In naming this post many might have easily gone with "The Evils Of Sugar Consumption" or "Sugar Makes You Stupid", but my belief about sugar may be a little different than most. I think it's ridiculous to preach the no sugar word as it will be forever prevalent in our world and is a huge part of our culture. None the less it still deserves to be addressed with a word of caution. Sugar comes in many different varieties and forms each with its own unique set of traits and consequences. It's a hot topic for those wanting to achieve greater levels of health and lasting fat loss while not having to give up those sugary treats that we love most. I hope to shed some light as to the good, bad and the very ugly so that you can feel a bit more prepared when your sugar craving hits.
Sugar At Its Worst
Before we go further I do want to point out some of the known consequences of over consuming sugar in all its forms. Some of these may look familiar while others may be new to you.
- One teaspoon of sugar has been shown to suppress the immune system for up to 2 hours by disabling the effect of white blood cells.
- Sugar can create greater amounts of cell damaging free radicals.
- Sugar reduces HDL, the "good" cholesterol
- Cancer cells have been shown to feed on sugar.
- Sugar as an addictive substance.
Types Of Sugar
Sugar has such a bad rap as depicted by the studies above but I'm not certain we should avoid it altogether. In fact, I'm almost certain we need it from time to time. We will all choose sweet foods every so often so use this list to help inform your purchase or cooking decisions to the best of your ability.
Fruit is often a topic of controversy regarding its consumption for sustainable weight loss and health. Some say from an evolutionary perspective it was never or rarely eaten. Others claim times when it was the primary source of nutrition. I believe it can have a solid place in any diet assuming you figure out what works for you. Being that it has varying levels of fructose, fiber and other nutrients the effects on blood sugar are also varying. Above all I recommend choosing organic when possible to eliminate any potential deterrent to lasting health and longevity.
Raw honey is the concentrated nectar of flowers that comes straight from the extractor; it is the only unheated, pure, unpasteurized, unprocessed honey. Loaded with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes it provides us with quick energy without the insulin high other sugars give. One of the lower on the glycemic index its balance of fructose and dextrose is even ideal for those who don't tolerate fructose well.
Unfortunately most honey is mass produced using mechanisms of process and extraction leaving all the of beneficial elements denatured or nonexistent. Most are pasteurized via heat treatment killing many of the vital microorganisms and enzymes that otherwise would make it such a great sugar choice.
Stick to honey in your region by finding a farmer near you who produces their own. Studies show consuming honey with the pollen of your zip code has many health providing benefits including naturally boosting immunity and reducing severity of common allergies.
If you can't go local, try this
Maple syrup is the refined sap from the maple tree. Its ratio of fructose to dextrose is slightly different than that of raw honey and contains less fructose rendering it higher on the glycemic index. Nutritionally it contains potassium, calcium, manganese and zinc. It also has trace amounts of certain amino acids which contributes to its unique flavor. Grade B syrup has a stronger more maple flavor but not necessarily nutritionally different than Grade A. I always recommend organic over non-organic unless it's produced locally.
Don't be fooled by maple syrup wannabes. If you're like me you grew up on this stuff not knowing the potential detriments of high fructose corn syrup, which is what most are composed of.
Can't find a good source? This is another great TT product.
A new and upcoming sugar substitute coconut sugar is one of my personal favorites but I've recently started questioning its sustainability. The sugar is cultivated from the flower that would otherwise become a coconut and provide oils, creams and meat. Due to harvest before it reaches that point it makes other coconut products even that much more rare and therefore expensive. If you'd like to try it know its higher sucrose content along with its low gylemic index (in the 30's close to honey) and nutrient profile make it a good option.
DATES AND DATE SUGAR
Dates are a very popular component of the raw vegan and vegetarian lifestyle. They are typically dried, enhancing the concentration of sweetness and are added to everything from smoothies to sauces. I love dates and use them often but realize that they are extremely high on the glycemic index scale. They are noted for having large amounts of essential minerals like potassium, iron, zinc and for having many cancer eliminating properties. They can be found in bulk at most health food stores.
Other notable sugar alternatives that I have personally used
Brown Rice Syrup
THOSE TO AVOID
There is no shame on my part in recommending avoidance of the below sugars. They are down right nasty in their effects on the body and are the ones that have shown to have many of the horrible studied side effects noted in the section at the top of this page. I see virtually no benefit to having them in any diet and elimination of these will only improve your health.
A few years back a huge push was made for people to switch to this then highly esteemed sweetener. It was claimed to be extremely low glycemic and a good choice for those wanting natural options. Unfortunately these claims never lived up to its reputation. Real agave nectar cannot be purchased in a jar as it would be way too expensive to produce. The agave that is sold is not actually even from the flower but the root of the plant making it more similar to corn and rice. As a matter of fact its processing renders it even closer to high fructose corn syrup. To read more about agave and how it's produced check out this informative article from the Weston A Price Foundation.
Don't be fooled by the claim of it being a "real" food. In actuality there is nothing real about it. It's the very end process of dehydrated sugar cane and is stripped of all its nutrients. Being that it has such a high sucrose content with no nutrients its effective on blood glucose is well document.
"The rapidity with which sucrose raises blood glucose can cause problems for people suffering from defective glucose metabolism, such as persons with hypoglycemia or diabetes mellitus. Sucrose can contribute to the development of metabolic syndrome. In an experiment with rats that were fed a diet one-third of which was sucrose, the sucrose first elevated blood levels of triglycerides, which induced visceral fat and ultimately resulted in insulin resistance. Another study found that rats fed sucrose-rich diets developed high triglycerides, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance." (wikipedia)
A better table sugar option is sucanat which tastes nothing like the white powder we are accustomed to. Its processing pails in comparison therefore retaining many of the nutrients found in sugarcane.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
Produced from corn and corn starch it undergoes a process which converts much of the initial glucose to fructose. The end result leaves HFCS as a ingredient behind many negative health effects. Much of it's detrimental effect comes from its higher than normal fructose content which has lasting consequences on everything from cholesterol and heart disease to weight gain and diabetes. I could go on and on about the downside of HFCS but will save it. If you'd like to learn more about this cheap ingredient added in large amounts to processed foods go here.
CORN AND GLUCOSE SYRUP
Typically derived from either corn or potatoes and rice this commonly used commercial sweetener in foods such as candies and sauces has absolutely no nutritional value and contributes to an immediate rise in blood sugar.
Obviously not all sugars are created equal. My advice when choosing is to pick those with the most nutritional bang per serving. Obviously fruit has a higher antioxidant rating including other vitamins and minerals, followed by sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and coconut. Above all experiment with the different variations to come up with which ones work best for you and your body. By using this info I promise you'll never miss white table sugar or HFCS again.