Many of you know refined sugar is not good for health, and as the previous post explains. (If you are a parent, please do me a favour and read it!)
Now we can consider the many “alternatives” to Refined Sugar, and to see the facts and fads of these.
But let’s begin how do I decide if something is a “good” alternative?
In fact, it’s relative. But the basic requirement is that it is close to its natural wholefood state and it is not chemically processed and denatured.
And you want to look for those that do not spike your blood sugar level too quickly. The Glycemic Index (G.I.) of the food tells you that. Here’s the “what” and “why” in simple terms:
Glycemic Index (G.I.)
G.I. refers to a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels (i.e. levels of glucose in the blood) rise after you eat a particular type of food, relative to consumption of pure glucose. The G.I. index scale ranges from 0 -100. Glucose has a glycemic index of 100.
The effects that different foods have on blood sugar levels vary considerably.
Generally foods that have a GI below 55 is considered diabetic-safe.
For blood sugar and inflammation control, weight management, optimal energy levels and general health reasons, you want to shoot for low G.I. As we age, we generally become less insulin sensitive and the effect of consuming high G.I. foods become more negative.
Let’s review some common “sugar alternatives” now and their pros and cons:
“Brown Sugar” or “Evaporated Cane Juice”?
Raw, brown or turbinado sugar, at 96% sucrose is hardly better than white sugar, which is 99.9% sucrose. Nowadays, we are inundated with products made with organic evaporated cane juice, sucanat, florida crystals, fructose – and they are all very high G.I. and almost all are chemically processed. (Yes, “raw sugar” is just a name, it’s just less processed and it looks brown.)
Artificial Sweeteners (hey it says “zero calorie” so it must be good?)
“Diet sugar”, or aspartame (known as Equal and some other names) is WORST than table sugar.
It is NOT a healthier alternative to sugar at all.
Aspartame is neuro-toxic and carcinogenic (cancer causing). It excites the brain and confuses it to want more sugar. It is even more addictive than refined sugar and more damaging to our blood sugar mechanism.
Aspartame is prevalent in chewing gum, diet soda and many other “health foods” now. Other names have also been invented to disguise it and confuse consumers.
It’s more likely to cause depression than white sugar and studies have found those who consume “diet” soda gain more weight over time than those who consume the regular variety!
So a big NO for sure!
Natural wholefood sweeteners
Dried fruits and fruit juice can often make natural sweeteners, e.g. dried apricot, raisons, although they are not low in G.I. Dates and figs (not low in G.I. either) benefit digestion and many variations of dates are even used as medicine in TCM.
Pasteurised honey (clear coloured) is high in G.I. and do not have much nutritional value. But raw honey is very enzyme-rich and benefits digestion and reverses inflammation. The G.I. of honey varies a lot depends on the kind. If in doubt, do not use if you are diabetic, or use sparingly.
Lo-han fruit 羅漢果 is very low in G.I. and is used in traditional chinese medicine often in soups and teas.
Wholefood derived low GI (glycemic index) sweeteners (most convenient and healthy alternatives)
While agave nectar is also low G.I., coconut palm sugar has more health benefits with similar G.L.
My most used sweeteners are now:
- coconut palm sugar/coconut nectar (GI 35)
Coconut sugar (dry as well as nectar form) has a light taste and works in most recipes. You can replace white sugar with it 1 to 1.
- yacon syrup (GI 1)
Yacon is also a pre-biotic and it feeds the good bacteria in our gut. Is is therefore a great choice for those who has candida. But it does have a stronger flavour and is dark in colour and mineral-rich (like molasses).
Stevia being GI zero is also a great choice. The dropper bottle kind can travel with you quite easily.
Other common sweeteners like maple syrup and molasses are both medium G.I. and may be used sparingly.
And to satisfy your sweet tooth naturally without adding any sweeteners, do include these in your diet:
Naturally sweet foods in nature
Whole grains, legumes and root vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potatoes, yam, lucuma, mesquite etc. are naturally sweet. When you include these in your diet your need for “fake sugar” or any sugar will naturally go down.
And of course fruits are naturally sweet and most can enjoy these especially if eaten whole (with the fibre). The best time to eat them is on empty stomach, but not necessarily eating them first thing in the morning alone without other protein-rich foods following it (or blended up into a smoothie).
At the end of the day, sugar is still sugar, so even with the “safe” ones, my advice is, listen to your body. What used to work for you may not work for you now. Be open to experiment and see what works best for you. You should get your energy from a variety of foods and not just from sweet foods. (We can talk more about that in another post about the different flavours of foods and their impact on our physical and emotional balance.
There is no need to give up the enjoyment of sweet foods. When you satisfy your need for “sweetness” with natural sweet foods and wholefoods, and as your gut health improves from doing so, you will more than likely and naturally desire healthier choices, and find refined sugar unappealing.
There is no need for willpower to kick the sugar habit, if you know how…!
This is why a blood-sugar friendly nutritional detox* which effectively cleanses your gut while you restrict the consumption of refined sugar and manage your blood sugar well by eating regularly can help to restore your body’s innate intelligence.