Increased consumption of sugar per person over the last century is huge. In 1900 it was seven pounds per person per year and today the average is around 220 pounds. Directly related to the consumption of sugar and simple carbohydrates (which change to sugar in the body) are diseases such as obesity, hypoglycemia, and diabetes. Indirectly related are many forms of under-nutrition, since sugars too often replace nutritious food in the diet, and a reduction in bone density, since the body releases minerals from the bones when sugar is in the blood, in order to correct the acid/alkaline balance. Sugar also has a very bad effect on the immune system, so it’s especially important to avoid it when ill.
Typical sweeteners, included in processed food as well as added to food by consumers or used in cooking and baking, may be divided into four basic types:
- Sugars that have been refined from a natural plant to the point where they contain few or no nutrients. These include commercial white and brown sugars and refined, pasteurized honey, fructose, and corn syrup. These are all stripped of most nutrients. Brown sugar used to be less refined than white sugar (less of the molasses removed). In the U.K., this may still be the case, but in the U.S. most brown sugar is made by spraying completely refined white beet sugar with molasses. The one exception I know of is C&H brand brown sugar, which is still made the old way, of cane sugar with some of the molasses left in.
- Sugars that are less refined, including raw sugars (turbinado, demrarra, etc.), organic raw sugar, and evaporated cane juice.
- Natural sugars and sweeteners, close to their natural state, with minimal processing. These include: date sugar, blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, granulated maple sugar, sugar cane juice (not evaporated), amasake (rice sugar), barley malt syrup, concentrated apple juice, apple juice, grape juice, raw honey, brown rice syrup. Stevia is actually not a sugar but a sweet herb and has a glycemic index rating of zero. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol usually made from birch, with health benefits including the reduction of dental caries.
- Artificial or man-made sweeteners and sugar substitutes, including high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltodextrin, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, neotame, agave nectar, and acesulfame potassium. Other sugar substitutes have been banned in past years by the FDA, or are pending approval now.
There is a lot of controversy about whether artificial sweeteners (which are classed as food additives by the FDA) are safe or not. You can get tangled up in the claims, research, and reasoning on both sides of this argument. One thing to consider is this question, “Is it food?” Obviously, bodies were not designed to eat tar or plastic or wood, because those are not food for humans. Bodies require nutrients – ALL the nutrients – to be healthy. However, bodies are also designed with a liver and with systems and procedures for handling toxins, so the question becomes, “how many toxins in what amounts can bodies handle?” If your body could handle an unlimited number and amount of poisonous substances, then we all could eat arsenic straight out of a bowl, lie down for a while and get up feeling fine. Most natural health practitioners urge their patients to consume as few toxins as possible, and to get as many nutrients as possible. Makes sense, right?
There definitely are safe alternatives to refined sugars and artificial sweeteners. Probably one of the safest sweeteners is raw honey, which contains vitamins and enzymes that contribute to wellness. It can be used as substitute for sugar, but is about twice as sweet. When substituting honey in recipes, the overall amount of liquid will need to be reduced to make up for the extra liquid in the honey.
Organic maple syrup is delicious on waffles, pancakes, and French toast. Unlike the organic variety, most maple syrups available commercially contain artificial ingredients. There are also organic syrups made from fruit or the agave plant.
Fresh fruits and sweet vegetables may satisfy a sweet tooth, especially after one has cut down on concentrated carbohydrates. People who have reduced their sugar use have found their craving for sweetness decreasing. I had a friend who went on a no-sugar diet, including cutting out sweet vegetables and fruits. At the end of the diet, she ate a carrot and found it to be almost unbearably sweet! Blueberries or strawberries may be used as a topping for cereal. Fruit juices such as apple, pineapple or grape are often used as sweeteners in natural products.
There is also stevia, a natural herb sweetener that has been used in South America for 1,500 years. Recently, the United States FDA approved two new stevia-based sweeteners. It is diabetic-safe, calorie-free, non-toxic, and 50 to 400 times sweeter than white sugar. It does not adversely effect blood sugar levels, inhibits the formation of cavities and plaque, contains no artificial ingredients, and can be used in baking and cooking.
Unfortunately, sugar and white flour are cheap to buy. However, they cost us our health, which is priceless.