Sugar. Who would have thought it would be such a confusing topic. And now that food companies have added artificial sweeteners to the market, Americans are even more confused. One minute Splenda is good for you, the next it’s bad. Should you even be consuming sugar in the first place? I’m here to hopefully clear up some of your confusion. First, know that sugar can be very toxic to your health, especially in the amounts our generation consumes it. This article is about differentiating between the most popular sweeteners, so I’m not going to spend much time on the toxicity of sugar. I think most of you know the less the better. And when it comes to artificial sweeteners: AVOID THEM ALL! If your great grandmother has never heard of it, don’t eat it. They’re not real food. They’re a mix of unnatural chemicals that are toxic to your bloodstream, can cause damage to your organs, and can even lead to mutations in your cells. If you’re going to use sweeteners, use the ones that God gave us, the natural ones. Here is the lowdown on some of the most popular sweeteners out there:
Honey: My favorite sweetener & God’s created sweetener! Honey contains amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, & antioxidants, which is why its known to be medicinal. It can even be applied topically to wounds. Beware when shopping for honey at the grocery store-most are processed and void of the good stuff mentioned above. The best honey to buy: RAW, LOCAL. You want raw so that the enzymes & nutrients are still alive. Otherwise, they are killed during the heating process. Raw honey also has so much more flavor than the processed brands. Local honey is best as it contains the immune stimulating properties needed for your body to adapt to its environment (Fights allergies to pollen/grass/etc in your area).
Stevia: If you must have a zero calorie sweetener, this is the one to go with because it has a glycemic index of less than 1 and does not feed candida (yeast) or cause any of the numerous other problems associated with sugar consumption. It can be used by diabetics as it doesn’t adversely affect blood glucose levels. Some people (me included) have reported a bitter aftertaste when ingesting stevia. Also, a little goes a LONG way when using this sweetener.
Maple Syrup (Grade B): Grade B is the least processed. Maple syrup has been contributed to promoting heart health. It is an excellent source of zinc and manganese and also provides trace amounts of calcium, iron and magnesium. Maple sugar can be used at a 1:1 ratio for white or brown sugar.
Raw Coconut Nectar/Sugar: Made from tapping the coconut tree & draining the sap in a process similar to producing maple syrup. (Coconut nectar doesn’t require heating, though.) Coconut sugar is also relatively low on the Glycemic Index.
Molasses: Molasses is a by-product of the refining part of the sugar making process. A quality organic (must be organic!) molasses provides iron, calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc, and is alkalizing to the body.
Refined Table Sugar: Conventionally grown, chemically processed, and stripped 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). -Source: Michael Edwards
Organic Sugar: Organic sugar comes from sugar cane that is grown without the use of chemicals & pesticides. However, it is still processed, just not to the degree that white sugar is processed. Organic sugar is darker in color than white sugar because it contains some molasses.
Turbinado: Turbinado sugar is partially processed and is also known as raw sugar.
Agave Nectar: This sweetener has been very popular lately, however, I do not recommend it. It is not natural. It comes as a syrup and is highly refined. Agave nectar even has more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup according to the Weston A. Price Foundation. Agave was developed in the 1990′s and is made primarily in Mexico. To produce agave nectar, the leaves are cut off the plant after it has aged 7 to 14 years. Then the juice is expressed from the core of the agave. The juice is filtered, then heated, in order to hydrolyze the polysaccharides into simple sugars. The filtered, hydrolyzed juice is concentrated to a syrupy liquid, slightly thinner than honey, from light colored to dark amber, depending on the degree of processing. This is not a traditional sweetener and the high levels of synthesized fructose in agave puts people at risk for obesity, heart disease, arterial inflammation, high blood pressure and increased insulin resistance.
High Fructose Corn Syrup: I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials that say HFCS is the same as sugar, and that when used in moderation, it’s safe. Well, it’s not the same or safe. When used in moderation it is a major cause of heart disease, obesity, cancer, dementia, liver failure, tooth decay, & more. “Why is the corn industry spending millions on misinformation campaigns to convince consumers and health care professionals of the safety of their product? Could it be that the food industry comprises 17 percent of our economy?” Check out Dr. Mark Hyman’s post “5 Reasons High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You.” Something new that I learned in this post is that HFCS contains mercury, which as we know is extremely toxic and detrimental to our health.
So when you must reach for a sweetener, aim for a natural, unprocessed one. And most importantly, use in moderation!
Kristen M. Pardue, RD, LDN, CLC