Sugar is a big problem, and that news isn’t a shock to anyone. Some might say it is actually an epidemic. After all, sugar appears in nearly all foods, some that you would expect, such as soda pop, jams and spreads and breakfast cereals, but some that you wouldn’t expect, such as salad dressing soup and even pasta sauce.
A recent report actually shows that North American’s eat, on average a half of a cup of sugar…every single day. Those amounts are bound to cause problems, but the question becomes, how can you even begin to address the problem if you don’t know where all of this bad stuff is hiding?
The effect of sugar is more or less the same, whether you are consuming loads of white sugar, refined sugar, icing sugar or brown sugar, sugar means a spike in your blood sugar levels once you have consumed it. So one of the most common sugar myths is officially busted, just because if you are consuming sugar that is brown, because you believe it has the illusion of being more earthy or natural, doesn’t mean that it won’t affect your blood sugar levels. And high blood sugar is a common complaint due to the issues it creates with insulin, which can do a number on your health.
Proper balance of blood sugar is very important, and whether the sugar is brown, or white, it is wrecking havoc on your blood sugar levels, which need to be kept in appropriate balance to achieve optimal health.
Not a newcomer to news headlines, too is high fructose corn syrup. This version of the sweet stuff is very inexpensive to manufacture and transport, so it is attractive for monetary purposes. But this stuff is particularly dangerous, because it is linked to not only your standard blood sugar issues, but also obesity, diabetes and fatty liver disease. It can sometimes be shown as glucose/fructose on certain labels, but no matter what it is called on the label, you are best to leave the high fructose corn syrup on the shelf, and spare your health.
Another thing to remember is that every time you consume sugar, not only is your blood sugar negatively affected, but your immune system becomes sluggish which can lead to a whole host of other health problems. When your immune system is lagging it can give bacterial and viral infections a chance to thrive, which opens you up to many other health problems.
Don’t give up the sugar fight, it might appear to be a losing battle of avoidance because of the idea that it is saturated in so many common and uncommon hiding places, but there are other sugar options to sweeten your food so you aren’t depriving yourself either.
With all the dire health effects associated with refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), many wonder what, if anything, is actually safe to use to sweeten your foods and beverages. It’s certainly a good question. You do have to be cautious when choosing an alternative, as many sweeteners that are widely regarded as “healthy” are, in reality, anything but. A previous National Geographic article set out to compare eight different sugar substitutes, which fall into four general categories:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Sugar alcohols
- Natural sweeteners
- Dietary supplements
Sadly lacking from their review are any notations about adverse health effects of many of the sugar substitutes tested. Despite copious scientific evidence of harm, artificial sweeteners, for example, are promoted in the featured article, and by “experts” in general, as safe because they “pass through your body undigested.”
“Aspartame has been found to cause cancer—leukemia, lymphoma, and other tumors—in laboratory animals, and it shouldn’t be in the food supply.” ~ Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson
Aspartame is perhaps the most dangerous of the bunch. At least it’s one of the most widely used and has the most reports of adverse effects. There are also hundreds of scientific studies demonstrating its harmful effects. While marketed to prevent weight gain and/or to promote weight loss, there’s no scientific evidence showing that the use of diet sodas actually lead to weight loss.
On the contrary, studies have repeatedly shown that artificial sweeteners cause greater weight gain than regular sugar. Studies have also repeatedly linked artificial sweeteners with increased hunger. For example, one study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior in 1988 found that intense (no- or low-calorie) sweeteners can produce significant changes in appetite. Of the three sweeteners tested, aspartame produced the most pronounced effects. Scientific evidence shows that aspartame actually worsens insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar.
This is quite the blow for diabetics who obediently follow the recommendation to switch to diet sodas to manage their condition. Unfortunately, in large part due to misleading and deceptive advertising, many doctors and registered nutritionists are still under the illusion that artificial sweeteners are a safe and effective alternative for their diabetic patients.
Artificial sweeteners also appear to cause many of the same health effects associated with high sugar consumption. Most recently, a report published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism highlighted the fact that diet soda drinkers suffer the same exact health problems as those who opt for regular soda, including excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
With artificial sweeteners are out of the picture, let’s look at some all-natural sweeteners. Natural sweeteners such as honey and agave may seem like a healthier choice, but not only are they loaded with fructose, many are also highly processed. In that regard, you’re not gaining a thing. The health effects will be the same, since it’s the fructose that causes the harm.
Sugar alcohols can be identified by the commonality of “ol” at the end of their name, such as xylitol glucitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, glycerol, and lactitol. They’re not as sweet as sugar, and they do contain fewer calories, but they’re not calorie-free. So don’t get confused by the “sugar-free” label on foods containing these sweeteners. As with all foods, you need to carefully read the food labels for calorie and carbohydrate content, regardless of any claims that the food is sugar-free or low-sugar.
One reason that sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar is because they’re not completely absorbed into your body. Because of this, eating too many foods containing sugar alcohols can lead to abdominal gas and diarrhea. Maltitol, a commonly used sugar alcohol, spikes blood sugar almost as much as a starch. In moderation, some sugar alcohols can be a better choice than highly refined sugar, fructose or artificial sweeteners. Xylitol is toxic to dogs and some other animals, so be sure to keep it out of reach of your family pets.
Two of the best sugar substitutes are from the plant kingdom: Stevia and Lo Han Guo (also spelled Luo Han Kuo). Stevia, a highly sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American stevia plant, is sold as a supplement. It’s completely safe in its natural form and can be used to sweeten most dishes and drinks. Lo Han Kuo is another natural sweetener similar to Stevia, but it’s a bit more expensive and harder to find. In China, the Lo Han fruit has been used as a sweetener for centuries, and it’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It received FDA GRAS status in 2009.
A third alternative is to use pure glucose. You can buy pure glucose (dextrose) for about $5-7 per pound. It is only 70 percent as sweet as sucrose, so you’ll end up using a bit more of it for the same amount of sweetness, making it slightly more expensive than regular sugar—but still well worth it for your health as it does not contain any fructose whatsoever. Contrary to fructose, glucose can be used directly by every cell in your body and as such is a far safer sugar alternative.