what sugar does to your body
The best reasons for avoiding sugar have little to do with calorie consumption. The health issues associated with sugar are much more serious than that.
Firstly, the white, refined sugar found in so many of our foods and drinks, and used in daily household food preparation, is a food completely devoid of nutrition. When we eat it we’re requiring our bodies to go through the intensive process of digestion with no benefit to our body.
Secondly, white, raw and brown sugar have gone through so many refining processes that the end result is pure sucrose, which burns extremely rapidly in our body. This results in over-stimulation of the pancreas to release insulin and leach minerals (particularly calcium) from the bones.
Thirdly, there has been a link made between sugar and heart disease. The following is an excerpt from an article by Dr Dwight Lundell*: “When we consume simple carbohydrates such as sugar, blood sugar rises rapidly. In response, your pancreas secretes insulin, whose primary purpose is to drive sugar into each cell where it is stored for energy. If the cell is full and does not need glucose, it is rejected to avoid extra sugar gumming up the works. When your full cells reject the extra glucose, blood sugar rises producing more insulin and the glucose converts to stored fat . . . Blood sugar is controlled in a very narrow range. Extra sugar molecules attach to a variety of proteins that in turn injure the blood vessel wall. This repeated injury to the blood vessel wall sets off inflammation. When you spike your blood-sugar level several times a day, every day, it is exactly like taking sandpaper to the inside of your delicate blood vessels. While you may not be able to see it, rest assured it is there. I saw it in over 5000 surgical patients spanning 25 years who all shared one common denominator – inflammation in their arteries.”
(Dwight Lundell is the past Chief of Staff and Chief of Surgery at Banner Heart Hospital, Mesa, Arizona. Hel has left surgery to focus on the nutritional treatment of heart disease. He is the founder of Healthy Humans Foundation and is the author of The Cure for Heart Disease and The Great Cholesterol Lie.)
According to Dr Lundell, this inflammation in the arteries is the reason that cholesterol accumulates in the walls of the blood vessels, which is the cause of heart disease. Cholesterol itself is not the problem. The problem is that the cholesterol cannot flow freely in the blood and so gets caught in the inflamed blood vessels. So, in short, simple carbohydrates such as sugar and refined wheat flours are largely responsible for heart disease.
In addition, if eaten with acids or proteins (which it almost always is), sugar will readily ferment into alcohol in the gut. It provides the perfect culture medium for growth of harmful bacteria and yeasts. This upsets the delicate balance of digestive enzymes and food can no longer be efficiently digested. The result is rotten food sitting in our guts, leaching toxins into the bloodstream for the liver to deal with. The liver releases its toxins into the lymphatic system, and soon we have a full-body impact.
It is interesting to note that the natural “sugars” (fructose) found in whole fruit does not cause fermentation unless eaten with starches. Eating fruit on its own is best.
Our addiction to sugar means that we are often unfamiliar with the real flavours of food. Once you’ve been off sugar for a while, you’ll find the alternatives just as satisfying and will happily forgo the mood swings, the fatigue from sugar-lows and the side effects of fermentation in the gut, which you probably don’t realise you’re suffering from, but will be thankful to get rid of.
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If consuming a sugar can product, the best option is sugar cane juice that has been dehydrated, nothing more. This can be bought as Rapadura Sugar and is found in health food stores or organic food outlets. It has a nutritional / mineral content and tastes great, too. It also has a lower GI of 47, (as opposed to the GI of 68 of regular cane sugar), giving longer, slower release of energy to your body. You can use it measure-for-measure to replace sugar in baking. The next best alternative if you want to use a sugar cane product would be organic sucanat sugar, raw sugar or demerara sugar as they are less refined than regular white or castor sugar. Also be aware that it will make your baked goods much darker than refined sugar.
COCONUT SUGAR and SYRUP
This wonderful sweetener alternative is made by tapping the stems of the coconut palm, extracting the sap, and then dehydrating it at very low temperatures. This minimal amount of processing produces a nutrient and mineral-rich product with a great toffee-like taste. It has a low GI (about 35) so provides a slow energy release for your body. It's also a very sustainable product- once a stem is tapped, it flows for the next 20 years. It's great for when brown sugar is called for in a recipe, and I love baking with it. You can use it measure-for-measure to replace sugar in baking. You can also buy coconut syrup which is a less dehydrated version of the same thing. Also be aware that it will make your baked goods much darker than refined sugar.
Raw honey is the most beneficial form of honey to consume- it has not been heated and therefore not molecularly altered. It's high in nutrients and easier for the body to digest. The GI of raw honey is 58. I use honey to sweeten tea (like Chai) and have many recipes that use honey as the sweetener. It's also a great sweetener on porridge. When baking with honey, you must use a lower oven temperature, as honey burns faster than sugar!
Pure maple syrup (not the cheaper, sugar-filled version) is a great sugar alternative, full of nutrition and easier on your digestion. Pure maple syrup has a GI of 54, and it great to use in baking, on pancakes, to make caramel, in smoothies, and to sweeten hot drinks. A great alternative to tea and coffee is pure cacao powder sweetened with maple syrup or honey.
Agave syrup is made from the agave succulent plant and is a cheaper liquid sweetener alternative than pure maple syrup. However, there are many who argue that Agave Syrup is highly processed and not at all good for you. It has a GI of 30 but mostly consists of fructose, which is difficult for your liver to process in large quantities. I don't use it as there are many other alternatives that are better for your body.
RICE MALT SYRUP
This syrup is made through culturing rice with enzymes to breakdown the starches and then cooking until it becomes syrup (according to one of the companies that makes it). It has virtually no fructose content and is the preferred sweetener for people with fructose sensitivities. It has a GI of 25. You can use it as you would honey, and it has a less distinctive flavour so can be good in baked goods. I find it produces a more 'sticky' result in baking. Find it in the Health food isle, and try to buy organic.
Xylitol is a non-fermentable sugar alcohol derived from the fibres of many fruits and vegetables and is generally taken from hardwood or maize products. It contains 40% fewer calories and 75% less carbohydrates than refined sugar. It is not as readily absorbed into the body as sugar and has a GI of 7. It is sold in granulated form in health food or organic stores and is used measure-for-measure to replace sugar. I don't use it much as it is a man-made sweetener that has gone through many chemical processes. I prefer sweeteners as close to their natural state as possible.
Stevia is another natural sweetener derived from a plant in Paraguay and has been used for centuries. It comes in liquid or powder form. It is very concentrated and only a little is required for great effect. Find it in health food stores and supermarkets. It is also sold as NATVIA- which is Stevia and Erythritol (a fruit nectar) combined. It has a GI of 0. You cannot use it measure-for-measure for sugar as it is too sweet.
SORBITOL and MALTITOL
In many sugar-free products such as chocolate or lollies, you’ll find sorbitol or maltitol on the ingredients list. Sorbitol is a glucose-derived sweetener from plums and provides almost half the calories of an equivalent amount of sugar, although it is not as sweet. It is also metabolised slowly, assisting with digestive regularity. Maltitol is a sugar alcohol, derived from processing and fermenting corn starch. It is not as sweet as sugar, so more is needed, but it also has less calories than sugar. Maltitol syrup has a glycemic index similar to sugar, so is not effective in avoiding blood-sugar fluctuation. Maltitol powder has a slightly lower glycemic index of 36 (as apposed to sugar’s 68). It too absorbs very slowly into the body, and eating either maltitol or sorbitol in large amounts can have a laxative effect or cause gas or bloating.
SUGAR FREE JAM
Sugar-free jams are available at the supermarket (they are usually sweetened with fruit juice) and can also be used to replace sugar when stewing fruit, or in any recipe that calls for jam.
There has been enough written about the potentially damaging side effects of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (found in sugar-replacers and diet soft drinks) that I won’t go into the details. To be safe, chemically produced sweeteners are best avoided. High-fructose corn syrup, or just corn syrup, another sweetener found in many packaged/ processed foods and drinks, should also be avoided. This genetically modified cornstarch has adverse effects on the liver and has been associated with colorectal cancer and the obesity epidemic.
As a general note, I have found that most recipes for baked goods (that are not already written as low sugar recipes) can happily be baked with half the listed amount of sugar and it's still sweet enough!! Reducing the actual amount of sugar, as well as replacing it with a less refined version will get you on the way to better health quickly!