In Defense of Sugar

I used to be like you. I used to think sugar was awful, even toxic. I avoided it as much as possible. My diet was squeaky clean. I was super lean and I thought I had it all figured out. Then I kept losing weight. My face looked haggard. My hands were always cold. It was rare for me to get solid deep sleep.

I was concerned. I needed a food to reverse my continuing weight loss. I needed a food to stimulate my appetite. Yet I wanted to eat clean or as clean as possible. So I put on my researcher hat and came up with the food to save me and it was sugar. More specifically ice cream. I detailed that decision in the post Why Ice Cream is Better Than Protein Powder.

Sugar to the Rescue

With ice cream, I was able to reverse my underweight condition and gain more muscle. My body temperature went up and my sleep improved. For over a decade I was plagued with headaches that would wake me up at 3 AM. Not anymore. But how?

Sugar lowers stress hormones. When stress hormones are reduced, sleep is improved. And when your sleep is better, so many aspects of health improve. It is easier to gain muscle, fight off infections, plus mental health benefits.

A year ago I shared a tip I learned from Matt Stone about how to use a combination of sugar and salt to get back to sleep quickly for those of us that wake too soon. It is a life-changer. Read An Amazing “Back to Sleep” Hack for details.

Others are using honey before bed to get to sleep. Marcelo posted this comment about his experience:

It was about 2 weeks until i discovered the cause. Stress hormones were a river on my body! I was living on cortisol and adrenaline, because this i could be very active during the day, even with 3 hours of sleep a day! But i was felling crap at night. Then i searched the web to solve this problem, i saw that people often with “high metabolism”, easy stressed, should not be on a regimen that stresses they body: IF + next to zero carb + heavy exercises everyday. Of course!

What i did, to experiment (saw on paleo hacks forum): continued with paleo, but, every night, an hour before bed, ate 5 tablespoons of honey, straight of the spoon. WORKED LIKE A MAGIC!!! Slept well first time in almost 3 weeks sleep deprived!

The Real Problem With Sugar

It is really easy to over-consume foods with sugar. And too many calories, regardless of their source, can lead to weight gain. Many of the foods rich in sugar are engineered for us to eat past satiety. The book The End of Overeating dives deep into this story.

Besides eating too many calories, the calories we consume in sugar can also displace more nutrient-dense calories. So the key to using sugar strategically would be to have just enough to address the stress hormones and for extra energy if you are active. Once those needs are met, sugar is no longer a benefit.

That is where the story ended in my mind until 5 days ago. Then FreeTheAnimal posted The Hormesis Files: Who’s Afraid of Unrefined Sugar? This is an awesome post that explores nutrient-rich sources of sugar such as sugarcane and honey.


Photo by mbeo

Sugar as a Superfood

The FTA post goes into great detail about the nutritional benefits of real food sugar. Real food sugar is loaded with vitamins and minerals. This post has me excited. I have been on Team Sugar since 2012, but I always knew there was a risk if I consumed more sugar than I needed to address stress hormones. Those empty calories could add up and displace nutrients.

Yesterday I purchased a locally produced real honey. I’m really late to the party on this one, but when I was a kid, honey came in a little plastic jar that looked like a bear, which it turns out isn’t really honey. And it didn’t taste that great, so I never bought honey. Well, the honey I got yesterday was outstanding.

My new sugar plan is to use real honey more often in place of processed sugar. This seems like a win-win. Get all the benefits that sugar provides for reducing stress hormones and get it with a naturally nutrient-dense food.


Add yours

  1. Honey’s been a favorite food for so many thousands of years, it always felt like there was more to it than just being empty calories

  2. When I went full hardcore paleo a few years ago (95/5, not 80/20), honey was the only thing I kept in my diet from before. I had long stopped using sugar in my coffee, using honey instead, and when I went full paleo I felt no reason to limit honey; in fact I ate more of it, especially at night time. That might be the one reason why I never felt any of the negative symptoms of chronic law carb paleo.

  3. Stephan Raczak

    Jan 11, 2015 — 6:21 am

    Honey in black coffee – ufff!!! 😉

  4. Hey MAS — You need some of this honey!

    My Uncle made his own when I was growing up. We looked forward to our jars every year.

  5. I like this post! Over the past year I’ve been embracing natural sugar. For example, some days I’ll eat 15+ bananas. I have lost weight and leaned out! I used to think sugar was evil, but it if it’s natural it is not 🙂

  6. This is so timely for me – I’m participating in a fitness challenge and have been working out more often. As this post might have predicted, I’ve recently experienced a decline in sleep quality.

    I used to be in the habit of drinking tea with local honey every night before bed. I’ll be getting back into it tonight. With extra honey 🙂

  7. Trying to micromanage the flight-or-fight system seems like another way to add stress. Cortisol is useful. Stress is good. Careful stressing of the muscular system….and…it gets stronger. Chronic over-stress can be problematic. Certainly….low carb diets…. fad fasting diets…. lots of time spent exercising…..and such ilk that are imagined by physical culturist to be “the way,” most likely hinder overall health.

  8. Nice! I did read that honey hunters often ate the bee larvae in the honeycombs, and so their high honey consumption included some additional protein and fat. Sort of like a bee ice cream 😛

  9. Thanks for the FTA shoutout MAS. As a fellow ectomorph who needs to eat more ice cream, I’m a fan of your blog and I genuinely appreciate the fine work you’ve done here.

    As we showed in the FTA article, the brief oxidative stress one gets from eating unrefined sugars is not only normal, but physiological levels of oxidative stress may in fact be beneficial and promote longevity while trying to avoid or suppress normal levels oxidative stress can be counterproductive.

    Even plants generate oxidative stress from their own sugar metabolisms. This is not a flaw. Sugars and ROS are used for stress signaling to self-regulate metabolism and upregulate endogenous defense mechanisms, like antioxidants. The process is strikingly similar between plants and animals. Insulin signaling in mammals is highly protective against glycation and ROS, so its loss in conditions like diabetes is a major contributor to damage. How do we keep our insulin and sugar signaling functioning normally? Plants may have the answer…

    Plants literally evolved to reach out and acquire the very minerals, and generate the very antioxidants and fibers necessary to keep their own sugar and ROS signaling working properly. For instance, this is why unrefined, whole starches, legumes and grains are extremely rich in metabolic-modulating minerals like manganese, copper and magnesium as well as fibers and antioxidants too.

    This is no accident. High sugar plants evolved to incorporate these compounds into their sugar metabolism cycles and these metabolic cycles are surprisingly similar between plant and animal species. If you take the time, you will find a wealth of information linking diabetes to deficiencies in the very minerals, fibers and antioxidants found in whole unrefined carbohydrates. The evidence is overwhelming. Yet many people miss the connection.

    Over the next few weeks we’ll be working on follow-up posts to the unrefined sugar post, so stay tuned. Lots to cover. But, the gist of it is to favor whole sugars rich in those compounds: raw honey, maple syrup, fruit, dates, figs, potatoes. chocolate, ancient grains (barley, oats, sorghum, quinoa, teff, whole grain rice, buckwheat, kamut, rye, millet, spelt, amaranth, chia, farro… and even whole wheat for those who can tolerate it).


  10. @Duck – Great comment, especially ..

    If you take the time, you will find a wealth of information linking diabetes to deficiencies in the very minerals, fibers and antioxidants found in whole unrefined carbohydrates. The evidence is overwhelming.

    Looking forward to the next unrefined sugar post.