“Refined sugar-free” is a bit of a buzz term at the moment. We’re no longer in the dark about the ill-effects of too much sugar, so instead we are filling our shopping baskets with raw honey, Medjool dates and organic coconut sugar. If you believe the hype (and it seems that many of us do), these unprocessed, ‘natural’ alternatives won’t upset our blood sugar levels, nor will they send us plummeting headfirst into an energy slump. As long as we replace the sugar with date syrup, we can have our cake and eat it – or so we’ve been led to believe.
THE VILIFICATION OF SUGAR
To get out of the mentality that white sugar is evil, and natural sweeteners are a far holier and healthier alternative, it’s important to understand exactly what it is in sugar that can be detrimental to our health. Common white table sugar, known by its proper name of sucrose, consists of two components in a 1:1 ratio, glucose and fructose. Glucose is what makes sugar taste sweet, and is the major source of energy for every cell in our body. Fructose, on the other hand can only be processed by the liver.
Consuming too much sucrose, more than the body needs for energy, can lead to weight gain. But research shows it’s the fructose part of sugar that can be particularly dangerous, when in excess. Too much fructose can lead to insulin resistance and significantly raises levels of triglycerides in the blood (a risk factor for heart disease). It also increases fat deposition around the middle, which in turn puts individuals at greater risk for chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
But isn’t fructose the sugar found in fruit, you would be sensible to ask? “The research shows that when fructose is consumed within whole fruit, that it doesn’t have the same negative effect on our metabolism,” explains Michael. “This is due to the presence of plenty of fibre, vitamins, minerals and a high water content that helps us to be fuller for longer.” It is unnecessary to be scared of everything with any fructose in it, he explains.
“However, reading the words sugar, high fructose corn syrup or more ‘healthy’ sounding descriptions like organic cane syrup or similar, high up in the list of ingredients, is something to take more caution of.”
THE RISE OF SUGAR ALTERNATIVES
Since the creation of great fear around sugar, the popularity of sugar alternatives has soared. “We humans do love the powerful dopamine release – or happy rush – that sweet sugary things bring,” explains Michael.” The problem with these new ‘natural’ sugars like agave syrup, date syrup, honey, maple ‘flavoured’ syrup, and coconut sugar, is that we have given them a ‘health halo’. Meaning because we think they are a healthy sugar alternative, we believe that we can have them in never ending supply of them without any health consequences.”
COMPARING SUGAR TO THE ALTERNATIVES
The components that make up refined white sugar (sucrose) are glucose and fructose. The components that make up sugar alternatives such as honey, coconut sugar and date syrup are – you’ve guessed it – glucose and fructose. For this reason, eating them in excess, just like eating sugar in excess, is going to cause us problems.
“By convincing ourselves that a date laden, maple syrup rich super sweet dessert is sugar free; we are simply convincing ourselves of a lie that these are ‘healthy'” says Michael. These products have still been processed, and the GI of these sugar alternatives is not too different from sugar; in other words – they have a very similar effect on the body.
Advocates will claim that they are richer in vitamins and minerals than refined sugar which is certainly true, but the health benefits of this are negligible compared to the detrimental effects of eating these sugar alternatives in excess. “I would much prefer someone consume 1 teaspoon of sucrose (5g of sugar) in their coffee rather than having 1 tablespoon of agave syrup (15g of sugar) and five dates (22g sugar) blended into their morning cacao smoothie,” says Michael. “The overall sugar content that these foods provide should be what we focus on, not whether the sugar comes from the cane plant, naturally found in milk, or extracted from the fruit of a tree.”
Source: The Fort Campbell Courier