Three years ago I posted an article All Sugars Are not Equal and now lately I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about sugars and sugar substitutes, so I thought it was time to remind you all that Sugar Isn’t Just Sweet!
Sugar, in all its forms is highly addicting to our brains via our tastebuds. Sugar is in so many foods naturally (like all fruit), and then for some reason our commercial food industry has decided to add in more sugar — probably because it makes us crave the items more and therefore boosts their sales. As any annoying example I cite regularly, several American producers feel the need to ADD refined sugar (or even worse High Fructose Corn Syrup) into their apple sauce or apple juice. It’s apples for goodness sake – it’s already sweet!
The real problem is that so many people are unaware of just how much sugar they’re ingesting (or allowing their children to consume) and further, they don’t understand why sugar is so bad for our bodies. It’s simple, sugar — ESPECIALLY REFINED SUGAR — attacks our immune systems, increases high cholesterol, causes systemic inflammation, confuses our metabolisms and therefore stores as fat (i.e., weight gain) and pushes our blood systems towards diabetes.
To combat only two of the above-listed issues, once again commercial food entities diddled-about in their labs and came up with sugar substitutes that were “lo-calorie” and safer for diabetics. Unfortunately, a whole slew of other issues came about with some of these subsitutes, the least of which is cancer. In case you’re still confused about refined sugar vs. sugar substitues vs. natural sugars, here’s a quick recap:
There’s table 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). This 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 it’s 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)
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 three(Stevia, Xylitol and Coconut) come from plants and are less offensive than any other choice of sweetener (real or artificial), but they still put SUGAR into the body.
Other sweeteners like honey, agave, and maple syrup are “safer” to some esxtent, but the issue still remains that our bodies can really only handle so many grams of sugar per day before our systems are negatively affected. (Remember even alcohol turns into sugar in our bodies.) Even Raw Sugar is better than refined, but you’re still left with one important issue: 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).
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. The American Medical Association suggests no more than 25 grams of sugar per day (which equals 6 teaspoons). 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 salad, your sandwich? Refer to the chart below to see just how many teaspoons of sugar (1 cube = 1 teaspoon) are actually lurking in some of our foods. Six teaspoons is VERY easy to achieve and quickly surpass in your daily nutrition, even if you believe you eat “healthy.”
So take a hard look at what you eat and know how much of any substance you’re consuming, whether it be sugar, sodium, etc. Keep a balanced diet, and try to keep your sugars (in all their forms) to a moderately low level.
Today I wanted to clear up a bit of nutrition confusion. There are two types of “substitutes” when it comes to food, one is good, one is not. Good substitutes help you cut saturated fats, sugars, and processed chemicals in place of healthier choices that still taste great (or at least do not alter the taste significantly). Bad substitutes take out food choices that society has inappropriately deemed “bad” and offered man-made, chemically altered choices that are, in actuality, worse for you. Herein I will try to dispel fact from fiction and clarify which substitutes you should take advantage of.
All synthetic sweeteners: Splenda, Sweet ‘n Low, Saccharine, etc. Yes, they are lower in calories, and maybe better in avoiding tooth decay, but they are created in such a chemically treated way that your body simply doesn’t know what to do with the ingredients (except to possibly turn excessive amounts into cancer cells).
GMO foods: Ah those lovely commercials from the American Corn Growers telling us that corn syrup is as harmless as maple syrup. Well let’s see, first you take corn that has been genetically modified to grow bigger and faster (same is done with our wheat and soy), then you heat it and break it down into a sugary syrup that has no nutritional value, and because of they way it is handled from lab to kitchen, your body once again finds it to be a foreign matter that after a while, your system will attack.
“Low Fat”, “Lite,” “Skinny” brands: these tend to have an overabundance of sugar (or sugar substitutes) and salts, added in to make these less “fat” foods still taste good.
Vegetarian Products featuring “textured vegetable protein”: take GMO wheat-gluten, and processed GMO soy and you’ve got textured vegetable protein. Here’s a link that will tell you a little more about this scary new food source. Textured Vegetable Protein
Applesauce: when baking, all-natural applesauce (one with NO sugar added of any kind) will allow you to remove fatty oil while still maintaining moisture content. This will also allow you to reduce (or remove) any “refined sugar” involved in the recipe.
Avocado: forget the mayo on your sandwich – avocado is NOT a bad fat like you’ve been taught. It is full of vitamins, minerals, and a small amount of protein. Avocado replaces the creaminess of mayonnaise, without the saturated fat issues.
Organic Plain Fat Free Greek Yogurt: once again, when you need to have a creamy base (for dressings or sour cream replacements), yogurt is your way to go. High in calcium and protein, free of saturated fat and sugars. If you need to sweeten it, you can use honey, coconut sugar, real maple syrup, etc.
Coconut products: coconut sugar and coconut oil are fabulous substitutions for sugars and oils, keeping your glycemic index low (essential for diabetics), no saturated fat, and a lower burning point than Olive Oil (so you can cook with them at a higher temperature).
Quinoa & Quinoa Pasta: with more flavor and protein, and no gluten, Quinoa and Quinoa Pasta are great substitutes for white rice and traditional pasta. They also have no processed carbs that will turn into excess sugars in your system.
Lemon instead of Salt: Need a natural taste bud accent that is full of vitamin C and will not affect your high-blood pressure? Lemon’s the ingredient for all of you who need to watch your sodium intake!
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Now these are just a few substitutes that are on the top of my list (and always in my fridge/pantry). Below is a link with more food substitution advice, and a chart with healthy baking substitution suggestions. http://greatist.com/health/83-healthy-recipe-substitutions
Keep in mind that you might have to experiment with your favorite recipes before you get the taste exactly to your liking, but have fun, be brave and in the end you’ll be eating healthier choices, while still having your comfort foods.