Just a Spoon Full of Sugar Helps the Medicine... Wait, what?!
Believe me, I could talk about sugar for days. There is a whole side and aspect of sugar in how it interacts with the brain with addiction, the habits we create from when and why we eat it, etc. However, I will leave this topic for another day. For now, I want you to gain an understanding of the different types of sugars that are out there, and a general understanding of how our bodies digest them.
One take home message from this article should be that sugar is not unhealthy for us. If consumed appropriately and in moderation it serves as a source of glucose to our bodies that we need for energy and brain function. Many forms of sugar or sweeteners also are accompanied by other important nutrients.
Over time the food industry has tried to find other ways for us to enjoy sugar and sweets by using less of a sweetener to obtain a sesired amount of sweetness (thus less calories), avoiding it triggering reward centers of our brains (thus avoiding the addiction and cravings), or finding “healthier” alternatives. There are three major forms of sugar used today: natural sugars, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Let’s take a look at them.
Natural Sugar: Refined sugar, stevia, maple syrup, molasses, and honey
Honey: With a composition ratio of glucose to fructose ratio similar to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), it’s flavor is often mimicked in processed foods with HFCS(1). However, unlike HFCS, honey has many health benefits.
Regular consumption can enhance antioxidant defense in healthy adults (2), as well as supplying vitamin C and increasing other immune defense substances in the body (3). Using raw local honey can also assist with seasonal allergy sensitivities.
If choosing which honey to purchase, I’d recommend raw honey, and locally grown (you can usually find this at a local farmers market) to be sure that all of the enzymes and nutrients have been preserved and not damaged by heat.
Stevia: It’s good, it’s bad, it’s good, it’s bad...which is it?!
There has been a considerable amount of debate about Stevia, and whether or not it is safe to eat. Stevia has almost no calories, and has shown in many studies to help control insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar in humans and rats, which ultimately is very beneficial for those who need assistance controlling diabetes (4, 5). It appears at the moment that Stevia is a safe sweetener; especially for those with blood sugar controls issues or want a non-caloric sweetener.
Maple Syrup and Molasses:
Both of these sweeteners contain many other nutrients such as calcium, zinc and iron, and are made primarily of sucrose, with smaller amounts of glucose and fructose (6). We all know maple syrup comes from trees, and molasses is simply a sticky by-product from refining sugarcane or sugar beets into sugar. Both are safe, and natural choices for sugar alternatives.
Refined sugars: primarily sucrose (table sugar)
Refined sugar simply means that the sugar underwent a process to remove any impurities and colors. Molasses is a by-product of sugar refining. Though, refined sounds bad, it simply means that the sugar went from raw and was stripped down to a more pure state of sugar. There is no reason to be afraid of refined or raw sugars.
Artificial Sweeteners: Do they cause CANCER?!?!!!
At the moment, there have been several studies on the risk of artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet) leading to cancer. One study, which looked at a large network of case-controlled studies that evaluated the possibility of different types of cancer linked to sweeteners conducted between 1991-2004 (7). The conclusion was that there was a lack of association between artificial sweeteners and the risk of cancer.
Many artificial sugar companies are or were owned by major food producers, such as Monsanto. My theory on this “lack of association” is that big food businesses have the money to conduct studies to make their products appear safe. The current evidence of artificial sweeteners may be politically skewed.
Studies have shown that consuming artificial sweeteners will stimulate the reward centers of the brain just as natural sugar can, and maybe even heighten the reward response.
All in all, I would look at artificial sweeteners as something to be consumed with caution or avoided until proven safe or unsafe. Keep in mind that artificial sweeteners are used in foods and beverages that are supposed to be avoided to stay healthy (sodas, candy, fruit juices, snacks, etc). The use of an artificial sweetener should help you to second guess whether or not you should be consuming the food or beverage in the first place, independent of if it was made with natural or artificial sugar.
Sugar Alcohols: Xylitol, Sorbitol, and Erythritol.
Sugar alcohols have a low calorie content and low glycemic index, which is beneficial for those who are watching calories. Based off of research, which there is not as extensive research on the toxicity of sugar alcohols as there is for artificial sweeteners, it is generally accepted that sugar alcohols are safe. At the moment, there is no significant evidence that sugar alcohols cause an insulin response or blood glucose spike, which is another perk. Xylitol can be beneficial for preventing tooth decay as well. Beware, that many people have a sensitivity to sugar alcohols, and cause gas, bloating or even diarrhea. So eat, or chew products with sugar alcohols with caution. If you choose to use toothpaste that contains xylitol, which can be very therapeutic for your dental health, be sure to spit out all of the toothpaste, and avoid swallowing as much as possible. This problem is more common in young children.
This is a great review on much of the information that I just covered on sugar alcohols: http://chriskresser.com/are-xylitol-sorbitol-and-other-sugar-alcohols-safe-replacements-for-sugar
There is much to consider when eating different types of sugars. The most important factor to note is if the sugar you are consuming is replacing calories, or adding on top of them. As in, is the sugar you are consuming adding to your daily intake of calories or to the amount glucose you want for the benefit of your body, or is it extra calories? When considering foods or beverages with artificial or non-natural sugars, take a second look at the product before you consume it and ask yourself: "Is putting this in my body really worth it? With the unclear and conflicting information about non-natural sugars, is putting this in my body worth the gamble in the long run?"
Finally: Don't think avoiding sugars is the way to go! Enjoy the sweetness every now and then! Indulgence is allowed if you know your limits of self-regulation. Remember, indulgence or satisfying a craving can be accomplished with sweet natural foods such as berries, or cherries, pineapple, mango, or even 75% or greater cacao dark chocolate. Get creative, and don’t always settle for the cookie.
One last thing! Remember that when reading food labels the sugar listed are only natural sugars, whether they are added or not. So sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugars) and lactose (dairy sugar) will be added to the daily serving percentage, but other sugars are not! So artificial sugars, and sugar alcohols are NOT added to the daily sugar grams per serving.
Ok…I’m done :)
Post By: Vanessa Nordin, CFSV Lifesyle Coach