Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere!

Are you confused about sugar and alternative sweeteners? With so many choices and so much information coming at you from every which way, how the heck are you supposed to know what to do if you want to cut back on sugar? I did some research to try to understand what it is about sugar that's bad, how it affects the body, what we can use instead, and how our bodies respond when we avoid it.

The sugar compounds most talked about are
  1. Glucose: sugar in the blood
  2. Fructose: fruit sugar
  3. Lactose: sugar in milk
  4. Sucrose: table sugar
When we eat sugar, sugar-laden foods or anything that contains fructose and sucrose, the fructose and sucrose are converted into glucose, and the body reacts by releasing insulin to stabilize blood sugar. (With the exception of diabetics - which is a topic for a different time.)

Our bodies can make the glucose we need, when we need it, from protein and fat. In fact, dietary sugar and most carbohydrates are hardly necessary at all. When we eat food that contains fructose and sucrose, our blood sugar spikes, and if not immediately used by the body (think, high-performance athletes in motion), insulin acts to lower it. These hills and valleys of blood sugar levels are hard on the body, not necessary, and can cause the body to become insulin resistant - which, in turn, leads to a whole host of other problems.

As for sugar, yes, it's found naturally in some foods, like fruit. Fruit is traditionally known as a good food that we need. The thing about fruit is it contains other nutrients we need, like fiber and vitamins. Fruit should be consumed in moderation, not as an eat-all-you-want food.

Other sources of sugar in our food are primarily added for flavor. It's not necessary, nor is it desirable for good health. So what can we do if we don't like the taste of some foods and drinks without sweetener? For instance, I LOVE my coffee habit and would hate to have to give it up. But I don't like the taste of it without some added sweetener. I'm sure you can think of many examples like that.

Here are some common sweeteners:
  • Table sugar: Will spike blood sugar; should be avoided
  • Agave: Even higher in fructose than table sugar; should be avoided
  • Corn Syrup: Will spike blood sugar; should be avoided
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup: Will spike blood sugar; should be avoided
  • Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin: avoid at all costs - these are chemical based and not food
  • Honey: Will spike blood sugar but is a better alternative than sugar because it contains some antioxidants that are good for you
  • Xylitol: This is a sugar alcohol; does not raise blood sugar; a good alternative sweetener
  • Stevia: A natural sweetener that does not raise blood sugar; a good alternative sweetener
In my opinion, based on my recent research, for a sweet ingredient to food and drinks, the best choices are stevia, xylitol and honey. Honey may have some of the negative blood sugar effects described above, but there are some health benefits of honey that make it a good trade-off. To absolutely avoid blood sugar spikes, stick to stevia and xylitol.

There is SOOOOO much information out there about the effects of sugar on the body, some of it contradictory. Science is science, but some of the published information can be interpreted differently by different people. And food manufacturers can manipulate the information to their favor. Please take what you read in this article and any that I write as my opinion based on what I learn as I pursue better health.

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