Sugar has certainly made mainstream headlines in recent years. With more understanding now of how our bodies process sugar and the detrimental effects that it can have, it’s time to rethink how we include it in our diets.
Fructose, the sugar found in fruits has been labelled as the one to really avoid where possible. This however, doesn’t mean we should stop eating fruit. Fruits eaten as a whole contains lots of vitamins & minerals as well as antioxidants to keep us healthy. When we eat a whole piece of fruit we are getting the benefit of fibre too which allows our bodies to handle the sugar much better. It is a different story if we are consuming fruit juice or foods that contain added sugar in the form of fructose.
What does sugar do to us? Sugar has been linked to many diseases & health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, dental caries and even cancer. A diet high in sugar can make us look and feel older than we actually are! Fructose is not needed by the body, so the poor liver is left to deal with it. The liver does this by converting the fructose to fat and storing it. This is why it is actually sugar that is increasing our levels of obesity and not our intake of fat.
Our bodies need Glucose (another type of sugar) for energy, but did you know that our clever bodies can make this from the protein that we eat too? Good quality complex carbohydrates such as whole grains will also provide glucose in our diet as well as a host of other important vitamins and minerals. There is no reason why we have to consume added sugar.
But, don’t despair! There are some sugar alternatives that can be used to satisfy our sweet tooth & keep our naturopaths happy.
Stevia is a natural sweetener made from the leaf of the stevia plant. A little goes a long way as the compounds it contains are up to 300 times sweeter than sugar!
Brown rice malt syrup is made from fermented cooked brown rice. It comes in a syrup form and contains maltose and glucose as well as complex carbohydrates. It has anywhere between 38-48% fructose.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and is another sugar alternative. It also comes in a powdered form and can be used sparingly as it tastes very similar to sugar. The best one to buy is made from the birch tree, rather than the kind made from GMO corn.
Maple syrup and honey are other wonderful natural sugar alternatives.
Bear in mind that these sugar alternatives should also be eaten in moderation. It is better to train our taste buds to prefer food that is less sweet. If we eat fresh, unprocessed whole foods we are naturally limiting our intake of sugars regardless. Processed foods (and this means foods you buy in packaging with a long list of ingredients you can’t pronounce) can contain lots of sugar to help keep the food from quick expiration, and also to make it taste better. Keep in mind it won’t always just say sugar. There are many other sneaky words that they use such as Cane juice, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextran, Barley malt, Beet sugar, Corn syrup, Corn syrup solids, Caramel, Brown sugar, Diatase, Diatastic malt, Fruit juice (and concentrate), Golden syrup, Sorghum syrup, and Ethyl Maltol.
Experiment with the sugar alternatives mentioned above. Fill your diet up with lots of fresh whole foods rather than processed ones, and try keeping track of how much sugar you are consuming on a daily basis. You may be surprised! Be kind to yourself, change should be a gentle and safe process.