Sugar and cigarettes. Same same, but different.

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I spent a month in Thailand a few years ago and I remember something the locals used to say all the time: “same same, but different”.

I took it to mean there are fundamentally more similarities than differences, even though on the surface those differences might seem more blatant.

To me, this applies to sugar and cigarettes. They are “same same, but different,” the similarities too powerful to ignore.

You all know by now that I’ve got a thing with sugar. I’m not a hard-ass who doesn’t enjoy the odd sweet treat when the occasion arises, but I see clients in my office every single day who are struggling with the ill-effects of sugar.

For example:

  • it controls their behavior
  • it gives them headaches
  • it inhibits their productivity and makes them cloudy-minded
  • it drives them crazy with cravings
  • it makes them feel insatiable
  • it makes them overweight
  • it contributes to digestive distress
  • it starts them down the path of hypoglycemia, then insulin resistance, and, if left unchecked, to diabetes
  • it shuts down their immune system
  • it creates wild spikes and crashes in their energy levels or, worse, it takes away all their get-up-and-go leaving them dependant on some kind of chemical boost to get through their day

I could go on, but you get the point. When we take sugar out of their diet, amazing things happen. Most, if not all, of the above issues resolve themselves completely.

So what does this have to do with cigarettes?

Well, as a soon-to-be new mom, I’m looking sugar in the face and frankly, I’m scared.

Ice Cream Already we’re being teased by other parents. “Good luck keeping sugar away from her!” “Just you wait ‘til she goes to school.” “Why would you deprive your kid of treats?”

What disturbs me most about these comments is the general consensus that it’s not a big deal and we’re making too much of it.

But I ask you: If we were to substitute cigarettes for sugar, would the reaction be the same? If your daughter went to her friends’ 5th birthday party and they handed out smokes instead of cake, would it be treated so blithely?

No. It would be horror, shock, and a violent reaction against anyone who would commit such an atrocity.

But then, what’s so different about sugar?

Hear me out:

We don’t want our children smoking cigarettes because they are addictive and undeniably linked to serious, often fatal, health issues down the road. Cigarettes rot our teeth and feed cancer. And, once upon a time, there was no consensus that cigarettes actually were this damaging – those who pointed out their ill-effects were mocked and dismissed as ridiculous.

And so, sugar.

It’s addictive. There is no denying sugar’s addictive qualities. Ask anyone who’s tried to eliminate it from their diet for a period of time. It can drive you out of your mind with want and need. Studies have compared its addictive qualities to alcohol and other drugs.

It’s undeniably linked to serious, often fatal, health issues down the road. Witness the obesity epidemic, the rapidly increasing rates of diabetes in the population at large and more disturbingly, in children. Heart disease, stroke, and cancer have all been linked to sugar consumption.

Sugar rots our teeth. ‘nuff said.

Sugar feeds cancer. For one, it’s highly acidifying and cancer loves an acidic environment. For another, glucose is cancer’s preferred fuel.
Sugar and Cigarettes |

And here we sit at a time where there’s no consensus that sugar actually is this damaging. Those who point out its ill-effects are often mocked and dismissed as ridiculous. Worse, when it comes to keeping kids away from sugar, parents are accused of denying their children some inalienable birthright.

Perhaps the biggest difference between sugar and cigarettes is that you can be harmed by second-hand smoke, but thus far I’m unaware of the dangers of second-hand sugar. Although the pressure and emotional stress caused by eating sugar in front of someone who’s abstaining can’t be ignored.

Otherwise, the difference between sugar and cigarettes is in social stigma (there is none about sugar… yet), availability (unlimited), and ubiquity (it’s in everything, from your meatballs to your salad dressing, not just the hot fudge sundae you had for dessert).

What do we do with this?

Honestly, I don’t know. I wish I did. I like to have clear answers and next steps in these posts, but I admit I’m stumped on this one. And it scares the sh*t out of me.

Do I be a hard-assed mom or do I contribute to the epidemic? What would you do? How do we, as a culture, make sugar as taboo – especially for our children – as cigarettes?


  1. Shanda


    Hi Margaret,

    I am right there with you on the sugar. I have four children (11, 9, 7, and 7), and they know how I feel about sugar. I don’t bake, cook, or buy products made with refined sugars or HFCS. I make almost everything from scratch. So, the sugars eaten at home are minimal and mostly from fruit. But, at school/church/parties/sports snacks/etc. it is very difficult. My children are not allowed to have soda at any time and they are all aware of that. I am amazed that it is given out at school!!! That is so outrageous to me, it is like giving them poison. I allow them to have the snacks when out, but keep the portions minimal and limit it the rest of the day. At Halloween and Easter we allow the kids to choose a certain number of pieces and buy the rest of their candy from them. We don’t allow any sugar before soccer games and have talked about performance issues. My children have watched other kids eat ice-cream cones, cookies, gummy worms, etc. at soccer tournaments, certain adults believe this “sugar high” enhances performance.

    We have really worked to educate our children on the whys. When they are given the options when out and they ask for permission, we remind them of the health benefits to abstaining, but give them the option. As they get older they abstain more and more.

    It is really difficult when it feels like it is you against the world.

    PS–After reading your book and looking at your website I researched the NTA and enrolled for the program this fall. I hope to take your business program when I finish the NTA program as well. Thanks for all the information.

  2. I kept bowls of candy out when I raised my son because I had a business in my home with clients coming in and out all day long. I was also addicted to sugar and ate it all day, everyday. The interesting thing I discovered was because the candy was available to my son he was not that interested. I’m not saying that he didn’t have candy, but because he could it wasn’t that big of a deal to him. On he other hand, when his friends would come and visit, they would stand in front of the candy and devour all of it until the bowl was empty – almost like the forbidden fruit. It seemed to me that they were not allowed to eat candy at home and it created a cause and effect. Because they were forbidden their brains said they had to have it, causing an addiction. Now that could just be a boy thing – not sure. I only had one son.

    Now for me as a child. Because my childhood was so painful and I hated my mom’s cooking. I rarely ate. In fact, all I ate was candy and drank soda and skinny as a rail. And yes, it rotted out all of my teeth. In fact, I have had to replace them three times now in my life. Sugar was a way of escaping and comfort to me. And it was only a couple of years ago that I decided to stop eating it. I am 61 years old and still crave it, but I definitely have it under control and I am grateful.

  3. Paul-Andre Panon


    Hi Margaret,

    When I was an ankle-biter, I was apparently pretty hyper. Our family doctor recommended cutting out sugar and that’s what my parents did, apart for some rare exceptions like the odd Christmas candy cane. As a bonus, it seems to set a baseline for your taste buds so that nowadays I find most prepared treats and cakes excessively, even cloyingly, sweet (even some 70% chocolate).

    While away on an intensive course a few years ago and needing some prepared meals to eat while studying in the evening, I was astounded by how even the so-called “healthy” options had sugar as the fourth or higher ingredient. That said there are some exceptions. While I wa make my own vinegrette, I discovered Brianna’s salad dressing a few years back. They’re not perfect, bt decent in a pinch and sugar isn’t on the ingredient list.

    Cheers,often make my own often make my

  4. Paul-Andre Panon


    Woops. Browser failure and I had to type blind. That last part should have been

    While I often make my own often make my, I discovered Brianna’s salad dressings a few years back. They’re not perfect but decent in a pinch (like on dance convention trips) and for most like their French Vinaigrette, no form of sugar is in the ingredient list.


  5. Nancy


    It is a fine line I think. My parents did a great job of raising us in an environment that limited a lot of crap, and this was in the 80s. We had our own cow (fresh raw milk and butter). My mom was raised on a very sugary diet, her brother died from diabetes and she was hypoglycemic. My dad was raised on a farm, so he also understood nutrition. When they started to have children, their number 1 thing was nutrition. We got our beef from a local rancher, a whole years worth of it. They made everything from scratch. Molasses bread, carrot cookies, homemade pancakes, lasagnas…the list could go on. When I went through your Sugar cleanse, I realized just how amazing they were at raising us…for instance, we always ate breakfast: we would allowed to leave the house without eating…seriously, we had many a fight over this one…there were times where I would hide my Italian sausage in the milk and say I had ‘eaten it’ We usually had eggs, bacon, oatmeal, nothing was every boxed or processed. All made from scratch. When we came home from school…there was usually a healthy snack waiting for u: apple with either cheese or pb. We had very little money, yet our parents made it work. There were 4 of us and we were all athletes too, so we were eating a ton of calories/day! If we had pancakes, real butter and less than a Tblsp of real maple syrup was provided for us. Honestly, if we wanted to eat a lot of pancakes, we had to make the syrup last. We were never allowed to have fruit juice (unless made at home) or pop/soda. For special occasions (birthday) we were able to pick what we wanted for breakfast (usually boxed cereal, my fav at the time was Berry Berry Kix) I remember my mom also had a strong support system around when we were little in regards to other mothers that did the same. They all helped with childcare, they all knew each others health guidelines….There was support, even if someone disagreed. I am soooo thankful for this, once I started to live on my own, I realized how much different we were from everyone else, not to be ‘better’ just different. Those habits and nutritional guidelines carried with me through college (I made my own food in the dorm, which was probably illegal :)) and now living on my own. I could go on and on about what they did for us in regards to health, but I will say now; after going through your 14 day cleanse…I got a bit addicted to sugar. I am grateful to not have any health issues so going through this cleanse was actually really difficult for me, b/c I am able to eat “anything” Yet I enjoyed it. I am much more aware now and really want to integrate a bit more ‘control’ over all the food I eat. Have to get back to my roots! 🙂 In regards to raising your little one: Follow your gut. The best thing we can do for our children is educate them, involve them and help them understand why certain things are bad for them…when someone wants to give them candy, they will politely say no. If they have some and try it, talk to them about it. We have to involve the little ones, they are so much more intelligent that we can even believe. There might be disagreements as your little one gets older, but there is a method to your madness…and its not to say there aren’t times where ‘going crazy’ is ok….it just can’t become a habit. Especially with all the crap that is in food these days, we have to be really conscious and really aware of what we are bringing into our home and bodies.

  6. Jennifer


    Don’t be too scared — you don’ t have to choose one or the other (be a hard-ass mom or contribute to the epidemic). My 3yo has a healthy relationship with sugar (so far), which is to say that she has a healthy relationship with food. We follow the “division of responsibility” guideline which says that the parent’s job is to provide healthy foods, and the child’s job is to decide whether, and how much, to eat. We don’t use food as reward, we don’t dangle dessert as a prize for eating dinner, we don’t ask her to “have one more bite, for me?”
    As she has gotten older and more verbal, we talk about healthy foods as “growing foods” so that we can avoid labeling foods as “good for you” and “bad for you.” She knows that she needs “growing foods” in order to grow (and what kid doesn’t want to grow?) and that other foods are okay once in a while.

  7. Leslie


    My kids–at 12 and 16–are pretty well nourished and have very little taste for sweets. They will sometimes taste the junk handed out at school and at parties, and a little bite is enough for them to know that it doesn’t taste good enough for them to continue eating it! In this case, they didn’t need me to tell them, “This is JUNK!”

    As Karen Kubeck said above, I do think that there is something attractive about the forbidden…so for me what worked is a combination of spreading the idea of “healthy foods” vs “treat foods” and making sure that my kids were eating enough healthy foods that the treat foods were not so attractive. A sugar addiction, after all, is a sign that a body is lacking some essential nutrients–in addition to consuming too much junk.

    What amazes me is what passes for “health food” these days!

    Thanks for the post!

    • Hi all! Thanks for your fabulous insights and comments. Some great discussion and ideas here! Seems like what’s most important in your experience is the balance, making sure to educate the kids, and giving them a lot of control over their decisions (while also making sure they’re truly nourished so not needing/craving the junk). Such great contributions. Thank you!

  8. TwinMaSeattle


    It can be tricky, teeter-tottering between being a health-conscious uptight mom & giving the kids’ choices when it comes to junk food. (Incidentally, my beef is not just with sugar, but with refined grain products — the ubiquity of animal crackers & goldfish is disturbing, and i’ve seen kids who were previously calm become hyperactive after downing organic refined crackers.) I agree with the above posts that the main point is educating your children and giving them choices (providing them with more and more control as they mature). We have always allowed our kids to try samples at grocery stores and cakes/candies at parties (but don’t let them get seconds), always focusing on good nutrition at home. Desert, when we serve it, is usually a small bowl of fruit/berries, with the occasional teaspoon of ice cream on top. When we make homemade (wholegrain + flax seed) pancakes, the topping is a large bowl of berries with a tiny splash of maple syrup.

    My daughters (both 8) surprise me sometimes with how much they have internalized my opinions and preferences. One daughter seemed so terrified of soda earlier this year, it actually worried us! We decided to coax her to try a sip once, so she’d know what it was and understand it was not forbidden, just discouraged, and know why.

    To help them learn to self-regulate in the face of junk food, lately we gave each child their own small treat jar, where they can store their favorite pieces of candy (such as those Halloween or Valentine’s treats they didn’t choose to sell back to us). We told them they didn’t have to ask us whether it was alright to take a treat from their jar — it’s theirs, and up to them to decide how/when to eat it (within reason). I recently checked and saw that one daughter’s jar still had a fair amount.

    To address the fact most kids eat a whole host of junk food my daughters have never been exposed to, we’ve also recently initiated a new-moon tasting ritual, where the kids get to choose one food item they’ve heard about but never tried before, and we’ll share it on the new moon. (This month’s choice was chocolate pudding, something one of their friends eats at school almost every day for lunch, and which my daughters had never once tasted.)

    The important part, in my opinion, is that my children understand the reasons for and internalize the preference for good-for-you foods. Berries disappear in our house much faster than candy does, so i think they’re on the right track.

    Good luck to you! I’m sure that in no time your little one will be eschewing the candy jar for favorite fruit.

  9. lindsey


    thank you so much for this article- I am only 14 and in all literacy addicted to sugar! I try to stop eating it and my parents ridicule me for it, but sometimes it’s practically impossible to stop. I completely agree- sugar & cigarettes: “same same, but different”. also, could you give me any advice to help me stop? Thank you kindly<3

    • Hi Lindsey – stopping sugar can be a bit of a trick, but it’s totally possible. To start, make sure you’re getting plenty of the key nutrients: lots of good veggies, protein, and fats. Sugar cravings can often be a sign of protein/fat deficiency in particular. We actually have a program for detoxing the body from sugar here: That might be a good support for you. Keep us posted on how you’re doing! ~Margaret

  10. Perri


    There is no doubt that it is better to eat a diet rich in fresh vegetables and fruit, and healthy proteins. But few things are “all bad” or “all good”. Glucose isn’t just the preferred food of cancer cells. Glucose one of the main energy sources for the entire body. Your brain runs on glucose. When refined sugar was first introduced, it was considered a medicine. It was used to calm coughs, as a pain reliever, and a sedative. Neonatal Intensive Care Units give sugar-water to preemies undergoing painful procedures to help keep them calm (ruling out a placebo effect); hospitals give sugar lollipops to children getting IV’s placed for the same reason. Meta analyses of psychological research found that if sugar impacts children’s behavior at all, it is a sedative, not a stimulant. It is still important to limit refined sugar and flour, as they are high in calories and low in nutrients.

  11. Perri


    The parenting issue around food requires some navigation. Anything you make taboo becomes highly desirable and a point of conflict. The way we manage it is to keep healthy foods easily available and plentiful at home. I occasionally buy things my kids (now teens) ask for -mostly when they have friends over- but they’re not generally available. If they want those things (usually chips and Cheetos) they have to spent their own money and get it themselves. When they were little, if it was cupcakes and cookies at school, I wouldn’t say anything about it; we just didn’t have it at home. But then, my kids had treats at home that other kids did not – like fresh-baked bread. They still like “junk”, but they are at least adventuresome eaters. It’s easier to control what they eat while they are very young. The more time they are away from you, the less control you have.

  12. Nysha



    This is a great post. I have a young child, and was the protective food mom for the first few years of her life. HFCS, processed food, junk, never graced the lips of my beautiful baby! Enter the Pre-school years. Prepare yourself for the shock. I think I had a disgusted/shocked look on my face the first few months of her school life. I viewed what was being served as snack (a highly educated-parent driven co-op btw) Birthday treats that will make your head spin (think Ralph’s brand cupcakes with crazy 3 inch frosting, Candy bars, Vitamin water *yes for a 3 year old snack day) I could go on and on. (To the point, I almost considered not having her go) The deal is, Jennifer above said it perfectly. You do not have to really be one or the other. At our house we talk about interesting choices, growing food (good one) not putting any label of good or bad on something–those “foods” are everywhere. We live on a planet that is inundated with junk.

    We expose her to lovely food on a daily basis. We radiate health and wonderful organic food at home, (I own an organic culinary nursery and design studio–so she is around vegetables growing out in her very own garden, and people coming to my studio who are craving how to grow their own food) and I hope that it starts working out in the wash when she becomes able to make choices on her own. (I do not consider a cupcake put on a plate in front of her at preschool a real choice) I am more interested with the Psychology of Eating (Marc David) and how we navigate our choices based on how we feel. We are helping her have a loving relationship with not only food, but herself also. You will do perfectly! I am sure of it!

  13. Susan E Roth


    I raised my daughter sugar free and there just one simple thing i would say when people would ask if she could have just ONE cookie- “NO! Sorry, My child is highly allergic to many different things, and most baked goods, candies contain them, even if they are home made. She will get really sick if she eats that. ” In my case, my daughter did have severe food allergies at one point and was allergic to dyes and food coloring, so I was telling the truth. I am sick of trying to teach people not to eat sugar, unless they are ready to listen, and the ones trying to shove sweets down your kid’s throat are not ready.
    Do have alternatives for her at parties, and maybe make something yummy for Her birthday at school when those times come.

  14. Faith


    Interesting comparison. My youngest daughter has a thing about sugar. She doesn’t eat well bcuz she sleeps in and tends to eat sugary foods and she is overweight. I believe that if she eliminated the sugary foods, she would lose the weight and maybe won’t have so much sleep issues.

  15. April Graves


    I love that you make the comparison between cigarettes and sugar, as I have been addicted to both. Many years ago i quit smoking. I was very difficult, but not as difficult as quitting sugar. I am currently trying to cut sugar out of my diet, and I am finding it even more difficult than cigarettes.
    I usually only eat natural sugars, and eat mostly Paleo. I have been having Candida issues which is the reason for cutting out the sugar. Since I believe there are many people that are taking notice of what is put in our food, maybe we can change the “ideas” that people have about sugar. It is terrible for you, and can cause many health problems (like you stated in your article). I guess all we can do is try to educate one person at a time. Thanks for the informative article.

  16. Mason Hubbard


    YOu bring up an interesting point. “Second hand sugar”. I notice (this article isn’t on second hand smoke of course, that’s been my main suffering) that, when I sitting in a room adjacent to a chainsmoker, I PEE more often!! It’s true. Why is that interesting? It’s interesting because you also pee more with diabetes (I’m not saying it gives you diabetes), but from some surfing the web just before this article, one serious study showed cigs have up around 20% sugar content! wow. What made me even start to look for that??? Answer: Because the SICKENINGLY sweet smell (almost getting worse than the smoke itself) of the second hand smoke. I knew they tweak components to make them maximally addictive (in any and every way), so great point! Yes, all of us have experienced how “addictive” sugar can be. It’s just another psychological/physical addiction they hook you on (and why, supposedly, you get food cravings afterwards (in addition to the hypothalamic suppression to eat when you’re on the drug). So what am I saying here? Well, I think that not only is there a ton of sugar in cigarettes, but it “feeds” off of, or is a natural exdtension of, the processed food industry…I mean are addiction to foods with more high fructose corn syrup for example. We “expect” it…and, so, perhaps what USED to be considered (I’m just imagining) ridiculously sweet smelling cigs are now somewhat standard. But what shocked me is that I was able to get all the way to this point (researching and writing this) from JUST saying to myself: that smells SICKENINGLY sweet AND (being a nurse), I know that peeing a lot can be a sign of too much sugar in the system (not just diabetes but insulin resistance, ie getting fat etc). But there’s something even more serious, I think (than my points I mean), which is that, in second hand smoke exposure, we’re exposed to the same 7000 or so chemicals and, they say, about 250 toxins and carcinogens. The medical research shows that some of the carcinogenic agents show up in the urine….so I was just thinking (as I’m peeing more & more) how much of that is my body trying to dilute the toxin (the same logic behind polyurea or peeing a lot in diabetes). It’s scary, and I think governments and also private labs and researchers should look into these 2 issues: 1. Do we pee more from SHS exposure? 2. If so, why? Is it the “second hand” sugar exposure (for sure that’s one of the chemicals coming off!) AND/OR is it the toxic metabolites we pee out after being exposed. Dangerous stuff. Thought-provoking article. Thank you.

  17. Mason Hubbard


    …remember, too, sidestream smoke is more dangerous than mainstream smoke. That means second hand smoke exposure is far more serious coming from the non-inhaled cigarette that’s just sitting there and hasn’t yet been filtered by either the cigarette filter or that “smoker’s” lungs…something to think about. More legislation is necessary, and I mean world wide, esp in USA, esp in the southeast where I live. More and more countries are doing the right thing. America’s moving way too slowly. I can’t speak for other countries. I’m sure people are suffering everywhere. Don’t forget the 20-30% increased risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention the increased risk of lung cancer from second hand smoke. In a WAY, the sweeteners and menthol can kind of help non-smokers by giving them (yet another raunchy) smell to recognize… and avoid…don’t think: oh, it smells sweet, it can’t be that bad for you. It’s poison. Even worse for people who live next to, above/below smokers. But, for me, I “use” the sweet smell as an “indicator” or “proxy” for the smoke…in fact, after a while, you can tell who’s smoking what if you have 3 neighbors that smoke around you, just by the same, same but different…let’s remember, though, and be honest with ourselves, it’s not just the sugar content that’s unique between brands. Not that there’s anything funny about any of this, but remember the marlboro or L&M candy that came in a cigarette box that was pure sugar?? Amazing we used to get those sometimes. All the obvious implications there. But, to me, for now, my focus is the actual known medical risks of second hand smoke. There cannot be enough education in this area. Thanks again.

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