You’re sweet as sugar, honey bunny, sweety pie… Our kindest terms of endearment for one another refer to our love of all things sweet.
As children, many of us eagerly awaited the best part of any meal, dessert! Some of us even had a “sweet tooth,” or even a full blown sugar addiction.
At the time it didn’t seem like a big deal. The worst I heard was that sugar causes cavities. Now we know that sugar is addictive and can lead to hypoglycemia, diabetes, hyperactivity, anxiety, obesity, and much more.
To make matters worse, ultra-processed high fructose corn syrup has been included in most modern sweet treats. Artificial sweeteners aren’t the solution because they are also toxic for the human body. So, what kind of sugars are preferred?
Eaten in moderation, fruit can be a great way to satisfy those sugar cravings. The problem is that because “fruit is good for you,” people think this means eating a lot of fruit must be really good for them. It still increases blood sugar, therefore can lead to an imbalance.
The best way to maintain healthy blood sugar levels is to eat protein. Most fruit does not work well with protein, as far as digestion is concerned. Though, apples, pears, and bananas do work well with nut and seed butters.
Be careful with bananas, which are many people’s favorite fruit. They should be eaten in moderation due to the huge spike in blood sugar that they create. If you are going to eat a banana, eat half. Also have it with protein, in a smoothie, or with nut butter . They are excellent fuel, and best eaten when activity level is high.
In general, most tropical fruits are very sweet, and should be consumed in very small quantities. Due to the little seeds, berries have a bit of protein and make less of an impact on blood sugar than many other fruits.
Lastly, stay away from dried fruit. When you eat an apricot, you eat an apricot. When eating dried apricots, it’s easy to consume 10 at a time. They seem so small and bite-sized, but they still have the sugar of a whole apricot.
BEWARE OF STEVIA THAT HAS ADDITIVES
Stevia is an herb that is naturally sweet, and it is antioxidant-, vitamin- and mineral-rich. The leaf is ground into a powder and can be found in dried or liquid form at your local health food store. Unlike artificial sweeteners, it does not spike the blood sugar and cause an insulin reaction. Stevia is many times sweeter than sugar, so it is best consumed in small quantities.
In Japan it has been used in diet sodas for decades. Due to the artificial sweetener lobby (USA), for many years stevia was only allowed to be considered a “dietary supplement” and could not be used as an ingredient in food. Now the FDA has approved it under GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status.
This would be cause to rejoice, but there is a darker side. Coca-cola and Cargill Corporation came up with a product called Truvia which contains erythritol (a sugar alcohol), “natural” flavors, and an isolated part of the stevia plant. This should not be confused with the ground whole leaf.
As always is the case with isolated compounds, they don’t have the wisdom of the whole plant.
Legally a whole plant cannot be patented, so they took a part of the plant and threw in some other ingredients, and presto: a patentable, marketable product. It’s too new to determine what the side effects will be, but they are sure to be seen with time.
It’s a shame that a beneficial herb such as stevia could not get approval in this country until large corporations chemically isolated it, and called it something else. Truvia is NOT stevia, so stick to stevia!
DONT BE FOOLED BY ORGANIC
Next, there is a variety of dried organic cane juice products, which are considered by many to be healthy. It is important to remember that these alternatives are still simple sugars.
Rapadura is the best choice in this category. It has been minimally processed, which means the molasses has not been removed, and there are still minerals and fiber in it. The nutrients do allow rapadura to be absorbed slightly less rapidly than more refined sugars. Due to the mineral content it is a grayish-brown color.
In the past, sucanat was the same thing as rapadura, but often it is refined. The darker color is due to molasses being added back in after it has been refined. Turbinado and evaporated cane juice are similar to sucanat.
Honey is an ancient sweetener and widely believed to be healthy due to its vitamin, mineral, and enzyme content. While this is accurate, it is still a simple sugar and should be consumed in moderation. When choosing honey, go for the raw, unfiltered kind. If it’s not raw, it has usually been heated and refined, which destroys the vitamins and enzymes.
FADS ARE NEVER THE ANSWER
Agave nectar is a fructose-based sweetener that is being marketed as a “low glycemic” alternative to sugar because it does not spike blood sugar levels. Yes, technically this is true, but it is still a highly concentrated refined sweetener and should be consumed in moderation.
As is the case with all refined fructose sweeteners, it is difficult for the liver to process, and can raise triglyceride levels (blood fats, markers of heart disease). Much like sucanat, agave used to be unrefined. Once agave experienced a rapid rise in popularity, it became being mass-produced. Be careful when buying agave syrup as many brands have added corn syrup as a cheap filler.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and white sugar are the most damaging sugar products of all (excluding chemically-manufactured artificial sweeteners). HFCS is made from corn and is typically genetically modified. Many chemicals are required to turn corn into syrup. One study even found that HFCS contains mercury.
This sweetener is cheaper than sugar to produce and the farmers get subsidies for growing corn, so it is produced in massive quantities. HFCS is in everything from candy and cookies to ketchup and cereal. In my quest to read all labels, I was stunned to see HFCS on the label of a supposedly unsweetened cereal (Corn Flakes) box at a friend’s house.
HFCS is cheap and it’s everywhere. Due to it being rapidly absorbed by the body, it causes a huge release of insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that is released by the pancreas whenever there is a spike in blood sugar levels. It is essentially a key that unlocks the cells to allow the glucose inside (the cell) to make energy. When there is too much insulin released, the cells become resistant to the insulin and it ends up circulating in the blood. This is known as insulin resistance, and it is the precursor to type II diabetes which has increased dramatically since the introduction of HFCS.
Not any better for us is white sugar. Just like HFCS, it wreaks havoc on the metabolic system. Sugar also suppresses the immune system, and it competes with vitamin C for absorption. The body would much rather have the vitamin C. Sugar creates an acidic environment in the body which can lead to cavities, osteoporosis, arthritis, and cancer.
Fat often gets the blame for heart disease, but sugar causes a spike in triglycerides, a reduction of good cholesterol (HDL), an increase in bad cholesterol (LDL) and homocysteine levels, and reduced serum vitamin E levels, all factors that can contribute to heart disease.
Sugar even contributes to the aging process by causing free-radical damage and damaging collagen. Maybe sugar is not so sweet after all.
Foods you might not think of as sugar but the body does include white flour, white rice, white potatoes. Whole grains, brown rice, and sweet potatoes are better choices because they are complex carbohydrates. This means they are absorbed slowly, and have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar.
GET OFF THE JUNK
There is no perfect sweetener. The taste of sugar has its place, but it’s not the only flavor that we are meant to experience. Our taste buds enjoy a variety of tastes such as bitter, pungent, savory, and sour. So go ahead and have some fruit or the occasional dessert.
The bottom line is that all things sweet should be consumed in moderation!