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After talking with some friends the other day about natural sweeteners, I realized that there is a lot of confusion about which ones are truly natural. When the packaging says “raw” or “natural” what exactly do those words mean? I have learned to be more suspicious of those words when looking to buy food, especially sugar. Before we talk about natural sugars, let’s look at what sugar is.
What Is Sugar?
Sugar comes in many forms. Sucrose or white sugar, breaks down during digestion into glucose and fructose, the simple sugars. Fructose is the primary sugar in fruit and high fructose corn syrup. Glucose is the primary sugar in the blood. Other sugars that break down during digestion, are maltose, malt sugar, and lactose, milk sugar. The suffix -ose indicates sugar.
How Sugar Affects Our Body
I encourage you to read my first post about sugar Could We Survive Without Sugar? for more information on how sugar harms our body. I recommend staying away from refined sugars, and if you think that artificial sweeteners are better, read this article.
Refined sugar is empty calories; it has no nutritional value! In fact, sugar is worse than nothing because it drains the body of precious vitamins and minerals through the demands its digestion, detoxification, and elimination make upon one’s entire system.
As the consumptions of sugar has increased, so have all the diseases. (I know that the increased consumption of corn oil has also caused a disease increase, but I’ll save that for future post.)
In 1821, the average sugar intake in America was 10lbs. per person per year; today it is 170lbs. per person, representing over one-fourth the average caloric intake. (1)
Cheap And Plentiful
With sugar so cheap and plentiful, we have lost sight of the fact that desserts are something you “deserve”. They should not be eaten on a daily basis, even naturally sweetened desserts. Sally Fallon of Nourishing Traditions recommends limiting desserts to holidays, special occasions, and perhaps one or two evening meals per week.
Never eat anything that is too highly sweetened, and never eat sweet food without some fat to accompany them. Fats, such as butter, cream, and egg yolks slow down the absorption of the sugar into the blood stream while providing fat-soluble nutrients that nourish the glands involved in the blood sugar regulation mechanism.
Definition Of A Natural Sweetener
Natural sweeteners contain high amounts of minerals and other nutrients. Acceptable processed natural sweeteners are those in which the nutrients have been concentrated through boiling or dehydration rather than stripped away, as in white and brown table sugar, corn syrup, or fructose.
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Moderate use of natural sweeteners is found in many traditional societies. Thus, it is perfectly acceptable to satisfy your sweet tooth by eating fully ripened fruit in season and limited amounts of certain natural sweeteners high in vitamins and minerals.
Let’s look at the best natural sweeteners to use:
Raw Honey: For most people raw honey does not upset blood glucose levels as much as does refined sugar. Buy honey labeled “raw” and use in desserts that do not require heating.
Maple Syrup: It is great for use in baked good, and cream-based desserts. Unfortunately the production of most commerical maple syrups use formaldehyde. So, when buying maple syrup make sure that it is formaldehyde free. Also Grade B maple syrup is preferred over Grade A, because it is darker and richer in minerals and flavor than Grade A maple syrup.
Organice Whole Cane Sugar (Rapadura): Dehyrated cane sugar juice is rich in minerals, paticularly silica. It gives the best results for cookies and cakes, but in large amounts can upset the body chemistry just as much as sugar. Read more about Rapadura, here.
Stevia Powder: It can be used by those who are sensitive to even natural sweeteners. A little goes a long way. It is an excellent sweetener in salad dressings, smoothies, whipped cream, puddings, and pie crusts. Take care to find green stevia powder, which is the unprocessed whole form of stevia leaf unlike the processed white stevia powders and stevia liquids that are popular in healthfood stores.
- Molasses: A “waste” product from the production of white sugar, molasses has a very strong taste and contains many minerals including iron, calcium, zinc, copper, and especially chromium which is important for the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels. It can be taken in place of iron supplements.
- Malted Grain Syrups: Malted Syrups, usually made with barley. While malted syrups do not contain much in the way of nutritional value, they offer a real alternative to other sweeteners in that they contain very little fructose which is harmful in large amounts.
- Date Sugar: Date sugar is made from dehydrated dates and contains the amino acid tryptophan which has a calming effect. It does not dissolve well and so is not as suitable for cookies and cakes but goes very well with breakfast porridges and cream-based desserts.
- Coconut Sugar and Coconut Nectar: A newly discovered sweetener on the market. These low glycemic sweeteners are the ideal alternative to agave nectar which has become very popular in alternative health circles but is actually a highly processed sweetener manufactured in a manner similar to high fructose corn syrup.
Since individual reactions to even natural sweeteners vary widely, it is a good idea to test your pulse before and after eating different ones. An increased pulse of more than a few beats per minute likely indicates a reaction.
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Sugars To Avoid
- Fructose and High Fructose Corn Syrup: Composed mostly of highly refined fructose, HFCS causes deleterious efftects, especially in growing children.
- Fruit Juice: The process of juicing fruit concentrates its sweetness. There is as much sugar in a glass of orange juice as there is in a candy bar, and most of it is fructose.
- “Raw”, “Natural”, Turbinado, Sucanat Sugars, and Florida Crystals: Although not chlorinated and bleached like white sugar, these are filtered sugars from which a large part of the nutrients has been removed. Small amounts of molasses may be added back to give a light brown color. Read more about “raw” sugar here.
- Agave Nectar: Agave nectar has become very popular in alternative health circles but is actually a highly processed sweetener manufactured in a manner similar to high fructose corn syrup. Read more on the downfall of agave nectar, here.
What sweeteners do you use? Which ones do you try to avoid?
Source: (1) Nourishing Traditions,