Ahhh… sugar! That pure sweetness, that immediate rush, that sensation of pleasure. Hard to resist, isn’t it? Most of us know that sugar isn’t “good for you.” Sugar consumption is linked to many common health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, high cholesterol, depression, anxiety, periodontal disease and dental cavities. Yet people still eat it. A LOT of it. Approximately 130 lbs. of sugar per person per year are consumed.
So what is this substance we can’t seem to get enough of? White sugar is made by extracting the juice from sugar cane, filtering, concentrating and purifying it until sugar crystallizes. This is a highly industrial process. Sulfur dioxide, charcoal, and carbon dioxide are all used during sugar production. Vegans and vegetarians, be careful! Sugar is known to be processed with animal bone.
White sugar is pure carbohydrate, 99.5% sucrose. It is stripped of all its natural components: water, minerals and vitamins. These empty calories provide absolutely no nutritional benefit. (NOTE: Other highly refined sweeteners such as fructose and corn syrup are put through similar processes. Natural sweeteners, however, that have been concentrated by means of dehydration or boiling still contain minerals and other nutrients.)
What You Can Do
Explore the world of sweeteners. Use this cheat sheet to help: (All retain trace minerals and vitamins.)
Dehydrated cane juice: 85% sucrose. Substitute cup for cup of sugar.
Molasses: the thick syrup remaining after sugar refinement. It’s half as sweet as sugar.
Honey: sweeter than sugar and retains trace vitamins and minerals.
Pure maple syrup: concentrated tree sap 2/3 as sweet as sugar.
Barley malt syrup: made from whole barley and water, about 1/2 as sweet as sugar. This is a slow digesting sugar, thereby not causing your blood glucose levels to spike.
Brown rice syrup: same sweetness and consistency as barley malt syrup but lighter and more delicate.
Date sugar: ground, dried, pitted dates.
Fruitsource: brand name of a brown rice/grape juice sweetener. 3/4 as sweet as sugar.
Fruit sweeteners: use fresh and dried fruits and cooked fruit sauces.
Stevia: comes from the South American sweet leaf shrub. Much sweeter than sugar but calorie free; sold as a food supplement in powder and extract form.
The more refined our food is, the more our bodies have to compensate by drawing the missing nutrients from other sources. These can be other foods eaten at the same time, or from the body’s own stores in tissue and bone. When we eat sugar, we lose B vitamins, minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorus and other nutrients from our own healthy cells. This is one of the biggest factors in the development of osteoporosis. Our bones become weakened as calcium is constantly withdrawn from them to accommodate our sweet tooth.
One reason sugar gives us intense cravings is that our bodies are looking for missing nutrients. Ironically, we often look for more sugar to fix it, making the cycle worse and leading to perpetual snacking and binges. It also leads to chronic over-stimulation of the endocrine system, which knows that the body has just loaded up with calories, but can’t find the nutrients that should naturally accompany them.
Most people have experienced the swings that come from eating sugar. When we consume sweets, our blood sugar skyrockets, insulin is quickly pumped into the blood from the pancreas to bring our blood sugar down to acceptable levels. Each time we eat sweets it shoots up and down, up and down. Our moods follow.
But there’s more. Excess sugar is stored by the liver as glycogen. When the liver has reached capacity, the excess glycogen is returned to the bloodstream in the form of fatty acids. These are then stored in the most inactive areas of the body first: tummies, buttocks, thighs, breasts. When those are filled, it’s distributed among organs like the heart and kidneys. The organs become weak and slow, affecting the entire body with their inability to function properly.
Sugar also provides comfort and helps us numb out feelings we’d rather not experience, temporarily soothing unmet emotional needs. We become hooked on it psychologically as well as physiologically. But despite knowing this, we’re still addicted. When we quit eating sugar, we experience genuine withdrawal symptoms: cravings, headaches, depression and fatigue. These can last anywhere from three days to a month.
The good news is that there are many ways to reduce sugar consumption. The first thing you can do is learn to cook. Most packaged foods, even “health foods” are loaded with sugar. Start reading the labels on the food you buy. Sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice and fructose are all sugar. When you depend less on these foods, you will automatically be reducing your sugar intake.
You can start using natural sweeteners. These enter the bloodstream at a moderate rate. Raw honey, maple syrup, molasses, brown rice syrup and date sugar can all be used in natural treats. It’s worth learning about them! Please keep in mind that the less you consume sweets, the less you will crave them. It gets easier as you go along. And a delicious world of health-supportive foods opens up to you!