Sugar and sweeteners, what’s what?
Sugar, we all know its bad for us, but do we really know why?? Apart from it makes us fat and rots our teeth… what really happens? And what are the alternatives?
Here’s a low down on what’s what when it comes to your sweet tooth.
Sugar is addictive. It releases dopamine in the brain that makes us feel good. However this is only temporary. It’s a well known fact that the cravings, withdrawals, and relapse symptoms of a sugar addict is similar to those of cocaine and heroine abusers. Food manufacturers know you get the ‘feel good hit’ after consuming their products and this keeps you coming back for more. If anyone has ‘come off’ sugar (the white stuff) you’ll notice that if you then consume even a small amount say, a couple of glasses of lemonade, you can’t actually tolerate it and can even get a hangover. Think fury tongue, brain fog and fatigue. Look for alternatives to sugar stacked drinks, such as appletiser, which contains only natural sugars. For more info on the addictive properties of sugar click here
Our body uses the broken down form of sugar- glucose for energy, and the liver stores excess sugar as glycogen. This is the go to store of energy when the body needs it, during exercise, between meals or while fasting. But we can only store so much in the livers ‘energy cabinet’. The rest unfortunately gets converted to fats (triglycerides) and gets stored in fat pockets. So the more excess sugar, the more fat pockets will be made to store it! If that wasn’t bad enough, this type of fat that is not useful to the bodies cells, they get incorporated into our cell membranes. This is especially the case with processed fructose sugars (as in high fructose corn syrup). The body has an even harder job digesting these and the liver again converts them to triglycerides (fats), but once these lipids make up the cell membrane these cells become insulin resistant (leading to diabetes). With the huge amount of this processed sweetener in foods these days, it equals a big fat problem and one poor congested liver!
The blood sugar rollercoaster
A day in the life of a sugar addict…. Carbohydrates the sugary or starchy part of foods also get broken down into glucose. These come in two forms, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are the refined/bad ones, complex are the unrefined/good ones. Processed (simple) carbohydrates get absorbed very quickly, which gives a unnaturally rapid increase in blood glucose. Our body does its upmost to keep these blood glucose levels in check and a rise in levels is what we call hyperglycaemia. This rise in our blood glucose level prompts our pancreas to pump out lots of insulin to deal with the excess glucose. (insulin takes the glucose to our cells to be used as energy or converted and stored) As a result of this overproduction of insulin, about an hour later the person has got a very low level of blood glucose called hypoglycaemia. Have you ever noticed after a sugary breakfast cereal in the morning about an hour later you felt hungry again? This is hypoglycaemia. And what do people usually have to satisfy their hunger? A biscuit, a chocolate bar, a coffee or something like that and the whole cycle of hyper and hypoglycaemia begins again… yawn!!! Common symptoms include headaches, irritability, dizziness, feeling shaky, lack of energy, trouble concentrating, craving sweets, mood swings and depression.
This up and down roller coaster is extremely harmful. Once your body gets used to pumping out tons of insulin everyday to bring your blood sugar levels down, the insulin itself becomes ‘lazy’ having a harder job regulating blood sugar (insulin resistance). This Insulin resistance also makes it harder for our bodies to use fat as energy, in other words, you can’t lose weight easily when there’s a bunch of insulin coursing around your body not doing its job correctly. Nevertheless it’s not just about weight, too much glucose and insulin is a major culprit in many diseases, including the well known hyperglycaemia disease known as Diabetes. This hyperglycaemic disease can cause damage to the vessels that supply blood to your organs. This can lead to kidney disease, plus vision and nerve problems.
The adrenal glands are also put under a lot of stress by rapidly shifting blood sugar levels. The adrenals are needed to keep our energy steady and stress levels down. The endless need for the adrenals to ‘help out’ with the fluctuating blood sugar levels leads to adrenal exhaustion. This goes hand in hand with constant high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol floating around our system… which turns us into a ‘stress head!’. Of course putting our body under such strain is highly ageing.
Processed carbohydrates and sugar also slows down our resistance to infections and damages our white blood cells, impairing our immune system. According to the Environmental Law Centre – Eating or drinking 100 grams (8 tbsp.) of sugar, the equivalent of one 12-ounce canned soft drink, can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by forty percent. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours. In contrast, the ingestion of complex carbohydrates, or starches, has no effect on the immune system.
Now if your still with me, congratulations you’ve passed the average 3 min attention span…. read on…
Another reason behind sugar rotting teeth is that it draws the calcium from your teeth (and bones) to buffer the acidity. So over time your teeth will become weakened and the acidity and bacteria then takes action on your teeth. Also needed to help you absorb the calcium back into your teeth and bones, is magnesium. Just one molecule of sugar uses a whooping 56 molecules of magnesium! No wonder there is such an epidemic of magnesium deficiency throughout the western world (think muscle cramps/twitches, fatigue, heart palpitations, osteoporosis) We also have such low levels of magnesium in our soils these days from over farming. This is a serious problem for our electrolyte balance and cell function.
Fermentation V Oxygen – Acid V Alkaline.
Cancer cells are very hungry for sugar, they have 19 x more glucose receptors than normal cells. Ever considered how a PET scan works. Patients are injected with radioactive glucose. The test measures the parts of the body that absorb the most glucose. Greedy cancer cells light up like fireworks. Cancer cells use fermentation for energy whereas healthy cells use oxygen. The more acidic the diet (sugar is very acid forming) the more fermentation will be taking place. The more alkaline the diet (vegetables, nourishing wholefoods foods) the more oxygen is brought into the body. Obviously we want to be getting the alkaline/oxygen foods into our system and taking out the acidic/fermentation foods. Another important one to mention is Candida – a yeast. This is a massive problem nowadays, it also feeds off sugar and uses fermentation. Yeast makes it own poop, yuck! So not only are you dealing with your own waste, you are dealing with theirs, in the form of alcohol, formaldehyde, and other toxins. Signs of an overgrowth are gas, bloating, mental fog, fatigue, weight gain, fungus infections and a coated tongue.
Artificial and processed sweeteners
These are another big no no! This is not saving you calories and keeping the weight off. Calorie counting is useless. Its not the calories that count it is the source of the calories that count! Processed food with low calories are never going to make you healthy EVER. Artificial sweeteners are potent nerve toxins and should never be made for human consumption.
High fructose corn syrup HFCS
This is a highly processed sweetener containing no nutritional value. It is widely used today as it is so cheap and very sweet. According to Dr Mercola the effects of this sweetener have a detrimental effect on the human body, not only because it is in so many of our food products at such high amounts, It is very damaging to our liver, and can lead to diabetes. Further reading at Dr Mercola Click here
This sweetener is deadly. It sneaks its way into tons of stuff, even Bercocca vitamins (Boots vitamin award winner… bravo!!!) Its been linked to brain tumours, alzheimer’s, and many other serious nervous system disturbance’s. The best way to avoid it is to avoid processed foods and ALWAYS READ THE LABEL!
Neotame is Aspartame in disguise, it’s the new kid on the block so be aware and avoid! For further info on the dangers of aspartame watch… Sweet Misery
This sweetener had studies linking it to bladder cancer in rats in the 1970’s and it is still widely used today. Avoid!
This contains the carcinogen methylene chloride. Long-term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer in humans.
Although the name would suggest it is similar to sucrose (table sugar) it is actually far from it. It is made using heaps of chemicals and has especially high levels of chlorine. Chlorine is considered a carcinogen (avoid swimming pools with high levels) and has been used in poisonous gas, disinfectants, pesticides, and plastics. The sweetener Splenda is predominately sucralose.
What to do?
The trouble is all of the above sweeteners and sugars are hidden in so many of our favourite foods, such as diet meals, flavoured waters, canned drinks, squashes, salad dressings, jarred sauces, and even chewing gum, vitamins and tooth pastes. Coming off this stuff is hard work and should be done gradually, going cold turkey is just not gonna happen, so be patient with yourself! First swapping the bad for the good and certainly not touching the artificial – Think as natural as possible and shop smart! The safest bet is to stay away from processed foods and always check the label.
These words on the ingredients list mean sugar: glucose, dextrose, fructose, invert syrup, corn syrup, raw, brown or demerara sugar, glucose syrup, lactose, maltose, sucrose (table sugar), hydrolysed starch or treacle, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, turbinado, malt syrup, invert sugar, molasses, sweetened carob powder, maple syrup, maltodextrin, honey, brown rice syrup.(Plus all the fancy names for artificial sweeteners)
Low GI (glycemic index)
Glycemic index is a comparative measurement of the amount of glucose released by a particular food over a two to three-hour period. As a general rule for low GI foods you should choose complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates. So thats brown bread over white (if you want to include this at all!), brown rice over white, Oats and Quinoa over cereals, and eat vegtetables in abundance. You want to be aiming for foods under 55 GI. There are many books and websites with helpful charts you can use for reference. If you suffer from blood sugar imbalance or any of the symptoms above you need to limit all sugars, even the natural ones. Eating sugars with good quality fats (coconut oil, butter ghee) and good quality protein (organic eggs, nuts etc) is going to slow down the rate at which you burn them.
Here is a list of sugars & substitutes with their estimated Glycemic Index
|Refined Table Sugar||
|Refined, Pasteurised Honey||
|High Fructose Corn Syrup||
|Brown Rice Syrup||
|Coconut Palm Sugar||
|Luo Han Guo||
The goal is to stablise your blood sugar by eating balanced meals at regular intervals throughout the day, so that you no longer crave sweets. True success comes when you do eat sweets but they no longer taste good, better yet, they give you a headache, make you nauseous, tired, dizzy and depressed!
Naturally occurring sugars come along with fibre, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, whereas processed and artificial sweeteners have no nutritional value at all. Brown sugar is obviously a better choice than refined white sugar, but there are more nutritious options below. Although I do not believe calorie counting is beneficial for being healthy, I will state them for your reference.
Watch out for Agave Nectar, this is apparently very highly processed and some brands contain very high fructose levels with as much as 92%. Remember, our body has a hard job digesting processed fructose and it becomes a burden on the liver. So be careful with the claims of it being ‘raw’ and ‘low Gi’. If you use this at all, make sure you get it from a reputable company or stay away completely. (60 Calories per tbsp)
Maltitol, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Erythritol, Xylitol are all considered safe sweeteners. They occur naturally in plants but are usually manufactured from sugars and starches. However, many individuals have reported significant gastrointestinal distress that includes cramping, bloating, gas & diarrhoea. This is because they can ferment in the intestines. Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugars because they are not completely absorbed by the body. Xylitol is stated to be beneficial for teeth as it inhibits the growth of the acid-producing bacteria that causes cavities. (10 Calories per tbsp)
Organic Raw Honey
Packed with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, makes this a treasure chest of nutritional value. Make sure you buy ‘raw’ otherwise all this good stuff would of be boiled away with the pasteurisation process or filtered out. It still has a fairly high fructose levels so don’t over do it. (60 Calories per tbsp)
In Japan, stevia has been used by millions of people for over 25 years. It has just become legal in the UK, after battles with the artificial sweetener companies trying to keep it under wraps! Studies suggest that stevia has a regulating effect on the pancreas and could help stabilise blood sugar levels in the body. You only need a tiny amount as it is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar! (Zero calories)
Luo Han Guo
Although newly discovered in the western world, the Chinese have had luo han guo in their “secret” traditions as a natural sweetener and healing remedy for many centuries. This plant has high antioxidant properties, and has been thought to have no affect on your blood sugar. A big thumbs up! (Zero calories)
Coconut Blossom Nectar
Also known as coconut palm sugar. Another fairly new one to the western world. Coconut nectar is naturally sweet and highly nutritious. Containing 16 amino acids and 4 different B vitamins makes it a very good choice as a sweetener. (45 Calories per tbsp)
Organic Blackstrap Molasses
Unsulphured Blackstrap is what you should be looking for. This is very high in vitamins, minerals. Plus being especially high in Iron makes a good choice for overcoming anemia. It can be an acquired taste to those who have taste buds conditioned to the likes of sugar and artificial sweeteners. (47 Calories per tbsp)
Look for Grade B maple syrup which is darker in colour and contains higher quantities of the minerals: zinc, manganese, potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium plus trace amounts of B vitamins. Make sure you buy a good quality organic brand that will have a rich toffee flavour. (52 calories per tbsp)
Dates/Raisins & Dried Fruit
All of these make good natural sweeteners, for pancakes, energy bars and smoothies etc. You might find that this sweetness alone is enough to curb your sweet tooth. Make sure you buy organic if possible as sulphites and vegetable oils may have been added to preserve them otherwise. (Dates 23 calories per 8.3g, Raisins 42 calories per 14g)
We all need to cut back on our dependence for sweet tastes, even the natural sugars. But substituting the white stuff and artificial/processed stuff for the ones above are going to be a great help to regaining and sustaining health. A top tip to curb the sweet craving is hydration. When you feel the crave coming on or your energy level dips, have a pint of body temperature filtered water. This can help balance blood sugar levels and should get you feeling normal again. Often we are not hungry, we are actually thirsty!
References and further reading:
Nancy Appleton, Suicide by Sugar.
Dr Mercola, Sweet Deception.
Dr Weston Price, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
Elson M. Hass, Staying Healthy with Nutrition