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How Sugar is Killing Us -A Guide to Natural Sweeteners

Posted Oct 21 2012 1:46pm

guide to natural sweeteners

In my opinion, eating refined sugars is like smoking cigarettes; science has proven that it’s killing us and yet people continue to do it. Why? Well, similar to smoking, the answer is three-fold: physical habit, chemical addiction and perhaps, lack of education.

First off,  many people are just creatures of habit.  Their grandmothers used it, their mothers used it and so they use it.  The truth is, a lot of people are just not inclined to find out why they do the things they do, and so they just continue to act out of habit or tradition; even if it is actually killing them.  For most, it is just easier to pull out the tub of white sugar, open grandma’s recipe and continue on the way they have always done. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil…right?

The second aspect to this refined sugar nonsense is the chemical or physiological addiction that many people in today’s society have to sugar.  Studies have shown that when taken in excessive amounts (more than 3-4g per day), refined sugar can lead to cravings and addictions, quite similar to those with alcohol and tobacco. It is these addictive properties of sugar that major companies count on, to keep people “hooked” on their products. Keep in mind that this tactic is also widely used by underground drug dealers.  Although refined sugar is still currently classified as a food, it has no nutritional value and recent research has proven that “under select dietary circumstances, sugar can have effects similar to a drug of abuse”(Rada, Avena & Hoebel, 2005).  As Jason Vale says in the ‘Hungry For Change’ film, “it’s illegal to give a child cigarettes and alcohol, and so it should be, but it’s not illegal to give them white refined sugar or refined fats.”  We need to remember that just because something is not illegal, doesn’t mean that it’s safe for us to consume.  The only way that we can take better care of our own bodies and those of our children is to educate ourselves about what we are eating.

Many people believe that since they have always eaten refined sugars, they can’t be that bad.   But let’s not forget that there was a time, in the not so distant past, when people thought that smoking wasn’t bad for you either.  So what is it that is just so awful about refined sweeteners?  Well sugarcane itself, is not actually bad for you at all.  In fact, the indigenous peoples of Latin America have been chewing on this cane for hundreds of years and have some of the best teeth in the world.  So what’s the problem?

The detrimental effects of sugar begin primarily with the refining process. When sugar is refined, it is separated from all of its naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, heated to cause crystallization and then bleached pure white.  The problem with this stripping of nutrients, is that when the body processes food, it expects that certain vitamins, minerals and enzymes will be associated with the glucose molecules in order to allow it to carry out its normal digestive processes and regular bodily functions.  When these vital nutrients are taken out of the equation, a few major problems occur:

1. In order to digest and utilize the sugar (glucose) the body will have to “steal” the nutrients it needs to carry out these functions.  So it takes them from the only place that it has access to -itself.  Common sites include bones, teeth, joint tissues, nails and hair.  For example, osteoporosis is primarily caused by the body robbing calcium from it’s bones when it is not getting enough from the diet.  This robbing results in porous and therefore brittle, bones.

2. The body normally extracts energy (glucose) from its food through the process of digestion.  That is, as it breaks apart food particles into individual, usable nutrients, energy is released and either used immediately or stored for later use.  This process results in glucose (sugar) being released slowly into the bloodstream and utilized as efficiently as possible by the body.  However, when refined sugar is consumed, there are no nutrients attached to it for the body to breakdown. This, in turn results in an immediate rush of glucose molecules into the bloodstream.  In order to combat this huge spike in blood sugar levels, the body secretes high amounts of insulin to help re-balance the body.  This sugar-insulin battle within the body eventually leads to Type 2 Diabetes.

3. The sudden rush of sugar to the bloodstream also solicits a stress response from the body, kicking the adrenal glands (our fight of flight organs) into action.  The adrenals put the body into panic mode and signal a secretion of cortisol which leads to any excess energy being stored as fat for later use.

4.Unless you are running a marathon, the body cannot use such a huge rush of sugar in the body fast enough, which in turn leads to it being stored as fat, followed soon after by a major energy crash.

5. The body begins a cycle of inner starvation. In many cases, obesity does not signal an excess of nutrition but rather malnutrition.

But don’t panic, the answer to this is quite simple. Eat real, whole foods with their vitamins and minerals in tact.  That includes sweets.  Although I advocate eating a low sugar diet, we all need treats once in a while.  So when you get a craving for something sweet, step out of your habit of reaching for the white sugar and mom’s recipe book and try substituting foods that are naturally sweet and packed full of nutrients instead. Your body will thank you.

Here is my guide to the best natural sweeteners, how to use them and why they make the cut….

Applesauce (or other fruit purees)

In my opinion the best way to sweeten anything is with real, whole fruits, and nothing lends itself better to the task than unsweetened applesauce.  Apples are naturally sweet, full of soluble fibre and are packed with host of healthy nutrients.

The fibre contained in apples is called pectin, which is a soluble, fermentable and viscous fibre.  These qualities give pectin a huge list of health benefits including: improved colon function,  lowered cholesterol, reduced blood sugar swings, weight control, alleviating haemorrhoids and lessened symptoms associated with irritable bowl syndrome.

Apples are among the 15 most antioxidant rich foods.  Antioxidants help combat free radical damage which can lead to all forms of cancer.  Recent studies have found that the antioxidant quercetin, found in red apples, can help boost and fortify your immune system, especially when you’re stressed out.

‘Scientists from the American Association for Cancer Research, among others, agree that the consumption of flavonol-rich apples could help reduce your risk of developing pancreatic cancer by up to 23 per cent. Researchers at Cornell University have identified several compounds—triterpenoids—in apple peel that have potent anti-growth activities against cancer cells in the liver, colon and breast. Their earlier research found that extracts from whole apples can reduce the number and size of mammary tumours in rats. Meanwhile, the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. has recommended a high fibre intake to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.’ (from:, 10-12- 2012)

The best way to get the most benefits out of apple or any fruit purees is to make your own out of organic fruits.  You can choose to make it the traditional way on the stovetop, or just puree apples in your food processor for an enzyme rich raw version.  If you must buy it,  make sure it is organic, of the unsweetened variety and doesn’t contain any unhealthy preservatives.

Check out these recipes that use applesauce as a sweetener: Grain free Banana Cupcakes, Gluten free Apple Spice Bundt Cake

Coconut Syrup

Coconut Sugar or Syrup is made from the sap of a Coconut Palm.  Coconut sugar is different in taste, texture and manufacture methods from palm sugar, which is made from the sap in the stems of the Palmyra palm, the date palm, the sugar date palm, the sago palm or the sugar palm.

Unlike maple syrup or agave syrup,  freshly gathered coconut tree sap does not require high heat processing to produce, as it is already inherently sweet tasting by nature.  The nutrient-rich coconut sap comes right out of the tree naturally abundant in 17 Amino Acids (the building blocks of protein), broad-spectrum B Vitamins (especially rich in Inositol, known for its effectiveness on depression, high cholesterol, inflammation, and diabetes), Vitamin C, Minerals (high in Potassium, essential for electrolyte balance, regulating high blood pressure, and sugar metabolism), as well as FOS (a prebiotic that promotes digestive health). Pure coconut syrup also boasts a perfectly neutral pH.

The Glycemic Index of coconut sugar is 35 and is therefore classified as a low glycemic index food. It can be used as a 1:1 sugar substitute for coffee, tea, baking, and cooking. Coconut sugar can be used as a sugar substitute that is considered safe for diabetics.

Recipes that use Coconut Sugar: Coconut Whipped Cream , Raw Chocolate Mousse


A naturally sweet fruit with a myriad of health benefits.  The caloric energy of dates is offset by their high fibre, vitamin and mineral content, which helps to slow sugar absorption in the bloodstream.

Diabetes researchers have shown that dates have a low glycemic impact. This means that eating dates alone, or with a meal, may help people with type-2 diabetes manage their blood sugar and blood fat levels.

All dates, fresh or dried, contain different types of antioxidants. Fresh dates contain anthocyanidins and carotenoids, while dried dates contain polyphenols – just like green tea. Antioxidants help fight free radical damage in the body that can lead to various forms of cancer.

A standard serving of five or six dates provides about 80 milligrams of magnesium, an essential mineral that helps dilate blood vessels, helps with calcium absorption and elevates your mood.

One dried date provides nearly 140 milligrams of potassium.  Research shows that bone loss in post-menopausal women with osteopenia can be reduced by increasing intake of potassium.

Try these Date sweetened recipes: Coconut macaroons , Raw chocolate brownies , Date paste

Lo Han Guo

Luo Han Guo (also called Divine Monk Fruit) is a cousin of the cucumber, and a member of the gourd family of fruits. It’s a round and smooth, dusty green-brown fruit that is covered with fine soft hairs, and a hard but thin shell. The fruit is used only after it is dried, and can be processed into a powder that is naturally rich in mogrosides.

That means that like Stevia, Lo Han Guo tastes sweet but does not actually contain sugar, so it is non glycemic and does not affect blood sugar levels.  Luo Han Guo extract has been clinically proven to speed up the fat burning process without stimulating insulin production.

The British Journal of Nutrition reported on another trial conducted on diabetic rats in March of 2007. This experiment lasted considerably longer (13 weeks). An improvement in insulin response and a reduction in blood sugar were found in the treated rats. There was also evidence of lower amounts of lipid peroxidation (an indication of cell damage) and urinary albumin levels in the rats receiving luo han guo. These changes suggest a protective effect on the kidneys which are sensitive to damage caused by diabetes.

Based on animal studies and its use as a sweetener in Asia for hundreds of years, the completely natural Luo Han Guo extract is safe for diabetics, children, hypoglycemics, and anyone who wants to significantly improve their diet.

Suggested usage is to mix 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon with recipes, tea, yogurt or add to your favorite smoothie.

Lucuma Powder

Lucuma fruit powder has a distinctively sweet and fragrant taste that provides a natural sweetening to desserts without increasing your blood sugar levels, unlike many sweeteners that offer empty calories. A healthy alternative to sugar, lucuma powder may be useful for diabetics and people with other health issues.

Lucuma has been used for centuries in South America for its medicinal properties. The State University of New Jersey reported a study that evaluated the anti-inflammatory effect of lucuma extract on wound healing and skin aging. Results of the trial determined that lucuma significantly increased wound closure and promoted tissue regeneration. The report of the study concluded that lucuma may have anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and skin-repair effects on human skin.

Lucuma Powder has a distinctively sweet fragrance and full-bodied, maple-like taste. A deliciously versatile dessert ingredient, lucuma blends well to make alluring smoothies, puddings, and ice creams, and can also be used as a flour in exotic pies and pastries

Mesquite Meal

Mesquite has been a traditional staple food of indigenous cultures from the arid regions of the Americas for more than 2000 years. Native to South America, the mesquite tree produces large seed-filled pods, which are collected, ground into a delicious flour, and used in recipes.

Mesquite is of particularly great value to those looking to balance blood sugar levels. Mesquite flour offers a naturally sweet flavor to recipes, but its sugars are derived from fructose (which does not require insulin to digest and is readily metabolized).

Additionally, the flour is an excellent form of fiber – meeting almost a quarter of daily needs in just two tablespoons – which not only improves digestion but further benefits sugar metabolism. Mesquite also contains lysine (an amino acid), as well as notable quantities of digestible protein, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc. Recently, scientists discovered that goats found nibbling on mesquite pods showed an increase in appetite, growth rate, and digestion.

Mesquite Power carries a sweet, smoky flavor that is similar to carob, with caramel undertones. It’s rich taste and aroma pairs well with both vanilla and chocolate, and it lends a delightful maltiness when used in sweet treats.

When used in baking, the mesquite bean flour is used in combination with other flours – substitute ¼ cup-to-½ cup mesquite flour in each cup grain flour. Mesquite bean flour is used in breads, pancakes, muffins, cakes and even cookies.


The species Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as  sweet leaf, sugar leaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves.  The leaves of the stevia plant have 30–45 times the sweetness of sucrose (ordinary table sugar) but without actually containing sugar.

In relation to diabetes, studies have shown stevia to have a revitalizing effect on β-cells of pancreas, improve insulin sensitivity in rats,[54] and possibly even to promote additional insulin production,helping to reverse diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  Stevia consumed before meals significantly reduced postprandial insulin levels compared to both aspartame and sucrose. A 2011 review study concluded that stevia sweeteners would likely benefit diabetic patients. (from:

Although used as a natural sweetener throughout the world for thousands of years, Stevia has been met with significant controversy over the years, thanks to big business.  The FDA banned stevia for a number of years based on an anonymous complaint, that is thought to have been from a large corporation that was unable to find a way to patent the sweetener.  Now that companies like CocaCola and PepsiCo have found ways to chemically isolate the sweet parts of the plant through patented processes (under the names Truvia or PureVia), the FDA has now lifted its ban on Stevia.

For use in recipes, I recommend liquid Stevia extract (I like Sweetleaf -alcohol free) at a ratio of about 4 drops per serving.  Regular recipes will have to be adjusted to account for the difference in volumes between regular sugar and stevia.

Check out these recipes for using Stevia: Coconut Frosting, Candida Diet Cookies

Yacon Syrup

Yacón syrup is a sweetening agent extracted from the tuberous roots of the yacón plant (Smallanthus sonchifolius) indigenous to the Andes mountains.  Yacon syrup is usually made with an evaporator, like the ones used to make maple syrup. The syrup contains up to 50% of FOS (fructooligosacharides) or “pre-biotics”.  The consumption of FOS does not increase blood glucose.

Cultivation of yacon began as long ago as 1200 B.C.!  For generations, this tuber has been consumed to strengthen the immune system and improve the quality of life for those suffering from chronic liver disease, kidney ailments and diabetic symptoms. In Bolivia, yacón roots are eaten by people with diabetes or other digestive and renal disorders. Whereas, in Brazil, the dried leaves are used to make yacón tea, said to be antidiabetic.

In a study by Yoshida et al. (2002), an enzyme solution of yacon was determined to be a better antioxidant than enzyme solutions of potato, mushroom, eggplant and edible burdock.

It has a taste similar to molasses or caramelized sugar and can be substituted 1:1 for other liquid sweeteners in recipes.

The post How Sugar is Killing Us -A Guide to Natural Sweeteners appeared first on The Renegade Kitchen .

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