Posts tagged Gentle Nutrition
In Defence of Cookies: Why Sugar is Not a Drug

With the sheer amount of fear-mongering inspired by the unicorn frappuccino, I figured it was far time to set the record straight. While I love pure maple syrup and local honey, my kind of cookie includes some kind of sugar. And though there’s much to be said for “natural sweeteners,” I think we often forget sugar is a natural sweetener, too, sourced from the stems of sugar cane or the roots of sugar beets. 

Health experts are generally quick to criminalize sugar. Sugar is “bad”, sugar “causes obesity” or “leads to obesity”, sugar makes us fat, sugar gives us various diseases and leads to metabolic syndrome, sugar is the devil, sugar is a drug. And though sugar isn’t exactly a vegetable, there’s no reason why kale can’t co-exist with real, fresh-out-of-the-oven oatmeal cookies. 

Intuitive eating | Health at Every Size | Anti-Diet. In Defence of Cookies - why sugar is not a drug.


Pour Some Sugar On Me, Baby: Sugar and Survival

An article published in the European Journal of Nutrition back in 2016 reviewed the current literature on sugar addiction and the addictive potential of sugar, concluding that sugar does not, in fact, operate like cocaine. I’m exploring this study today and what it means for cookie lovers everywhere.

But first, I want to draw your attention to a little snippet from a book by the name of Sugar: A Global History: “Sweet foods cause the taste buds to release neurotransmitters that light up the brain’s pleasure centres. The brain responds by producing endo-cannabinoids, which increase appetite. This may have an evolutionary explanation…40 per cent of the calories in breast milk come from lactose, a disaccharide sugar that is readily metabolized into glucose, the body’s basic fuel. The sweetness leads infants to eat more, making them more likely to survive.” (7.)

Yes, loves. Sugar’s not all bad. It has actually contributed to the survival of our species. But we don’t need gobs of it, you argue. Sure. But I would also argue (with supportive evidence) that if we simply allowed ourselves to eat it, we would eat only what we wanted (and not feel powerless around it), develop resilience in the face of hyper-palatable foods, and learn how to balance it with other foods.

The fruit was never the problem; it was the fact that it was forbidden

“But I’m addicted to sugar!”: Food Addiction Theory

Once upon a time, someone — let’s call her Eve, since we’re already there — mentioned she was addicted to sugar. “I can’t resist the apple,” she said. Okay, so she didn’t actually say that, but let’s pretend a donut is an apple is a donut. While the food addiction theory claims “excessive consumption of palatable foods may be understood within the same neurobiological framework as drug addiction”, this isn’t actually all that helpful. 

Of course it would appear this way on the surface, but you could also say we’re only repeating the pattern you’d expect from us — the same one we learned in childhood (see: baby and breast milk). The same one that keeps us alive. As Linda Bacon explains in Health at Every Size, the more we restrict food intake and the lower our weight dips below set-point, the more our bodies reach out for hyper-caloric foods to gain the weight back. I would argue it's less addiction and more straight-up physiology. 

In Obesity Reviews (14 - 19-28), the question of whether food addiction theory is a valid or useful concept was evaluated by researchers. Food addiction, according to them, “has acquired much currency with relatively little supporting evidence. Despite continuing uncertainty about the concept and relative lack of support, it has remarkable, and in our view, unjustified, influence in developing neurobiological models of obesity."

We Need Sugar Detoxes...Because Sugar Detoxes Exist

The intuitive eating model advocates that all foods fit — including sugar. By giving ourselves unconditional permission to eat, challenging the food police, making peace with food, and honouring our hunger and fullness cues (including ‘taste hunger’, ‘meal hunger’, and ‘snack hunger’), we can cultivate a healthy relationship with food. 

This particular article (the one from the European Journal of Nutrition) found “little evidence to support sugar addiction in humans, and findings from the animal literature suggest that addiction-like behaviours, such as bingeing, occur only in the context of intermittent access to sugar (emphasis mine). These behaviours likely arise from intermittent access to sweet tasting or highly palatable foods, not the neurochemical effects of sugar”. 

So let’s unpack this a bit. 

Say we have two situations. 

Betty Anne deprives herself of sugar, though she wouldn’t describe it this way. She’d probably say things like, “I don’t keep sweets in the house” or “I shouldn’t” in response to a cookie, or she uses artificial sweeteners and always opts for diet soda. She feels “out of control” whenever she’s around sugar and has concluded that she is addicted. 

Keiko eats whatever she wants, including cookies, candy, and pastries. She looks forward to sitting down with a croissant and a coffee on a Saturday morning, having a cookie with her mid-afternoon cup of tea, and a great glass of lemonade. 

Keiko eats sugar. Maybe she eats sweet foods often. Who knows? What we do know is that Keiko doesn’t feel like she needs a “sugar detox.” She doesn’t view sugar as a problem needing to be solved; she views sweets as a beautiful and amazing part of life. She can take a cookie or leave it. She can enjoy a croissant or a soft-boiled egg. It's just one choice among millions of choices she'll make during the course of her lifetime. 

Betty Anne is another story. She feels like she has a problem with sugar because whenever she gets around it, she loses “control”, or what I prefer to call “choice.” She probably assumes there’s something wrong with sugar, though more likely she assumes there’s something wrong with herself. The one thing she probably hasn’t considered is that there’s something wrong with her pattern of behaviour

Keiko enjoys sugar regularly without emotional or physical restriction. Betty Anne restricts. In the article, the rats wanted more sugar because they were deprived of sugar (intermittent access) though the same couldn’t be said of the rats who carried an all-access pass

Which kid eats more cookies: the one who’s told to eat as many as s/he/their wants, or the one who’s told not to eat any and is subsequently left alone with a jar? 

I’d like to suggest that the problem is not that sugar is a drug. The problem is that we treat sugar like a drug. The problem is not sugar. The problem is our relationship to sugar.  

We deprive ourselves of it, restrict it, shame ourselves for eating it, tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” when faced with a slice of cheesecake, deny dessert, and go on sugar detoxes. But the reason we “need” sugar detoxes is because we have sugar detoxes. Are we hardwired for hyper palatable foods? Sure. But the purpose of this mechanism is — rather, was — to ensure we consume sufficient calories for lean times. 

Maybe the answer rests in not denying or fighting this mechanism — a seemingly futile task — but in learning how to work with it. 

Imagine a faux Garden of Eden. There’s a single tree with one beautiful, perfect apple. I want you to imagine more trees popping up everywhere — the fields are filling. Everywhere, buds burst open, flowers emerge, and apples quickly form. Everywhere you look, there’s gorgeous apples. 

Now let’s apply this to sweets. Imagine a land filled with cookies, cakes, pastries, pie…all of your favourites. You can eat them whenever you want. Maybe you go a little nuts at first; it’s been so long since you’ve had these things. But after a while you tire of them. Maybe you eat a croissant on a Saturday. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you eat a mid-afternoon cookie. Maybe you work right through the break without realizing it. 

You can either restrict food and access to highly palatable foods…or you can create an environment of abundance — both mental and physical — vs. scarcity — both mental and physical — so that you feel safe and secure. 

Maybe the goal isn’t to deny our biology or to attempt to combat it. Maybe the goal isn’t to say no (which just leads to danger, danger, danger — eat all the sugar!). Maybe it’s to remind yourself you have unconditional permission to eat. 


The Anti-Diet Guide to Enjoying Vegetables

For every person touting the benefits of green smoothies, there’s a kid out there —  the last at the dinner table — forcing themselves to eat sad, steamed cruciferous vegetables. 

Maybe you eat salads because you were told to. Or you begrudgingly tell yourself you actually like vegetables as you choke down another bite of bok choy. 

Maybe you never imagined it could be any different. 


…Rummaging through the fridge in search of arugula.

…Sliding your knife through a roasted cabbage coated with tahini, decorated with parsley and pomegranate aerils. 

…Folding grated, summer fresh zucchini into a chocolate to make a loaf cake. 

…Enjoying a bowl of oatmeal, mixed with carrots, raisins, ginger, brown sugar, and cinnamon. 

Though I spent my early days as a nutritionist handing out vegetable prescriptions the way my grandmother might candy, I’ve since drastically changed my approach. 

Intuitive eating, body positive, flexible eating, anti-diet, health at every size, anti-diet movement, balanced diet, holistic nutrition, toronto nutritionist, ways to eat vegetables, creative vegetable recipes. The anti-diet guide to enjoying vegetables.


After running through the same routine ad nauseum, I couldn’t help but wonder: what if I simply encouraged people to experiment with and derive more satisfaction from vegetables, as opposed to guilting them into filling their plates with kale salads and cooked cabbage?

What if I taught them how to make vegetables taste delicious instead of infantilizing them with arbitrary guidelines?

What if I encouraged people to consume vegetables as a relevant, meaningful part of the meal, as opposed to a side dish rendered necessary by threats of heart disease, high cholesterol, and impending doom? 

Because vegetables are sold to us as virtuous little gems of nutrition that we simply must be eating if we care at all about our health, they really run the show in the diet world. Eat all the raw vegetables you want! Celery is a zero calorie food!

When you allow your senses to dictate your food choices (and prioritize the satisfaction factor), vegetables can prove as delicious and fulfilling as a bowl of salt and vinegar potato chips. Let me show you the way. 

1 | Drizzle a sauce, dressing, or vinaigrette over top. 

Who says you’ve gotta eat those veggies plain? There’s so many delicious sauces out there to help your veg-lovin’ cause. 

Some of my favourites include: 

  • Peanut sauce (or sub another nut, such as macadamia or almond), especially over spaghetti squash, with broccoli, and in a Thai-style salad. Peanut sauce also makes an excellent accompaniment to summer rolls filled with fresh vegetables.

  • Vinaigrettes of all kinds. I like mine very acidic, so I tend to go higher on the vinegar or citrus juice. These work well with steamed, grilled, or boiled vegetables (think potato salads, grilled peppers, streamed broccoli, boiled green beans), but are really good on…anything. This is a quick and relatively economical way to really brighten a simple vegetable dish.

  • Pesto. Think pasta with pesto tossed with sautéed vegetables, scrambled eggs with pesto and spinach, or as a dip for raw vegetables.

  • Ranch, caesar, and other creamy dressings. There’s dairy-based and vegan versions - I’ve yet to meet one I haven’t liked. I love dipping raw vegetables into a great dip, biting into a fantastically crispy bowl of caesar salad, or trying a delicious creamy dressing flecked with dill and other herbs.

  • Hummus is one of my staples. In fact, I always know it’s time to head out for groceries when I’m out. There’s so many varieties to choose from; I’m personally a big fan of anything olive or spicy. Awesome with cooked or raw vegetables, as a topping to a roasted sweet potato, or added to ‘bowl meals’ (see below.)


Spaghetti squash noodle bowl with lime peanut sauce via The First Mess. 

Tofu and broccoli salad with peanut dressing via The Kitchn.

Roasted vegetables with tahini sauce via The Healthy Maven. 

Veggie noodle bowl with teriyaki sauce via Oh She Glows.

Vegetables with Balinese Gado Gado via My New Roots. 

2 | Roast away, baby. 

Roasting concentrates the sugars, and lends natural sweetness and complexity to vegetables. I personally find winter vegetables are best roasted (think cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage, root vegetables like beets and carrots, and winter squash like acorn or butternut), but peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and others are delicious here, too. Bonus: add a sauce to your roasted vegetables for over-the-top flavour. 


Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Skhug via My New Roots. 

20 Recipes for Roasted Vegetables via The Kitchn.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup via The Healthy Maven. 

The Best Roasted Vegetables Ever via The Wednesday Chef. 

Roasted Carrots with Sweet Tahini Drizzle via Nutrition Stripped. 

3 | Try “bowl food.”

I feel as though bowl food was first (officially) popularized by Sara Forte of The Sprouted Kitchen. I’m a big fan of meals served in bowls. For one thing, bowl food has that instant comfort food factor by virtue of being served in a comforting vessel (you know, the one that also holds ice cream, soup, and stews.) It also gives you the opportunity to mix several flavours, textures, and sauces, and to use up any leftovers or remaining ingredients before grocery shopping. 


Lemongrass Tofu Bowls via The Sprouted Kitchen. 

Bean Bowl with Poached Eggs via The Sprouted Kitchen. 

How to Build a Better Meal in a Bowl via Food52 and Sara Forte. 

Chickpea Taco Bowl via Food52. 

Chickpea Vegetable Bowl with Peanut Dressing via Food52. 

4 | Turn them into fun shapes.

While the spiralizer is commonly referred to as an ‘orthorexic tool’ by some members of the intuitive eating community, I’m personally a big fan. For one thing, spiralizers are amazingly fun — and a big part of restoring your intuitive eater instincts encourages bringing play into mealtime. Secondly, spiralizers make vegetable preparation a cinch. I enjoy a salad made by spiralized cucumber and jicama, tossed with thinly sliced mango and dressed with lime juice, salt, and chili powder. 


Sweet Potato Pad Thai via The Healthy Maven. 

Cucumber Noodle Salad with Avocado Dill Dressing via The Healthy Maven. 

7 Things You Can Make with a Spiralizer via Prevention. 

Crispy Baked Curly Fries via The Healthy Maven. 

Chicken Pho with Zucchini Noodles via The Healthy Maven. 

Spiralizer Greek Salad via A Pinch of Healthy. 

5 | Top with cheese and butter. 

I’ve heard so many clients mention how they would eat more vegetables…if only they could slather them in butter and cheese. There’s nothing wrong with this! Butter (and cheese, for that matter) actually help to improve absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K ) and some minerals like calcium. 


Mixed Vegetables in Cheese Sauce via Taste

Cheesy Vegetable Bake via Simply Delicious. 

Autumn Root Vegetable Gratin via Food52. 

6 | Transform into a sauce.

Sauces are one of my favourite ways to include vegetables. They're easy to whip up and tend to add a lot of flavour to foods. 


Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese via Gena Hamshaw for Food52. 

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce via Nutrition Stripped. 

Thick and chunky tomato sauce (technically a fruit, but y'know) via Oh She Glows. 

7 | Stuff 'em. 

I love stuffed vegetables -- especially come summer when the market overflows with peppers and zucchini. They're usually filling, immensely satisfying, and filled with nutrition (which does matter, even if taste takes precedence in my books!) Here's a few options, though the sky really is the limit in this area. 


Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers via Taste of Home. 

66 Savory Stuffed Vegetable Recipes via Oh My Veggies. 

9 Veggie Boats via Greatist.

Vegetable Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms via Taste Love Nourish.  

Zucchini Pizza Boats via Food Hero. 

What's your favourite way to enjoy vegetables? Are you looking forward to making any of the above? Share with us in the comments below!