We’ve all heard the horror stories surrounding the consumption of refined sugars, and High Fructose Corn Syrup – all of which have been either correlated or linked with obesity, inflammation, premature aging, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, liver damage, and a slew of other symptoms and diseases. And yet, the average adult consumes nearly 4x the recommended amount of added sugar.
How? We are lacking the knowledge and skills to combat excess consumption.
Every morning, many of us stare at the bottom of our coffee mug wondering – what can I add? Despite trying to be healthier and swapping our white bread for whole grain, we have yet to find the perfect replacement for those situations where sweetening is needed. Our sweet tooth is ingrained in us from a young age. Honed by our calorie desperate brain, from the days where starvation was more common, and the threat of an ever expanding waistline was laughable.
In order to inform and build a knowledge base about sugar alcohols and natural sugars, let’s look at a few.
For those of us who are looking for an option that tastes sweet on the tongue but has virtually no calories, we are left with a set of chemicals. Some prominent examples are aspartame, Ace-K, Sodium cyclamate, saccharin, and stevia. Most of the above have been under considerable controversy – aspartame being continually under tests, Ace-K linked to cancer, Stevia only recently legalized, and Sodium Cyclamate outright banned in the United States (though available in 55 other countries including Canada).
On the other hand, sugar alcohols have recently entered the spotlight. Popular examples include xylitol, maltitol and erythritol. Sugar alcohols still contain calories, but much of their low calorie nature comes from their inability to be fully absorbed by the body. Sugar alcohols have been linked with gas, digestive upset, and are known to have a laxative effect. For those with IBS, IBD and other digestive issues, sugar alcohols should certainly be avoided. Some sugar alcohols like xylitol are infamous for causing digestive trouble even in individuals with no prior digestive issues.
All of the above have left people dissatisfied – they have their dangers, drawbacks, and most importantly to many consumers, an undeniable and most peculiar aftertaste. Next, we explore natural alternatives; products that still contained sugars like fructose and glucose, but that could somehow affect the body more positively.
Honey, Dates and Agave
Today, honey is a well loved sweetener in beverages, and some may prefer it to other sweeteners like sugar. Honey, much like table sugar, is composed primarily of glucose and fructose. It contains a high energy load, 64 calories per tablespoon, posing an issue to those concerned about overeating. Honey isn’t considered safe for diabetics, and has many of the issues of sugar in regards to tooth decay. Honey is not seen as a significant source of nutrients, and is low in protein and fiber. Unfortunately for lovers of it’s flavour, honey cannot be treated as a healthy sugar alternative.
Dates are a popular fruit in many cultures due to their intensely sweet flavour and the perception that they are fruit, and therefore, must be healthy! Despite the fact that dates are rich in potassium and contain fruit fiber, dates are still 80% sugar and have some of the highest glycemic indexes among fruit. Consuming dates is not recommended for most diabetics. For barren, inhospitable and hot climates, dates may have once been a “Wonderfruit” due to their caloric density – but in current times (with its abundance of healthy food), dates have little to no value. Consuming dates should be considered a true treat, similar to chocolate cake – not like vegetables and other healthy plant foods.
Agave nectar remains one of the most popular types of sweeteners available. The dangers of agave are present due to its overwhelming fructose content. Fructose is unnecessary for human health (unlike glucose), and can damage the liver – not unlike alcohol consumption. Fructose also affects a large host of other issues, including blood sugar instability, tooth decay, and obesity.
For most of us with a sweet tooth, it comes down to making informed decisions. Consuming sugar is inevitable but knowing where its hiding and how much is tucked into the foods we eat on a regular basis, is an important first step in combating over consumption. Sugar is sugar, no matter how natural.
By Simply Protein