You asked for her return, and for her sequel on sugar. Amy Hoogervorst wandered through desserts to bring her breakdown on sugars after confessing to being addicted to the sweet stuff. She has a great blog Faith and Sweat. Welcome back, Amy!
A Sweet Breakdown on Sugars
Honey, coconut sugar, agave.
Xylitol, turbinado, brown sugar.
Is good ol’, plain sugar getting pushed off the table?
Refined white sugar long has shared space with honey, molasses, maple syrup and brown sugar. But recently other guests have clamored for space around the table. Does that mean they’re healthier than what’s been in the sugar bowl since we were children?
Since writing my first article here, in which I confessed my sugar addiction, I’ve wondered what the difference is between them all. The white table sugar that most of us grew up with – also known as sucrose – is highly processed and, as it turns out, a poor choice. Sucrose breaks down quickly, half into glucose and half into fructose. Each is a simple sugar that our bodies process differently.
We need sugar – in its natural state – to function. Our bodies break the food we eat down into glucose to give us energy; the more complex a food is, the longer it takes to break down. Glucose requires insulin to be released into the bloodstream in order to be metabolized completely, and the body stores glucose to provide energy on demand.
Sugars naturally occur in fruits and vegetables (as fructose) and dairy (as lactose). The liver primarily metabolizes fructose, and in small amounts, it’s not worrisome. But most people consume fructose in large amounts by drinking sodas and fruit juices, eating breakfast cereals and condiments, and many other foods. Too much fructose can lead to metabolic toxicity because excess fructose cannot be burned off. It turns into cholesterol and triglycerides that can elevate blood lipid levels and increase body fat.
Recent FDA recommendations suggest that no more than 10% of our daily calories come from added sugar, but when sugars are added to foods during processing to give them more flavor, texture or color, it’s easy to consume more than we need.
In excess, ANY sugar can be harmful and lead to chronic illness.
In moderation, though, we’re back to the question of whether one is better than another and what the differences are.
Honey, although high in calories and carbs, is perhaps the best possible option. But that’s not just any honey. Most commercial honey available today is highly processed. Local honey from a farmer’s market or co-op is among the best, partly because of any trace nutrients the bees picked up going nest to nest, and because it takes our bodies longer to break it down. Some well-known doctors also have touted imported or raw honey. Recommendations still are to keep consumption to 1 teaspoon or less per day.
Agave once got the nod from some high-profile TV and internet doctors as being better for diabetics because it’s lower on the glycemic index than maple syrup or honey. But because agave is more fructose than glucose, those authorities have changed their minds about touting it as a healthier alternative. Raw, organic honey would be a better choice.
Coconut sugar is sucrose with some nutrients. Made from the sap of coconut trees, it’s less processed because the sap is extracted and placed in heat to dry. It can contain trace amounts of minerals such as magnesium, potassium and inulin, but it’s still high calorie.
Raw cane sugar, also known as turbinado, also is sucrose but is less processed than table sugar. It is extracted from the sugar cane plant and is not refined. In liquid form, it’s also known as cane juice.
Sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol are structurally similar to sugar but not as well digested or metabolized as other sugars. They are added to processed foods, including protein bars, and touted as a healthier alternative because they don’t cause tooth decay or add calories. Pet owners should note that xylitol in any quantity is extremely harmful to dogs. Evidence is inconclusive whether sugar alcohols are actually good for humans, either, but the general consensus is that they can be harmful in large doses.
We’re back to a recurring theme. Sugar in any form – in large quantities – is bad.
Stevia, a natural substitute, is made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It’s the only sugar substitute worthy of attention, as problems associated with sucralose and aspartame especially have been well-documented. But don’t fall for claims that Truvia and PureVia on the grocery shelf are the same stuff; they’re mixed with chemicals in a lab. Pure stevia – preferably sourced from South America – tastes about twice as sweet as regular table sugar, but it’s an acceptable alternative for diabetics or most others wanting to restrict their sugar intake.
In short, some sugars such as organic honey may be a bit better for us, but still only in moderation. Stevia is a great alternative to regular sugars. Limiting all forms of sugar leads to improved health and wellness, and that’s pretty sweet in and of itself.
About the author: Amy Hoogervorst spent 40 years wandering in the desserts before learning what she knows now. She writes about the journey of wellness, health, and mindset at AmyHoogervorst.com. Join her new, free Facebook group for women at https://www.facebook.com/groups/faithandsweatcommunity/ or follow her on Twitter@amyhoogervorst