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Nutrition 101: Sugars & Sweeteners

Posted Feb 19 2011 2:41am

{Morning everyone! ‘Tis the weekend! What are your plans for today? The boy and I are off for some indoor rock climbing today. He’s the one afraid of heights, but I’m the one peeing my pants already! But while I put my life in the hands of my boyfriend and some dingy ropes, here’s a post for you to enjoy that I promised to write.}

Pretty please with lots of sugar on it?

Sugar

Let’s get technical: sucrose (sacharose) is a combination of two monosacharides, namely fructose and glucose. This combination is what we use as table sugar.

The sugar we use is white, refined sugar, extracted from the sugarbeet or sugar cane. To get sugar out of the beet (or cane), the beet is dissolved in boiling water, the sugar is cristallized and filtrated. This processing process turns sugar into a calorie dense, nutrient void, chemical, white substance. Just so we’re clear: yes, I think white sugar is the devil, and perhaps as addicting as that other white substance.

Not only is white refined sugar completely void of vitamins and minerals, it also leaches vitamins and minerals from your tissues. Ew! In short, sugar is a chemically engineered product and your body needs to work hard to process and eliminate it, and by doing so your body requests all the help it can get, in the form of your deposited vitamins & minerals. Refined sugar is also highly acidic, and you can read here what consequences this has for your health.

Alternatives: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good

Weep not, there are PLENTY of wonderful sugar alternatives out there that taste awesome are even good for you! I already discussed my favorite at length: Molasses .

Molasses is the by-product of sugar refining. Translation: all the good they suck out of the sugarbeet and does not end up in sugar, ends up in molasses.  Note: buy blackstrap, organic & unsulphered molasses!

Next in line for my favorite sugar alternatives: Sucanat! Sucanat is the abbreviation for Sugar Cane Natural, and is a natural, wholesome product. Sucanat is not refined, it contains all of it’s molasses. It is basically dried sugar cane juice, which is extracted mechanically (and not by heating, refining, filtering, etc). Sucanat also contains vitamins & minerals. Sucanat is a better substitute for table sugar because it is grainy and the taste is similar.

This one remains a bit controversial but is definitely a favorite of mine and I’ll tell you why. Agave nectar (or syrup) is a personal favorite of mine for two reasons: it tastes delish, and it has a super low impact on your blood sugar level. Agave is almost pure fructose, and fructose has a much, much lower effect on blood sugar levels than glucose does. I like this because I like a sweet taste, but I don’t like sugar crashing (especially with my morning breakfast!). The sugars I mentioned above, although healthier than sugar, do have this impact on blood sugar (they are, afterall, sugars). The taste and consistency of Agave can be compared to honey, although I like the taste of agave much much better. Agave is extracted from a giant cactus and thus vegan.

Now for the controversy story. I get it, I really do. Most agave is heated and filtered, thus processed. It isn’t completely stripped of it’s nutritional value though, and I think the benefits at least balance out the bad (and for me outweigh). Also fructose can, indeed, be detrimental to health. If eaten in excess quantities. Agave is about 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar however so you only have to use small quantities. If you don’t use agave all day long, as you shouldn’t do with any sugar, agave is perfectly harmless. Some say agave also still retains some vitamins & minerals but I am unsure of this. Maybe the raw, unfiltered varieties do. I also read from various sources that agave is heated at very low temps, which would indeed harm the nutrients less or not at all. I say: maybe agave has some nutrients left, maybe not, but it tastes yummy nonetheless and doesn’t induce sugarcoma. Hurray!

Stevia is not one of my favorite sweeteners, but it’s a great and above all very popular sweetener nonetheless. Stevia is a sweetener extracted from herbs of the Stevia family, and has a sweetness 300 times that of sugar. Whoa! Needless to say, you should only use around 2-5 drops tops. Stevia had no calories and no impact on bloodsugar, but is not a perfect substitute for sugar. Stevia is sweet, but not really sugar like. When used in too large quantities, it can have a bitter aftertaste. This is actually what put me off when I first tried Stevia. However, now that I am off artificial sweeteners and enjoy a more natural and mild sweetness, I can certainly appreciate Stevia, especially 2 drops in my morning juice to enhance the flavor. Stevia is a perfectly safe and ‘natural’ sweetener.

The Bad

Not everyone will agree with me, but I list honey as a ‘bad’ sweetener. Honey is a natural sweetener which is an advantage I think, but for me that doesn’t outweigh the disadvantages. I do believe raw, organic honey has it’s benefits, health wise.  But most honey isn’t organic, let alone raw. Honey is processed, and loses a lot of it’s otherwise healthful benefits. Honey has a high impact on bloodsugar levels. It also contains more calories than sugar. Traces of pesticides and toxins have been found in (non organic) honey. And lastly, the way honey is ‘collected’ is very animal unfriendly. People are always surprised when they hear I don’t even consume honey. The bees don’t get killed afterall?Right. What, we walk up to them and politely ask if we may take the honey they have worked so hard for? No, in reality we smoke bees out of their hive, killing many bees in the process, and steal the honey they have worked their assess off for. Did you know that one bee only produces 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey per lifetime? Makes you think of the ‘harmless’ collection of honey….

The Ugly

Artificial sweeteners are the bad, the ugly, the nasty. They don’t even deserve their seperate mentions, I am going to cluster them together in to one group: chemical, artificial, dangerous. Some examples: aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, and the brands that make their products out of one or more of these artificial sweeteners: Sweet ‘n Low, Natrena. Equal, Splenda, etc.

Artificial sweeteners are scientifically engineered products, coming from labs. They are hunreds of times sweeter than sugar. Artificial sweeteners are bad for you because the body doesn’t recognise them (doh). So in fact, they are toxins. Also remember that artificial sweeteners, because they are chemicals, are super acidic which can lead to all kinds of health problems . These sweeteners may have no calories and no effect on bloodsugar, they have plenty of other bad consequences.

Did you know it took 23 years for Aspartame to be legally used in the States? All tests came back negative, harmful and dangerous. After 23 years and some big lawsuits Aspartame was finally allowed for consumption in the US, but to date it is still one of the most controversial processes ever. The FDA receives more complaints on Aspartame than any other food or product.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that no calories = good. In fact, because artificial sweeteners have no calories you are prone to use more of them, and more often, and you’ll get addicted to sweetness, which can lead to lesser health and weight gain. Instead, learn to use real sugars sparingly!

What is your preferred sweetener?

Love,

Sabine

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