The Super Bowl is over and Valentine's Day is 7 days away. We're in the zone where added sugars are abundant --- junk foods, party fare, chocolate treats! There's no better time to do this, Friends: Let's talk about the sweet stuff.
Doubt I need to tell you that too much sugar is associated with all kinds of health risks. When we consume too much sugar we are not only likely to gain weight, but also increase our risk for heart disease, chronic inflammation, diabetes and impaired immune function. It's wild, but evidence shows that sugar consumption (regardless of the source - table sugar, honey and unsweetened orange juice were in the study) depressed the immune system of healthy volunteers by about 50 percent for up to five hours. If you consume sugars at every meal or in beverages between meals then we're talking about a significant impact on immune function.
According to a 2009 study in Circulation, annual sugar intake increased 19% from 1970 to 2005. In 2009, the American Heart Association (AHA) reported Americans were ingesting an average of 111 grams of sugar per day which is the equivalent of about 450 calories per day! Currently, most Americans are consuming about 30% more added sugar than in 1970 however, the top20% of U.S. adults and children are consuming between 650-730 calories of added sugar every day!
The AHA suggests limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than 100 calories per day(about 6 teaspoons) for women and no more than 150 calories (about 9 teaspoons) per day for men.
The other factor to consider is that high-glycemic foods (think: white bread, potatoes, and corn syrup) can trigger cravings and light up the parts of your brain linked to addiction. So, when you open that can of Pringles or box of chocolates, there are physiological and psychological reasons why you can't eat just one.
Don't be bummed! You can still eat sweets!
The trick to satisfying your sweet tooth comes in WHAT you choose to eat (and WHEN you choose to eat it... but we're gonna save that piece for another day). Working with the Glycemic Index, you can know WHAT choices are LESS LIKELY to spike your blood sugar and impact your health negatively.
Here's how the glycemic index (GI) breaks down:
- low-glycemic have a GI of <55;
- moderate-glycemic foods have a GI of 56-69;
- high-glycemic foods have a GI of >70 .
White table sugar has a GI of 80 and high fructose corn syrup registers at 87.
The good news is there are healthy, low glycemic alternatives! My favorite:
- Liquid stevia.
Stevia doesn't spike blood sugar, has zero calories and it comes in plain and flavored versions. A little goes a long way! Stevia is actually 300 times sweeter than sugar. This herb has been used as a sweetener for centuries in South America, and it's even said to aid digestion. However, it does have a slight aftertaste, which may take some getting used to.
That said, stevia doesn't work for everyone (or in everything). Here are other lower glycemic options you can use to replace high fructose corn syrup and processed table sugar:
This liquid has the benefit of being rich in prebiotics (which feed good gut bacteria), but can cause some gas or bloating because of this! Extracted from the yacon plant (a South American tuber) the syrup has half the calories of sugar and a high concentration of indigestible inulin, a complex sugar that breaks down slowly. It's an excellent source of potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, 20 amino acids. Use 2/3 cup instead of 1 cup of sugar.
Lucuma powder is made from the Peruvian lucuma fruit, and is rich in minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B3, beta-carotene, and fiber. One tablespoon of white sugar contains 14 g of sugar calories, while one tablespoon of lucuma only contains 2 grams (although it still has 60 calories overall). The powder tastes a bit like maple syrup. You can also substitute it directly (1:1 ratio to sugar) in baking recipes, especially if brown sugar is called for.
- Brown Rice Syrup.
Brown rice syrup is made from boiled brown rice and has a gooey consistency like thick honey. It's really sweet, and has a distinct butterscotch flavor. The syrup contains trace minerals of vitamin B, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin K. This is a sweetener that's a better option for you than refined sugar because it won't digest as rapidly, but it still contains as many calories as sugar -- so use it sparingly.
- Raw local honey.
This golden stuff is rich in antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, minerals, and phytonutrients. It is thought to have some medicinal properties and can help with seasonal allergies. With a much lower-glycemic rating than table sugar, raw honey is a great alternative sweetener. It has more calories than sugar, but because it is sweeter, you can use less.
If you're vegan, it's not for you because it's considered an animal product.
- Coconut Palm sugar.
Coconut sugar is the evaporated sap from coconut trees. It's granulated and can be swapped 1:1 for white sugar in recipes. Has the added benefit of being rich in magnesium, potassium, zinc, and B vitamins.
- Grade B Maple Syrup.
Darker and usually thinner than honey, grade B maple syrup is definitely higher glycemic so best used occasionally or as a treat. It's also high in zinc and manganese. Calorie-wise it's comparable to sugar, but because of its sweeter taste, you only need to use 2/3 cup of maple syrup per 1 cup sugar. Be sure you're buying pure maple syrup, not anything that's been cut with high fructose corn syrup!
You may have noticed that agave isn't on the list. Even though it doesn't spike blood sugar, it turns out that it's not so great. Recent research has shown that agave is processed in the body (by the liver) similar to high fructose corn syrup... yikes! Steer clear of it as much as possible and opt for one of the other sweet alternatives instead!
Check back for a few more posts this week that will include recipes featuring some of these alternative sweeteners. Health is a matter of balance and synergy. To thrive, we don't deprive! Join me and learn simple shifts that will help you be your healthiest in 2018!