These days there seems to be a lot of options when it comes to sweetening our food. As a fitness professional I’m often asked which “sugar substitutes are okay.” But the reality is that the sugar is clearly misunderstood by most people. Let’s start with the obvious:
There’s Sugar – white refined sugar that we all grew up with, and it’s subsidiaries of powdered sugar and brown sugar (refined white sugar with molasses added) comes from the sugar cane plant and/or sugar beets plant. Like all sweet plants (fruits and vegetables), it has a sweetness to it that we have labeled as SUGAR. The Sugar Cane is not a bad plant. But the process we have developed to refine that sweetness is bad.
The term “refining” means to remove by a purification process, certain coarseness or impurities. Sugar refining is the process of extracting out the sugar (sucrose) from the plant materials and then removing other unwanted materials from the extracted raw sugar. These substances can include remaining stalk fibers, soil, insect parts, molds, bacteria and waxes.
The refined white sugar product is now over 99.9% sucrose and for all practical purposes contains no nutritional elements such as vitamins, minerals, proteins or fibers. What is left consists of pure, refined carbohydrates that the body cannot utilize. Worse yet, refined sugar drains and leaches the body of precious vitamins and minerals through the demand its digestion, detoxification and elimination makes upon one’s entire system.
With Refined Sugar being seen as the enemy we began to create foods labeled as “sugar-free.” Here is where one of the first misunderstandings comes in. They are NOT sugar free. They are refined sugar-free. These “sugar-free” foods usually contain one of the following sugar substitutes:
- NutraSweet or Equal (aspartame)
- Splenda (Sucralose)
- Saccharin or Sweet N Low (benzoic sulfilimine)
The first three are man-made chemical products, praised for having no calories, but criticized (rightfully so) for being so foreign to the body that they offer no benefit, and in fact can be very harmful. The last two (Stevia and Xylitol), do come from plants and are less offensive than any other choice of sweetener (real or artificial), but they still put SUGAR into the body.
For you see, sugar occurs in more substances than most people realize. Fruit turns into sugar in our bodies. Honey, agave and maple syrups, alcohol – they all turn into sugar in our bodies. Therein lies the problem. Too much sugar – of any type – in our blood streams is bad. Worse yet for those with allergies, diabetes or autoimmune diseases (such as MS). A chronic frustrating head-scratcher to me has been why America feels the need to put sugar into apple sauce or apple juice. It’s apples for goodness sake – it’s already sweet!
I would be remise if I did not discuss the dreaded High Fructose Corn Syrup. High-fructose corn syrup is a common sweetener in sodas and fruit-flavored drinks, derived from corn, and refined and over processed to point of being poisonous. As use of high-fructose corn syrup has increased, so have levels of obesity and related health problems, leading some to wonder if there’s a connection. Research has shown that high-fructose corn syrup is chemically similar to table sugar. Controversy exists, however, about whether or not the body handles high-fructose corn syrup differently than table sugar.
The bottom line is that too much of any kind of sugar can contribute unwanted calories that are linked to health problems, such as weight gain, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and high triglyceride levels (All of which boost your risk of heart disease) and sugar also aggravates any “itis’s” (arthritis, bursitis) as well as auto-immune and nervous system disorders such as MS.
So the real question you need to pose to yourself in regards to your nutritional health, is how much SUGAR should you eat per day. In other words, the maximum number of grams of sugar in any shape or form. My friend who is successfully beating back her MS diagnosis by being aggressively strict with her diet cannot ingest more than about 40 grams of sugar in a day. Take a day and count your grams of sugar. Did you know there are 19 grams of sugar in a medium-sized apple? There are 40 grams of sugar in a can of Coke! How many grams are in your latte, your fruit salad, your Chinese Chicken Salad.
I know some people who are so anti-sugar substitutes, they feel better about having a spoonful of Raw Sugar (unrefined sugar cane or sugar beets) than any other option. They might not be wrong in this thought process. For in the end it all comes down to moderation. Know what you eat and what it does inside your body. Make education choices, and don’t over-do it on anything, but try to put little to none chemically processed food in your body!