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Recently, we watched the movie Supersize Me. I know, not exactly a new movie (I believe it came out in 2003). There were so many issues in the movie that I could discuss, it was hard to pick just one. They talked about “fat” as being the major problem very often — which it’s not. The types of fats used are certainly not healthy (GMO, monounsaturated, trans fats, etc.) but fat in and of itself is not the problem. Sugar, however…that is a big problem.
What’s Wrong with Sugar?
Oh, where do I start?
Over the years, sugar has gone in and out of favor, nutritionally. There has been evidence to show that it’s linked to diabetes for over 100 years; this is now accepted as fact. There is no true, established “safe limit,” but most say that people shouldn’t consume more than 40 lbs. per person, per year; ideally, 5 – 10 lbs. per person, per year (this is added sugar and doesn’t include whole fruit or other naturally sweet foods). Unfortunately, our country consumes 120 – 180 lbs. per person, per year! (I found several different estimates; regardless, it’s a lot!)
This is approximately 0.4 lbs. per day, 3/4 of a cup, or 197 grams. What are people eating that contains a whopping 200 grams of added sugar per day?!
Sugar, just for a quick definition, is refined white sugar or high-fructose corn syrup (as the “worst” offenders), although it’s prudent to watch out for honey and maple syrup too, in large quantities. There are redeeming qualities to both honey and maple syrup and they don’t need to be treated quite the same way as refined sugars (which should, ideally, be avoided at all costs). We’d still do well to eat less of them, though.
In addition to diabetes, sugar has been blamed for obesity, heart disease, cancer, and all sorts of diseases. Although some researchers claim this isn’t proven, the fact remains that there is a strong correlation between the amount of sugar a society consumes and the rate at which these diseases occur. As our sugar consumption has risen, so have all of these diseases — by the same percentage.
We’ve also seen increases in tooth decay, gut-related diseases (Crohn’s disease, colitis, IBS), yeast infections, and even allergies as we’ve consumed more sugar. Something is definitely wrong with our sugar consumption habits!
Even if we can’t “prove” that they’re directly related — though the evidence heavily suggests this — experts across the board agree that we would all do better to reduce our sugar consumption.
Another major reason to reduce sugar consumption is because some consider it an actual “anti-nutrient.” That is, it contains no nutrients of its own (because it is so refined and heavily processed), but it requires nutrients to digest and eliminate. Since it doesn’t provide these nutrients in and of itself, it leaches nutrients from our bodies and other foods we eat in order to process it.
Many people also replace very healthy foods — like real animal fats, meats, fruits, and vegetables — with sugary substitutes, displacing even more nutrients! Think fruit juice instead of whole fruit, ‘fat-free’ cookies instead of full-fat cookies (although you shouldn’t consume them too often, there’s redeeming value in cookies made with real butter, whole grain flour, real eggs, etc.), and so on. This is a large reason why people are overweight — their bodies are craving nutrients, and so signal them to eat more. But what they’re eating is high in sugar, so they end up gaining weight…and still feeling hungry.
What About Sugar Alternatives?
For most of the country, the best solution to eating less sugar is simply to replace it with “sugar substitues,” like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. These, however, are fake, laboratory-made foods that are even worse than sugar.
There is evidence to suggest that they can cause cancer, among other terrible side effects. They taste fake. Sucralose was originally part of an insecticide compound (yet we eat it…). There is no redeeming value to these, period.
Some like stevia and other more “natural” sugar substitutes. Stevia, especially in leaf form, is fine. If you can grow it in your backyard, it’s definitely not terrible! (Well — don’t take that too literally. Not everything growing in your backyard is safe! But Stevia is.) I worry about the processed “white powder” stevia, since it comes from a leaf…how do they get it into that white powder? Stevia extract is probably safer to use, if you choose. I don’t like the taste and don’t use it. Truvia and other stevia derivatives are not safe to use, because they’re a very processed form of stevia…kind of like HFCS is a very processed form of corn.
What To Do?
It’s not realistic to say, “Never eat sugar again!” No one’s going to stick to that. We’re programmed to like sweet foods and to want to eat them sometimes!
Here are several ideas on sweet, delicious foods that you can consume as a treat (not constantly!):
- Fresh fruit with real whipped cream
- A slice of sprouted bread, topped with butter and unsweetened apple butter
- Any baked good made with almond flour (has a high fat/protein content!)
- Homemade ice cream
- Homemade popsicles
- Fresh-squeezed fruit juices
- Homemade fruit pies
The list could go on. The point is, it’s entirely possible to have a treat now and again without overloading on sugar. In fact, just by eating real food (not processed), you’ll skip most of the added sugar in your day. It’s not going to hurt you any if you eat a breakfast of eggs and meat, lunch of salad with chicken, dinner of fish and steamed veggies with butter…and finish up with a bowl of homemade ice cream. There’s no sugar in your day except that ice cream (my homemade version has perhaps 6 – 8 g of sugar per cup!). Even if you had that ice cream everyday, it would still only add up to 5 – 8 lbs. per year.
Which Sugars are Best?
In my home, I use only three on a regular basis:
Grade B Maple Syrup — A rich, naturally sweet liquid that’s actually quite high in B vitamins, zinc, and other minerals. I use it when making ice cream, many chocolate desserts, or some baking projects.
Raw honey — There are so many varieties of this with so many different flavors! I’ve tasted basswood (minty), a butterscotch-flavored one (naturally, by the type of flowers the bees visited), buckwheat, and more. I use it most often for lightly sweetening herbal teas (my kids drink these like most kids drink Kool-aid), and sometimes for baking. It also has anti-microbial properties and is rich in certain minerals.
Sucanat — Unrefined cane sugar, which is far richer in nutrients. I use this for baking cookies most often, where liquid sugars just won’t do. Occasionally I include it in “mixes,” and have even powdered it and used it for frosting a couple of times. I try not to use it too often.
These are still sugar, and you don’t want to consume too much of them. However, if you use them only for lightly sweetening dessert recipes (many of my desserts call for 1/4 to 3/4 c. per batch) and skip added sugar in almost every category, it will be okay. They do have their own valuable nutrients, so consuming small quantities is not going to hurt.
Using real vanilla extract and coconut oil when creating desserts (or just real fruit!) also increases the perception of sweetness, without actually increasing the sugar.
How much sugar do you consume? What types are your favorite?
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