Back at the coffee-shop, Claire made herself comfortable in the chair across the table from me. Disguising my smile, I took the last sip of coffee; it was cold. “We’ve come a long way since first recognizing the health complications of added-sugar (Borra & Bouchoux, 2009). Research has spent years exploring the imperative effects of simple sugars including high-fructose corn syrup. In fact, we’ve wondered so deep that added-sugars, sometimes found in orange juice, have been recognized to impair immunity to a similar extent as those that are clinically starving (Sanchez et al., 1973).
Although a majority of literature will tell you that limiting sugar is ideal, we need to discuss how plausible it really is in Modern society.” She rolled her eyes at me. “Look. Sugar is everywhere! Refined grains, added sugars, and added fats are inexpensive, good tasting, and convenient (Drewnowski, 2007). Whether we like to admit it or not, in this day-and-age, sugar is almost as hard to escape as the guy who followed you around the bar on the night of your birthday,” and with this memory, we laughed together. After probing further, it was clear that Clare’s intention behind quitting sugar wasn’t to challenge any conspiracy theory, though that would have made great coffee-talk, but to promote weight-loss.

Clare was not to blame. The role of sugar towards weight-loss was a common misconception. Every 10 years or so, the culprit behind rising obesity rates shifted from fats to sugars, and then back again (Drewnowski, 2007). And while studies have shown us that diets high in fat are more likely to result in body fat accumulation than those high in carbohydrates (Hill & Prentice, 1995), consumption of carbohydrates past liver and muscle glycogen stores can replicate the effect of a high fat diet by increasing blood lipid levels. So, maybe reducing refined sugar wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Without thinking, I raised my mug taking another sip of coffee. Forgetting that it was empty, I inhaled from my mouth, and using the roasted smell of the coffee residuals crusted to the sides of the mug I reminisced the taste. My body arched towards Claire. “Basically, increase fruit intake, replace sugary-foods with starch-based foods like wholemeal breads and oats, and use cinnamon,” I advised. But it would appear that the Australian Dietary Guidelines and every nutritional publication had beat me to it – as Claire told me she had tried it all. Then I began to wonder, was the secret to curbing sugar-cravings: sugar itself?

Contrary the effects of sugar to physiological health, sugar doesn’t seem to have a negative impact towards behaviour (Zaalberg & Verkenningen, 2014). Past research has indicated that acts of self-control, whether it’d be: controlling attention, trying not to cuss the slow-walker in front of you (regulating emotion), trying to quit smoking, coping with stress, or not texting your boss a sloppy letter of resignation every Monday morning (resisting impulsivity): uses relatively large amounts of glucose (Gailliot, 2007). Having that said, moments of self-control failures are more likely to occur when glucose is low or cannot be used (Gailliot, 2007). And, perhaps by modulating sugar intake throughout the day we could promote self-control against overindulging in sugary foods.

There is a wealth of knowledge linking the effect of external environmental conditions towards the 24hr changes occurring in one’s metabolism and nutritional status (Johnston, 2014). Particularly highlighted in the literature, the efficiency of the body to store glucose energy appears to increase throughout the day. Where the body stores less  glucose energy in the morning allowing for efficient energy use. By the afternoon, the efficiency of the body to store glucose is slightly increased and glucose energy is used sparingly. In the evening, the body is most efficient in storing glucose energy and uses less for energy – this is also when individuals are likely to fall to the knees of their sugar-craving demons during the evening (Johnston, 2014).


Clare peered down at her phone, watching it as it rang. I could tell by the way her eyes lit up that it was someone special, but she resisted the urge to pick up. “What if, the whole idea was not to limit craved foods, but to be weary of how you can curb them with minimal dietary impact? Manage blood glucose levels by adjusting what you ate throughout the day and towards the end of the night… (Diabetes Forecast, 2017).” Lost within the ambiance of the shop, I could hear Clare’s encouragement – I must’ve been thinking aloud again. Sliding my empty coffee mug to the side of the table, I explained:

  • In the morning: Don’t poke the bear if its sleeping! Start your day with starch based carbohydrates such as wholemeal bread, oats, rice, and legumes.
    Eating an abundance of starch has been suggested to help control sugar-cravings through discouraging excessive consumption of carbohydrates as a food group, because they were found to be the least pleasant of the sugar family (Feigin, Sclafani & Sunday, 1987). But if simple-sugars are a must, include some fruit as part of your healthy breakfast. This must be your best carbohydrate meal as you will be able to use most of it as energy.
  • In the afternoon: You may be beginning to lose concentration – this is a sign of low blood sugar. Enjoy a small sugary-snack and choose something that combines ‘healthy’ foods with added sugars. You can kill two birds with one stone with foods such as a chocolate protein shake, milkshake, flavoured skinny-yogurts, fruit juices, muesli bars, dark chocolate-covered strawberries; even just plain dark chocolate.
  • Towards the evening: If cravings resurface, look to sugars found in foods like yoghurts, or add sugars to sleep-promoting foods, such as a drizzle of honey with cooked oats. By eating sugars before bed, you will retain them for the morning to come and reduce the risk of running into a morning-craving (Diabetes Forecast, 2017).

Clare’s eyes smiled back at me. We both looked to her phone, and it was not long until I asked, “So… who called before?”.

Featuring “Sugar” imagery by Sofie T.
Instagram @sofietee


Borra, S. T. & Bouchoux, A., 2009. Effects of science and the media on consumer perceptions about dietary sugars. The Journal of Nutrition, 139(6): 12145-12185.

Diabetes Forecast, 2017. How can I prevent high blood glucose in the mornings?

Drewnowski, A., 2007. The real contribution of added sugars and fats to obsesity. Epidemiologic Reviews, 29(1): 160-171.

Feigin, M. B., Sclafani, A. & Sunday, S. R., 1987. Species differences in polysaccharide and sugar taste preferences. Neuroscience & Biohavioural reviews, 11(2): 231-240.

Gailliot, M. T., 2007. The physiology of willpower: linking blood glucose to self-control. The society for personality and social psychology, 11(4): 303-327.

Hill, J. O. & Prentice, A. M., 1995. Sugar and body weight regulation. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62(1): 2645-2735.

Johnston, J. D., 2014. Physiological response to food intake throughout the day. Nutrition research reviews, 27(1): 107-118.

Quay, T. A. W., 2011. Common food sources of maltose.

Sanchez, A., Lau, R. H. S., Yahiku, P. Y., Willard, R. E., McMillan, P. J., Cho, S. Y., Magie, A. R. & Register, U. D., 1973. Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 26(11): 1180-1184.

Zaalberg, A. & Verkenningen, J., 2014. Diet and possible applications in the prediction and mofication of behavior, 40(4): 37-53.