Thursday, September 24, 2009


Alternatives to sugars - natural sweeteners

Pure sucrose (table sugar) is the most common sweetener in the modern, industrialized world. People, and in fact most other mammals except members of the cat family, will gladly accept a food sweetened with sucrose, even if they aren't hungry.

Most of us love sweets, ice cream, soft drinks, pies, cakes, cookies, candy. We often crave them. To satisfy these cravings, we consume about one hundred fifty pounds of sugar per person per year. That's almost a half pound of sugar per day. Surprised?
It’s true…we do love our sugar!

What happens to our metabolism, on all that sugar? Sugar is metabolized directly into blood sugar, or glucose, which fuels our brain and muscles. The purer the source, the faster it gets into the bloodstream, bypassing much of the digestive process.

Our blood sugar levels skyrocket and that triggers a spike in insulin, a hormone which is needed to prep our cells to absorb the sugar. When a food or drink has no other nutrients to sustain our blood sugar, it crashes as quickly as it rises - and we crave another hit. …(think candy, sweets, sodas, etc.) This is how sugar addiction begins. Sugar gives us pleasure by stimulating the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and probably other mood-elevating substances. Scientists report that eating chocolate initiates a brain response similar to falling in love. No wonder we love chocolate!

Unfortunately, it also has several adverse health effects. The most common is tooth decay. Sucrose has high calorie content and there is a fair amount of evidence that it contributes to obesity. People with diabetes need to control their intake of sucrose. There have even been some studies showing the possibility that excessive sugar consumption may play a role in certain degenerative diseases. Also, how many times have we seen children go from being “little angels” to “little devils” after eating a sugary desert or soft drink?

Sugar can also cause symptoms of intestinal distress such as bloating, cramping, and gas. Other symptoms of sugar sensitivity are headaches, insomnia, aggression, panic attacks, irritability, mood swings, and depression. New studies in accelerated aging link elevated sugar intake with a process called glycosylation: proteins in our bodies morph into AGE's, or advanced glycosylation end-products, a kind of metabolic debris that collects in our organ, joint, and skin tissues. Be sure to ask me about a product that prevents most of the formation of the advanced glycosylation end products, which age our bodies faster than they should.

Most authorities agree that no more than 10% of our diet should be made up of sugar in most forms.

"Low-sugar" or "sugar-free" is the latest fad - It should be a welcome trend, given the health hazards of all the sugar in the average diet. However…if we use artificial sugar substitutes like aspartame, (NutraSweet), sucralose, (Splenda) Acesulfates, etc. we may be jumping from the frying pan into the fire. After this series, I will write a blog about the dangers of these substances.

In the meantime…WHAT CAN WE USE???

There are several great choices for us. Here are just a few. These are not in any order of preference, just letting you know they are available. Most health food stores will have some or all of them and nowadays, even some groceries have a pretty good selection of healthier choices.

Organic Agave
Agave makes a good substitute for table sugar for a variety of reasons. Agave nectar is a real sugar, as opposed to an artificial or non-nutritive sweetener, Although it has properties similar to many sugars its glycemic index is significantly lower. This makes it a healthier alternative to many processed AND natural sweeteners, Artificial sweeteners provide sweetness, but few of the functional properties of real sugars. Agave provides the same variety of functions in cooking (including browning, moisture retention, softening and food preservation) as processed sugars. While Agave has more calories than sugar, you only use about 40% of the amount so there is probably a net loss in the calorie count.

Stevia is the world's only all-natural sweetener with zero calories, zero carbohydrates and a zero glycemic index. These attributes make stevia a good alternative to sugar or chemical sweeteners. Especially popular as a sweetener for coffees and teas, Stevia can also be used in cooking and baking, helping you reduce your calorie intake and stay healthy. It has been thoroughly tested in dozens of tests around the world and found to be completely non-toxic. A brand I like is “Sweet Leaf”

This natural sweetener has demonstrated both passive and active cavity fighting ability and has even shown promise in alleviating ringing ear syndrome. Caution for dogs: while humans have absolutely no problem with Xylitol, it can cause a dangerous surge of insulin with dogs. Just another example of the differences between us. Feel free to use it yourself, just don’t let your dog get even a tiny bit of it.

Barley Malt
Dark, sticky, although there is a dry form called “Dr. Bronner’s Barley Malt Sweetener”. Barley malt sugar is not as strong a flavor as blackstrap molasses nor as sweet as honey. It is mostly maltose, a complex sugar that enters the bloodstream slowly. This sweetener offers trace amounts of eight vitamins and several minerals. Barley malt syrup is a wonderful addition to squash and pumpkin breads, bran muffins, and hearty rye or pumpernickel breads. Use it to glaze sweet potatoes and to make winter “malteds” combined with bananas and soy milk.

Tomorrow, the last of the 4 steps.

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