Saturday, March 10, 2012

what about sugar?

**NOTE: These are purely my opinions with information that I found fitting for this topic. By no means am I a Registered Dietitian or experienced health professional - just a girl expressing her opinions on a hot topic!**

Also note: this is part of a new series I will host where I cover a topic that is of interest to me and hopefully others. I'll do research and deliver facts about that topic that come with generic questions that people are always interested in finding out the answers to. Enjoy!

In a quest to eat less fats and less carbs, in comes this idea that we also need less sugar. Yes, I agree with this to a point, but isn't it really about where the sugars are coming from versus how much of it we're eating?!

Are natural sugars in fruits really the culprit? I think not.

Processed foods (yes, including the ones not characterized as being 'sweets' as well) including: baked goods, pops, chips, etc, etc are really the ones to blame for this fear of sugar in the body.

This sugar topic really irks me; like a lot of the other things we encounter, people tend to make a quick fix of a terrible solution. They'll drink diet coke because it's zero calories (ie: artificially sweetened), which means they can drink 11 of them, like it's water! Or since something that appears low in sugar (but how?) must be ok for them with no concern for how it's sweetened! For me, this is a big challenge, because instead of getting educated about the bad sources of sugar, we just immediately jump to the conclusion that all sugars are bad...but these zero calorie sweeteners are fine. That doesn't sit well with me.

I didn't mean for this post to come out as a 'research' paper opposed to a blog post, but once the passion of this sugar debate (in my head) started, I couldn't stop it!

I want to provide valid information (read: I just want to sound fancy-shmancy) that makes real sense of this topic. So here it is; the lowdown on what we naturally love...sugar.

It's all in the GI...the 'Glycemic Index,' I mean.

If we're not talking fruit, and purely talking sugars in, well, sugar form, where it stands in terms of glycemic index is definitely something to consider. If you are going to continue to consume tons of sugars, it's important to know which ones to consume and which ones not.

Take a look at the chart below to get an idea of the kinds of sugar you're eating!

Sugars & Substitutes with their Glycemic Index
Artificial Sweeteners
Never a Healthy Sugar Alternative
All artificial chemical sweeteners are toxic and can indirectly lead to weight gain, the very reason many people consume them. They should be avoided. In fact, given a choice between high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, we recommend high fructose corn syrup by far (though it's essentially asking if you should consume poison or worse poison).
Best Healthy Sugar Alternative
Though it is 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar, stevia is not a sugar. Unlike other popular sweeteners, it has a glycemic index rating of less than 1 and therefore does not feed candida (yeast) or cause any of the numerous other problems associated with sugar consumption. Read more about stevia at Organic Lifestyle Magazine (OLM). Please note that Stevia and Truvia are not the same thing.
Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol sweetener found in the fibers of fruits and vegetables which can cause bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence with initial consumption. It's said to be safe for pregnant women, and is said to possibly treat ear infections, osteoposis, respiratory infections, candida, and is it even helps fight cavities. In fact, in Finland, virtually all chewing gum is sweetened with xylitol.
Agave Nectar
A sweet syrup made from the Blue Agave plant, Agave Nectar is obtained by the extraction and purification of "sap" from the agave plant, which is broken down by natural enzymes into the monosaccharides (simple sugars): mainly fructose (70-75%) and dextrose (20-26%). Read more about agave nectar at OLM.
Though fructose has a low glycemic index rating, fructose consumption should be limited. Fructose is linked to heart disease as it raises triglycerides and cholesterol. It is devoid of nutrition.
Brown Rice Syrup
It is not recommended for diabetics, since its sweetness comes from maltose, which is known to cause spikes in blood sugar.
Raw Honey
A Healthy Sugar Alternative in moderation   
With antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, carbohydrates, and phytonutrients, raw, unprocessed honey is considered a superfood by many alternative health care practitioners and a remedy for many health ailments. Choose your honey wisely. There is nothing beneficial about processed honey. Read more about honey at OLM.
Coconut Palm Sugar
Originally made from the sugary sap of the Palmyra palm , the date palm or sugar date palm (Phoenix sylvestris). It's also made from the sap of coconut palms. With a relatively low glycemic index, Cocnut palm sugar is the new rage among health nuts. It's often called "coconut nectar sugar" or "coconut sugar".
Apple Juice
Fresh apple juice is good for you, though we recommend eating fresh raw whole apples. Concentrated apple juice (sometimes used as a sweetener) is closer to refined sugar than fresh apple juice.
Barley Malt Syrup
Barley malt syrup is considered to be one of the healthiest sweeteners in the natural food industry. Barley malt is made by soaking and sprouting barley to make malt, then combining it with more barley and cooking this mixture until the starch is converted to sugar. The mash is then strained and cooked down to syrup or dried into powder.
This is an ancient, Oriental whole grain sweetener made from cultured brown rice. It has a thick, pudding-like consistency. It's not easy to find in the U.S., but it is a great alternative to refined table sugar.
Sugar Cane Juice
Healthy Sugar Alternative in moderation
Sugar cane juice has many nutrients and other beneficial properties and is said by some health practitioners to be almost as medicinal as raw honey.
Organic Sugar
Organic sugar comes from sugar cane grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. It is usually darker than traditional white sugar because it contains some molasses. (It has not been processed to the degree white sugar is processed).
Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made by boiling sap collected from natural growth maple trees during March & April. It is refined sap and is therefore processed.  It has a high glycemic index, and though it is much more nutritious then refined table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, there are better choices.
Evaporated Cane Juice
Evaporated cane juice is often considered unrefined sugar, but juicing is a refining process, and evaporating refines further. Though better than turbinado, cane juice (unevaporated) is a better choice as a sweetener.
Black Strap Molasses
White refined table sugar is sugar cane with all the nutrition taken out. Black strap molasses is all of that nutrition that was taken away. A quality organic (must be organic!) molasses provides iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, and is alkalizing to the body.
Turbinado sugar is partially processed sugar, also called raw sugar.
Raw Sugar
Raw sugar
Raw sugar is not actually raw sugar. It is processed, though not as refined as common white table sugar. Therefore, given a choice between raw and white, choose raw. There are many different variations of raw sugar with many different names depending on how refined it is.
Cola (and most other sodas)
Though cola has a lower GI ranking then some might expect, there are many other reasons to avoid cola, or any type of soda. There is nothing beneficial to the human body inside a can of soda (not to mention we should avoid drinking out of aluminum cans!).
Corn Syrup
Corn syrup has very little nutrition and should be avoided.
Refined, Pasteurized Honey
The nutrition is gone, and there is often high fructose corn syrup added to processed honey. Refined pasteurized honey is no better than white table sugar.
Refined Table Sugar
Conventionally grown, chemically processed, and striped of all beneficial properties, many health advocates believe that refined sugar is one of the two leading causes (high fructose corn syrup is the other) of nearly every health ailment known to man (or woman or child). Not only does it have a high GI ranking, but it also is extremely acidic to the body causing calcium and other mineral depletion from bones and organs (sugar is alkaline but has a very acidic effect on the body).
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Many health advocates believe that high fructose corn syrup and refined sugar are the two biggest contributors to health ailments in our society. High fructose corn syrup is a combination of sucrose and fructose.
Glucose (AKA Dextrose)
White bread was the benchmark, but for consistency glucose now holds the rating at 100.
Foods that have maltodextrin often say "Low Sugar" or "Complex Carbohydrate", but this sweetener should be avoided!

If you noticed, the ones that are high on the glycemic index (and in case you're unaware, high = bad in terms of this index), are also the ones often found in all the processed goodies that rock our North American diet! This is not good news for your body...or your waistline, so try and stick to the more natural ones (think: stevia, molasses, organic cane sugar) when baking and such...mmmkay?!

The lower the GI you can go, the better off you'll be, but be careful because corn syrup/high fructose corn syrup (ie: high glycemic index rating/a bad sugar) shows up in almost eeeeeverything (sadly, it's even in mini-wheats, so watch out) because it's so cheap to make!

Why is 'sugar-free' so sugar free?

I'll just put this out there: what I would do (the non-health professional girl, just merely a nutrition student, got that?); I would much rather consume a natural form of sugar (ie: the ones I listed above in the brackets) then consume any product that is sugar-free. You got that? I don't want those sugar-free products or artificial sweeteners, and you don't me on that one!

Here's why:

Our body needs sugar.

As said by Dr. Oz, "cells in your body use sugar from starches, fruits, and sugars you eat for fuel or store it for future use." He also has a handy video here to get a better idea.

Also, for those of you that still feel the need to eat sugar-free products, let's be clear that you might not entirely be eating products that are completely free of sugar. This is another misconception that people get caught up in - just because a label has specific claims on it, does not mean they are 100% accurate. Just like something can be labelled "fat free" but still have up to 0.5g of fat per serving in it. Beware of these claims!

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, "food labels can be confusing when it comes to sugar. A food can be labeled "sugar free" or "sugarless" and still contain calories from sugar alcohols 
such as xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol."

We also get into the sticky subject of artificial sweeteners that are just not good for you. Just look at what Dr. Lindsey Duncan had to say about them:

  • Aspartame: Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that's sold under the names of Equal and NutraSweet. Some studies have shown that aspartame may be carcinogenic and may affect brain function as well as contribute to health issues such as diabetes, birth defects and epilepsy.
  • Sucralose: Sucralose (also known as Splenda) is made by chlorinating sugar. Some side effects that may be associated with sucralose or Splenda are skin rashes, irritability, dizziness, muscle aches, headaches, intestinal cramping, bladder issues and stomach pain.
  • Saccharin: Saccharin is also sold under the name Sweet 'N Low. It's a possible carcinogen, and various studies have shown that side effects from saccharin may include headaches, skin conditions, sensitivity to light, nausea, diarrhea and irritability.
  • Acesulfame K (Ace K): Acesulfame K is a blend of aspartame with acesulfame potassium, and is sweeter than either of the two sugar substitutes on their own. There are multiple safety concerns regarding Ace K, including the possibility of it being a carcinogen.

Moral of the sugar-free story: know your source of sugar (or 'lack of').

Putting the 'real' back in sugar.

Lets get the notion out of our heads that we should cut out sugars altogether. It's like fats; somewhere someone got this crazy idea that fats are so bad for you, but you would not be healthy without it (by this, I mean the 'healthy' fats, the unsaturated), just like sugar. And why would you want to cut out sugars (both naturally occurring in fruits and other forms like maple syrup, stevia, etc)?! As humans, it's something we naturally crave, and for good reason!

So, if you're really trying to "cutback" on sugar, then why don't you put down the pop (or candy or chips or refined baked goods) and reach for an apple or cherries or plum - I don't care which fruit it is you eat, just start eating the natural kind of sugars; the ones your body loves! And do your research; find out what kinds (and amounts) of sugars you're really eating when you open the package. Or just stay away from the package altogether, because chances are if you're eating something from a package to begin with, it's probably not a good form of sugar!

Try and use your head before those taste buds of yours take over! If you're overdoing it on the sugar front right now, just know that when you cut back, you will start craving it's a science. Get past the hump and you'll be smooth sailing.

I hope you've enjoyed my weekend rant on sugar. Also, I hope I haven't deterred anyone from reading in the future, because I just want to be informative.

And also, I'm so sorry this post is so long. I hope you got something out of it though!

Hope you're having a great weekend!

QUESTION: What's your take on sugar? You've heard from me, now I want to hear from you!!