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Nutrition Articles

Sweeteners

So you want to bake yourself a treat to satisfy that sweet tooth but aren’t sure what sweetener you should use.  Well the obvious one to avoid is regular white sugar.  This also means all of its variations, including brown sugar, cane sugar, cane syrup and icing sugar as well.  Sugar rots your teeth, disrupts hormone balance, negatively impacts your mood, upsets the digestive system, causes skin conditions and leads to many degenerative diseases including type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc…

When cutting sugar out of your diet and replacing it with an alternative it is important to know which substitutes are actually good for you and which ones are just as bad as the white stuff.  Agave syrup for example, was claimed to be a great “low glycemic” sweetener that is recommended for Diabetics and anyone concerned with their blood glucose levels.  However, agave syrup is made up of 70-90% fructose.  It is technically a low glycemic sweetener because fructose isn’t readily metabolized by the body so it doesn’t spike blood sugar levels, but the problem with fructose though, is that it does not get metabolized the same way as other sugars.  Fructose goes directly to the liver and can impair liver function and promotes obesity.  So while it may not initially spike your blood sugar levels, it is still going to make you fat and promote type 2 Diabetes, therefore agave is one sweetener that you want to avoid.

The most important sweeteners to stay away from are the artificial ones.  These include: aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet‘N Low), acesulfame-K (Sunette or Sweet One) and neotame.  These each vary in the way the body breaks them down (or is unable to break them down) but the common theme with all of them is that they are toxic and shown to be carcinogenic (cancer causing).  Common places for these to show up are in diet sodas, sugar-free gum, “weight-loss” and fat-free packaged foods.  Not only are these hazardous to your health, they will also contribute to weight gain by tricking your body into thinking it is getting sugar, without actually getting it, which stimulates an increase in appetite.  Your best bet is to go with a natural sweetener instead of something designed in a lab.

Honey is a common natural sweetener used instead of sugar.  It is a good choice to use because it is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.  Of course, these properties are decreased in pasteurized honey vs. raw honey, but they are still worth mentioning.  Different varieties of honey also contain multiple strains of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, which are the good bacteria that keep your digestive system running smoothly.  Local honey can even be eaten by anyone suffering from seasonal allergies to keep them under control.  It has also been shown to be effective at suppressing cough symptoms in children aged 2-18 with upper respiratory tract infections even more so than dextromethorphan (WH Foods).

Honey is made up of a 1:1 ratio of fructose to glucose, which is about the same ratio as high-fructose corn syrup.  As mentioned previously fructose in high amounts is damaging to the liver.  As for blood sugar control raw honey has a GI rating of only 30, whereas grocery store processed honey ranks in at 75!  That is a huge difference and certainly a good reason to choose raw honey.  If you are using processed honey it should be kept to a minimum in the diet.

Maple syrup is another natural sweetener to try instead of sugar.  Like honey, it too has some notable health benefits to mention.  In fact, maple syrup contains fewer calories and has a higher concentration of minerals compared to honey.  One mineral that it is particularly high in is manganese, which helps with muscle recovery by helping to repair muscle and cell damage.  Other minerals that it is high in are iron, calcium, potassium and zinc.

Maple syrup’s GI is also lower than honey at 54 and it is mostly made up of sucrose.  Sucrose, unlike fructose, will have a higher impact on blood glucose levels and cause the release of insulin but at least it gives your liver a break because it has to pass through the digestive system.

Coconut nectar is my go to sweetener to use when baking.  It contains only 10% fructose and has a GI of 35.  Not only that, it is chalk full of vitamins and minerals, amino acids and contains a prebiotic (feeds good bacteria in the gut).  It has a texture similar to honey and maple syrup and can be used anywhere you would use either of those.

There is also coconut sugar which is made from the sap of the coconut palm and tastes similar to brown sugar.  It has the same GI rating as the nectar and is similar in content but because it is a granulated sugar it can be substituted easier in recipes that call for sugar.  One thing to be aware of when buying coconut sugar is that some brands also mix in cane sugar with it, raising the GI and causing it to create more of an insulin spike when consumed so make sure you are buying only pure coconut sugar.

So as you can see there are plenty of good options to choose from instead of consuming poisonous refined white sugar; although, it is best to avoid sugar in all of its forms altogether.  The best one from a blood sugar standpoint is coconut nectar/sugar.  Honey and maple syrup also come with their own set of healthy vitamins and minerals while offering a better GI rating than sugar.  Ultimately though, whatever you choose to sweeten your baked goods, you need to remember that sugar is still sugar no matter what form it comes in.  Even though these sugar alternatives have health benefits, they are first and foremost just another form of sugar, so don’t be fooled.  Use sweeteners sparingly in your diet and opt for a piece of whole fruit first when you get a sweet craving.

By: Megan McDonald CNP

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