Sugar! We have known for years that too much sugar contributes to any number of health problems. Some of us have cravings that we just can't get past and continue to reach for the sweets and treats we love. Some of us find a happy medium where we only indulge in goodies during special occasions. Did you know that one of the worst times of the year for people to get colds and flus is right after the first of the year and the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year celebrations of eating and drinking good cheer? Science tells us that sugar uses the same pathways in the brain as opioid drugs giving us a sense of comfort, while provoking addictive responses for more. You don't have to be a diabetic in order to be negatively affected by too much sugar. The average American consumes 20 teaspoons of sugar a day. This equates to 142 pounds of sugar a year. Is the solution really that we need to get our lack of willpower under control and give up the fun and camaraderie of sharing delectable morsels together?
Answer is - NO! As we approach harvest time and the season of Thanksgiving and family reunions, we need to use our creative and adventurous spirits in the kitchen; and craft some new methods of food prep, by educating ourselves on the numerous other substitutions for sugar. So instead of using the word 'sugar', for starters, we will now refer to the addition of 'sweeteners' to our culinary repertoires. I find when trying to change a habit, changing the word picture created by many generations of culture can adjust our perspectives. Sugar is only one source of sweeteners available to us today. As we look at the alternatives, please remember that they should still be used in moderation.
Honey - a natural sweetener used for decades, it is sweeter than sugar and so you need less. Raw honey contains enzymes, minerals & vitamins and is one of the best sweeteners for building up immunity to common local allergens. It may not work well in certain baking applications where a granular sweetener is needed.
Maple Syrup - This is syrup and granulars made from boiling the sap of maple trees to eliminate the water content. It has much lower fructose content than agave. It is full of minerals and is sweeter than sugar. The darker the grade the stronger the flavor and more mineral content. Granular maple sweetener is great for baking applications where the consistency of finish is important.
Molasses - is a very nutritious sweetener from sugar cane or beets. Made by clarifying and blending extracted juices, the longer it is boiled, the less sweet
Stevia - A very sweet herb that has become popular grows in South America and has been used by them for centuries. It can be 100 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, can be used in baking, and does not have any significant effect on blood sugar levels. It can be purchased in powder or liquid (the liquid is quite concentrated). Green or brown liquids or powders are best, as the white forms are highly processed. I find a slight after taste with its use, although most people find it unobtrusive.
Coconut Sugar - Made from flower buds of coconut palm. Heated until the water evaporates and caramelized, dried and ground into crystals. Good source of potassium, iron, & vitamins. It has same number of calories & carbs as regular sugar but a lower glycemic index. It is a good baking sugar to maintain good texture results.
Date Sugar - Finely ground dehydrated dates keeps the vitamin, mineral and fiber content. Can be used as a direct replacement for sugar in recipes and comes in granulated form. It can clump and doesn't melt, which will not work in some recipes.
Monk Fruit - The sweetener is created by removing the seeds and skin of the fruit and crushing it to collect the juice, which is then dried into a concentrated powder. Monk fruit contains natural sugars, mainly fructose and glucose; however, unlike in most fruits, the natural sugars in monk fruit aren’t responsible for its sweetness. Instead, it gets its intense sweetness from unique antioxidants called mogrosides. During processing, mogrosides are separated from the fresh-pressed juice. Therefore, monk fruit sweetener does not contain fructose or glucose. Beware, because this extract may be 100–250 times sweeter than table sugar, many manufacturers mix monk fruit sweetener with other natural products, such as inulin or erythritol, to reduce the intensity of the sweetness. It comes in crystalized and liquid forms.
Barley Malt Syrup - Half as sweet as refined sugar, it is made from soaking, sprouting, mashing, cooking and roasting of barley. It moves through the digestive system slower than other refined sugars. Made up of 65% maltose, 30% carbs & 30% protein, it comes in thick brown syrup or powder form.
Brown Rice Syrup - The rice is ground and cooked, converting starches to maltose. Tastes like moderately sweet butterscotch. Replace each cup of refined sugar with 1/4 Cup rice syrup & reduce the amount of liquids. Contains 50% complex carbs, 45% maltose & 3% glucose, of which glucose is immediately absorbed and rest is much slower to be absorbed so that steady energy is a result.
What About Tree Syrups
Agave - made from the agave cactus, it is a liquid and often touted as a good alternative to refined sugar because it has low effect on blood sugar for diabetics. But beware - it is high in fructose and affects the leptin hormones which increases overeating and weight gain. Use conservatively if at all.
Birch Sugar & Syrup - Formally referred to as xylitol, this is a concentrated liquid that is shown as safe for diabetics because it does not convert to fat. It is alcohol derived and as such too much can cause the same bloating, diarrhea and gas and refined table sugar because it causes fermentation in the gut in the combined breakdown with other carbs.
Erythritol - Derived from the fermentation of sugar cane and corn starch and does not affect blood sugar. It does have the same bloating, diarrhea and gas affect that Birth syrups have.
Rapadura - This is a brand of "raw" sugar in that it is from extracting the juice of the sugar cane, evaporating the water and grinding into powder. It is unrefined and organic, but it is still sugar with high glycemic and all the other effects we get if we eat too much.
Sucanat - Another brand of mechanically processed sugar cane juice so that it is unrefined and maintains the vitamins and minerals. It has a grainy texture for baking. Again, it is still sugar with all the affects if overused.
Turbinado - Another brand of unprocessed, crystalized sugar cane, it is similar to brown sugar but with all the other negative health effects of sugar in general.
Equivalents for Cooking
If you are hesitant to tread into new cooking territory, here are a few equivalents for some of the above sweeteners as they compare to 1 cup of white sugar in a recipe:
Agave - 2/3 cup
Barley Malt - 1 to 1 1/4 cups
Birch Sugar/Syrup - 1 cup
Molasses - 1/3 cup
Brown Rice - 1 to 1 1/3 cups
Coconut Sugar - 1 cup
Date Sugar - 2/3 cup
Erythritol - 1 to 1 1/4 cup
Honey - 1/2 to 1/3 cup
Maple Syrup/Sugar - 1/2 to 3/4 cup
Rapadura - 1 cup
Stevia - See manufacturer's label as it varies by concentration
Sucanat - 1 cup
Turbinado - 1 cup
How to Stop Sugar Cravings
Last but not least, here are a few techniques for getting off the sugar addiction roller coaster. For those of us with a sweet tooth, we find the temptation to grab another cookie hard to resist. While it is with intentionality that we empty the house of sweet things and go on a fast for a while to break the attraction, one taste of a sweet can start the whole mess over again. The suggestions below are intended to help us make better substitutes so that we stay away from the 'dangerous' sweeteners; while at the same time learning to cook with less harmful sweeteners. Just knowing that refined table sugar is processed with lime, carbon dioxide, extreme heat, acid calcium phosphate, phosphoric acid, blood albumin from slaughter houses, twice boiled, filtered with boneblack (animal charcoal) and then bleached was enough to make me stop. In light of this information, refined sugar has absolutely NO nutritional value and fits the definition of a toxic substance. Need I say more!
Coconut Oil/ MCT Oil - MCT oil is a smoother form of coconut oil and can come in flavors. A lot of folks will use a teaspoon to a tablespoon in morning smoothies, as flavoring for coffee or just integrating into a recipe that calls for oil. Coconut oil has some unique health advantages in that is healing to the gut lining, is a good fat that used in the morning routine gets your Keto (fat burning for fuel rather than glucose) off to a good start for the day. It is a good immune booster on its own and satiates the desire for sugary snacks. Taking a teaspoonful when you get a craving, can help stop the desire.
Use Good Salts - There are numerous salts that our body can use because of the mineral content that they supply; sodium bicarbonate is an example. Buying organic sea salts or Himalayan pink is a good way to get trace minerals into our diets and keep the blood pressure down (often the case with bleached, processed commercial table salts where all the minerals are gone).
Protein/good fat breakfast - This is part of the Keto eating habit. The first principle is to start the day with protein and fat (see picture) and eliminate the carbs. If you start your day with fat, it is more satiating and you don't get the low sugar dive mid morning. It triggers your body to look for fat as it's fuel source. If you start your day with carbs (toast, juice, cereal, pancakes…..) you trigger your body to use and look for glucose. As glucose is metabolized much faster than fat, your body begins to look for another source of fuel within 2 to 3 hours of your last meal, beginning the process of insulin resistance (diabetes). For more on a Keto Diet, see some of our articles on Keto and the 15 Day Challenge.
Cinnamon for sweetener - there are certain spices that have a sweet taste that can be used to counter that desire for something sweet. Cinnamon is one of them, which also has the advantage of being an insulin balancer. Vanilla is another one.
Have Healthy Snacks Available - If you have these in your refrigerator ready to eat, you can train yourself to reach there instead of the cupboard for chips and cookies. Suggestions; fruit slices, organic peanut or almond butter balls, celery & carrot sticks with hummus dip or other assorted healthy dips….
Get Enough Sleep - Science now proves to us that good sleep is a must! The facts show us that a good majority of people suffer from some form of insomnia. A rested body, is one that detoxes and replenishes energy during those sleeping hours resulting in a body that maintains good energy and does not have as many highs and lows.
Exercise - Good for circulation, detoxing lymph, and stabilizing metabolism; we need to keep moving no matter what age we are. It sets us up for good sleep, burning excess fuel and stabilizing the body's call for more fuel.
Stay Hydrated - Keeping all the good fuels circulating & feeding our organs and eliminating accumulated waste products. Make sure it's good, filtered water and not sugary/salty sports drinks or fad soft drinks loaded with more sugar.
Get Rid liquid sugars.
. Sports Drinks
. Sweet Tea
Don't OD on Fruit - Though fresh, ripe fruit is a good source of natural sugar, too much can be and overdose. If you are drinking commercial fruit juice, there is sugar added to these drinks; and fruit not ripened on the fine is devoid of the good stuff. If you are a smoothie drinker, limit your recipes to 1 fruit and the rest veggies for a much better, less sugary, and energy promoting drink.
We will be sharing more articles in the next couple of months about building your immune system for the coming season. Start with the sugar and get that under your belt and the next article will be something you can add to your lifestyle to keep colds and flu out of your house.
Over 40 years of Herbal and nutritional experience.