4. Emily

      If she’s an “athlete”, I was too before my back went out. Have you actually looked at the foods this woman recommends for fueling before her so-called “athletic” endeavors?

      Pancakes with syrup. Oranges. Frozen grapes. Pasta. Unlike many people here, I have nothing against those foods, but as fuel for endurance? That’s nuts. There is hardly any protein or fat to be found. At my former level of activity, which was at least as much as hers, I would have spent all day crashing and probably fainting if I’d followed her recommendations.

      Also, I’m sorry, but if you claim someone who’s a partner in personally running a farm, even a small one, isn’t as “athletic” as someone who goes on the occasional hike or half-marathon, you’re simply wrong. This dietician’s no Olympic athlete. She’s not even a high school athlete.

      Reply
    5. The Older Brother

      At the risk of sounding like a Certified Health Professional — “you were doing it wrong.”

      A standard carb-based athlete engaged in continuous over-training who tries “experimenting with a low-carb diet” is indeed courting disaster. Despite high level athletic performance, fat-burning under exertion isn’t something that just automatically happens if you stop eating sugar. So without the sugar fix, you’re essentially trying to perform with no usable fuel.

      As detailed by several experts (Mark Sisson, Phil Maffetone, Jeff Volek & Stephen Phinney, etc), training the body to utilize fat as a primary energy source entails up to several months at a greatly reduced workload.

      Although many testify to its value, it’s a real time investment that isn’t possible in the middle of a competitive season. top level athletes who’ve done it sing its praises. but talk of “practically crawling,” having a hard time getting used to the amount of resting, and having to watch their training colleagues zoom by them while they rebuild.

      Our vegetarian dietician, however, would qualify as a “weekend warrior” at best, and to think that loads of sugar intake are required for a non-competitive 1/2 marathon is insane.

      Cheers

      Reply
      1. Tom Naughton Post author

        Based on what she says she eats, I think it’s pretty clear the dietitian takes a daily ride on the blood-sugar roller-coaster. After that “super-healthy” meal of oatmeal, dates and bananas, her blood glucose spikes and then dips below baseline. Then she needs a cookie to feel normal.

        Reply
  9. Nick Mailer

    This reminds me of a recent discussion I had with an MD on twitter.

    He’s a statin-pusher, and was promoting their supposed pleiotropic effects. His argument was that they prevented CVD by being anti-inflammatories.

    I pointed out that almost all exogenous anti-inflammatories EXACERBATE heart disease, and included a shedload of solid references. He agreed that this was so, and belittled me for even daring to point it out to someone as all-knowing as he. I asked how this fact squared with his statin argument.

    His retort was that he was a qualified Doctor, and who the hell was I to question him. Then he blocked me.

    I’m beginning to wonder if certification or registration destroys a part of the brain that processes logic.

    Reply
      1. Walter

        Consider the sea squirt. It has a free swimming chordate youth and settles down on a rock and eats its brain, like professors on getting tenure. So also for many people getting professional certification, where one can succeed by following standard of care.

        Reply
  10. Stacy

    How did my grandparents live so long without food labels? They ate eggs, whole milk, pork, steak, chicken, venison, butter. They were lean and strong and healthy. Maybe they were French and I didn’t know it because it is a paradox.

    Reply
    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Now that mention it, most of my relatives must’ve been French as well. And here I’ve always thought I’m Irish.

      Reply
  11. Firebird7478

    The more and more I think about it, the more I am convinced that somebody needs to take Chareva’s “What are you a moron?” quote from the movie, put it on a loop or a GIF, just so we can play it back for occasions like this.

    Reply
  12. chris c

    Awww, don’t be too hard on her! She knows that giving up sugar is a symptom of orthorexia, which she obviously doesn’t want to catch.

    So is cutting out any other “food group”, except meat of course.

    I’m not sure if radically improving your health is a defence against this diagnosis.

    Reply
  13. E. V. Lynne

    Tom, two questions.

    1. Why do I have such an unhealthy obsession with Jimmy Moore?

    2. Why do I keep showing up here and attempting to use your blog as a forum for trashing Jimmy Moore, even though you’ve made it clear that’s not going to happen?

    Reply
  14. E. V. Lynne

    Tom, two questions.

    1. Why do I have such an unhealthy obsession with Jimmy Moore?

    2. Why do I keep showing up here and attempting to use your blog as a forum for trashing Jimmy Moore, even though you’ve made it clear that’s not going to happen?

    Reply
  15. Paula

    Let me get this straight. This RD avoided added sugar by…adding sugar? Talk about Head. Bang. On. Desk.

    Reply

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