Sweetness for sickness or health
If you are like me, you love the taste of sweet foods, especially during those times that the sweet craving or emotion is high. The problem is that there are far too many sweet foods available that contain far too many unhealthy sweetening ingredients for our own good.
But sweet tasting food does not need to translate into body fat, hormone imbalances (i.e. insulin resistance), or chronic disease if you use healthy sweeteners. So in my next few articles, I’ll review sweeteners from the worst to the healthiest. I’ll also show you some sweet and sour facts about foods you probably love so you can learn their healthy alternatives.
Let me begin with criteria to use when evaluating any sweetener. How do I compare the effects of various sweeteners on health? Here are my criteria for you to consider:
- Glycemic index and glycemic load: The glycemic index is a measurement of the relative rate at which a food’s sugar content absorbs into your blood stream and raises your blood sugar. More pertinent however, is the glycemic load: how much your blood glucose level increases from a typical serving of the food. Low GI foods include green vegetables, most fresh fruits, beans and lentils, nuts, raw carrots, high fiber (100 percent) bran breakfast cereals, and milk. Medium GI foods include sweet corn, bananas, pineapple, oatmeal, oat bran or rye breads, and brown rice. High GI foods include white rice, white bread, cooked potatoes/French fries, raisins and dates, pizza, and (of course) all those high sugar dessert foods and beverages. Therefore, the lower the glycemic index of a food (slower sugar absorption) and the lower the glycemic load of a food (less total sugar), the lower your risk is for obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. As a general rule, fat and fiber content of food lowers its glycemic index. Also, processing and cooking foods will raise its glycemic index. I personally feel better when I eat a large salad for dinner before eating a dessert. I’ll sometimes eat an apple with a dessert to off-set its glycemic index and load.
- Micronutrient content (nutritional value): Honey may be high in glycemic load, but carries multiple beneficial health effects. The same goes for some other sweeteners I’ll be reviewing in these articles.
- Other adverse health effects: Sucrose (e.g. table sugar, powdered sugar, candy) has many documented adverse effects on human health beyond those listed above. These include fatigue, depressed mood, tooth decay, aches and pains, increased body yeast, and more that I’ll detail below. Likewise, artificial chemical sweeteners have their bad effects too which I’ll be addressing in a later article.
- Happiness factor: We can’t forget that sweet foods give us pleasure, a valid measure of health. If you’re like me, taking all sweets out of your life is not an option. So, I always look for ways to maximize pleasure from sweet foods and minimize any ill health effects they may have. Would you agree?
Sucrose (table sugar)
Sugars and sweeteners come in various names and forms. I want you to be able to recognize these and evaluate them based on the above criteria. I’ll begin with sucrose, the most common sugar in our food supply. In 1980 each American on average consumed 140 pounds of refined sugar (this does not count real food sugars) and by 2004 it had risen to 200 pounds of sugar per person, according to data by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Did you know that the scientific literature points to more than 100 adverse effects from (refined) sugar in addition to promoting heart disease (atherosclerosis), diabetes and pre-diabetes (a.k.a. metabolic syndrome, now estimated in 1 out of 4 American adults), and obesity? To name the important ones: