I truly admire those who have committed themselves to a sugar-free lifestyle, but for the rest of us who have taste buds that are still functioning like ordinary people, a bit of sweetness is a necessity. Just jokes guys, you sugar-free people are ordinary too…but maybe more like, EXTRAordinary!
Sugar has got a pretty bad rap, and for good reason. It’s nutritionally equivalent to eating a cardboard box. It provides no nutrients. But when it comes down to choosing between a cardboard box and a teaspoon of sugar for lunch, I’m pretty sure the sugar is going to win, and not just because it is an actual food source. LOL.
Sugar makes your mouth say “yay!”. It’s the difference between throwing your cereal in the bin and being so addicted to it that you eat it from the box without any milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner (guilty!). So yes, it can be a little dangerous. Especially because, unlike cardboard, it contains calories which, in excess, lead to weight gain and a variety of related health problems. Don’t even get me started on what it can do to your teeth! There’s a reason it’s “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and not a teaspoon of sugar. Yep, Mary Poppins knows her stuff. The value of sugar lies in its ability to increase the palatability of not just medicine, but anything!
While I do like to eat food that tastes good, I, like the rest of you, are probably interested in how we can reduce the negative health effects of sugar. Years ago, the variety of sugars on the market were pretty standard (white, brown, artificial sweeteners like Equal), however today there is much more on offer and it can be overwhelming trying to figure out which one is the best to use. Let’s take a brief look at what sugars are currently on the market and if there really is any difference health-wise between the different types.
First of all, we can sort the sugars into three major categories: processed, artificial, natural.
Processed sugars are the refined sugars you see sold in bags or paper parcels such as white sugar, caster sugar or brown sugar. They have undergone some kind of chemical processing or refining and will have a medium GI rating (65), i.e. these sugars will cause a moderate rise in blood sugar levels and are quickly digested. The exception is with the sugar alcohols which have almost no effect on blood sugar, therefore have GI ratings of 12 or less.
Other types: Demerara or Turbinado sugar (partially refined), Sucanat (sugar cane), Stevia, “raw” sugar, Xylitol & Sorbitol (sugar alcohols).
Artificial sweeteners are chemical compounds sold in little sachets, in boxes or tablet forms and include brands such as Equal & Splenda. The reason they are so small in volume is due to the fact that artificial sweeteners are sometimes over 100 times sweeter than regular sugar, so less of it is needed to recreate the same amount of sweetness. They have no effect on blood sugar levels and are therefore useful for diabetes sufferers, as well as very low in calories.
Other types: Sweet N Low, Nutrasweet, Sugarine.
Natural sugars are those that are derived from natural sources and have undergone no processing, such as raw honey, maple syrup or agave. They generally have a medium to low GI rating (54 or less).
Other types: Palm sugar, rapadura sugar, coconut sugar.
Now I’m not going to go into every type of sugar and tell you what it’s good for or if it’s not good at all. The general idea here is that the more processed a sugar is, the more it will cause blood sugar levels to rise (which is not cool for people with Diabetes) and also means there are greater amounts of nasty chemicals involved. Therefore, naturally (no pun intended), it would be logical to choose a sugar that is less processed.
However, before you throw all of the white sugar out of your house, keep this in mind:
- Processed sugars have a medium GI rating, not high. In fact, wholemeal bread has a HIGHER GI than sugar. So if all you’re worried about is your blood sugar, you’d be better off worrying about how much bread you’re eating, rather than how much sugar you’re eating. Especially since the amount of bread people eat daily is much greater than the amount of sugar they consume (you would hope!).
- Natural sugars do have nutrients, as opposed to processed sugars, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much as opposed to eating other nutrient-rich foods. It’s still a better alternative to processed sugars, but it’s not going to make a huge difference in your overall nutrition. You should make sure you’re eating a variety of fruits and vegetables if nutrients are your concern.
- Stevia, although being touted as all-natural, IS processed. That is, unless you are using the leaves or have found a 100% natural source of it on the shelves. Always check the labels! However, I still rate it as a good sugar because it is low in GI and calories. And the Japanese have used it for centuries – you know it’s good if the Japanese use it!
- The sugar alcohols like Xylitol can have some nasty side effects with overconsumption, such as diarrhoea. I don’t know about you, but any product which lists “laxative effect” as a warning isn’t getting my vote.
My conclusion is: as Mary Poppins so melodically recognised, “sugar helps the medicine go down” – its main use is for palatability, not nutrition. So when it comes to choosing which sugar to use, make your decision based on which flavour you prefer but also, it’s always a good idea to choose natural forms of sugar because you can avoid all the added chemicals. And look at what you are adding the sugar to – adding a couple of teaspoons of sugar to your oatmeal is very different to adding the same amount to a batch of chocolate chip muffins. If weight control is your concern, then artificial sweeteners may be a good choice in the short term. Essentially, if you are consuming sugar in limited to moderate amounts and combining it with other nutritious foods, you can avoid any health repercussions and still lead a sweet existence!
What do you all think?