I know you have read quite a few times by now that I try to avoid processed sugar as much as possible. I’ve shared a few reasons why (like this post on my skin), but there is so much more about sugar that needs to be said.
Sugar is kind of like gluten: everyone seems to have an opinion on what is best, but no one seems to agree. So it can be incredibly difficult to come to any kind of conclusion regarding this elusive substance that we all have a love/hate relationship with. So let’s just start with a few of the basics…
The typical sugar that we think of (the white, powdery stuff) is usually made from sugar cane or sugar beets (which are typically GMO) and are essentially carbohydrates that contain no real nutrients. The original plant itself doesn’t have much nutritional value, but when it is processed so extensively the resulting sugar isn’t beneficial in any way. When you eat this sugar it can be processed either as energy or as fat. Our bodies don’t really need much sugar to be used as energy, so eventually after eating a certain amount of sugar your body just begins turning all of that excess sugar into fat. This is where insulin comes in, to help us process all of that sugar. When we eat a lot of it our blood sugar spikes, so the insulin comes in to try to regulate it, and sometimes over regulates it because of the huge spike it is trying to reverse. Therefore we end up “crashing” when the blood sugar drops. That’s when we feel that addictive need for more sugar to get that blood sugar “high” again. And thus the vicious cycle continues.
There are different kinds of sugar which make it a little difficult to understand because our bodies process each kind in different ways. However, just know that fructose is a very popular version used in many foods today. The naturally occurring version of fructose in fruits and vegetables is totally fine in normal amounts, but in the incredibly processed version occurring in huge doses in most of our processed food, it is overwhelming on our bodies and can in turn do a lot of harm.
What’s even worse is that more than half of the sweeteners used in America today are actually produced from GMO corn. This is cheaper to produce than regular sugar and tastes sweeter. Many studies show that GMOs can be hazardous to your health, and at the very least have not been tested enough to be considered safe. If you’re trying to avoid questionable foods with many possible side effects, this is definitely one to consider avoiding!
From all of this excessive sugar consumption, we’re seeing liver damage, weight problems, insulin resistance, metabolic problems, and increased risk of disease. Some studies also show that sugar “feeds” cancer cells. Many people have shown fabulous results in treating their cancer naturally by eliminating sugar and eating healthy, raw, natural foods.
So I know that is a lot of information, but I just wanted to share why it has been so important for us to cut out sugar as much as possible. After learning these things we just can’t allow ourselves to overindulge on this delicious substance like we used to. The problem is that some form of sugar is in EVERYTHING, and it has been a long road to where we are now! Today we don’t use any regular sugar in our home. We use sugar substitutes for everything, and none of them are artificial sweeteners like splenda or aspartame (which are just as dangerous if not much more so than real sugars, but I’ll probably have to save that for another blog post! :)). So I wanted to share some of our favorite sugar substitutes and why we love them so much.
- Raw honey – Not only is honey absolutely delicious and a fabulous sugar substitute, it is truly a superfood! We love using this to sweeten baked goods like muffins, smoothies, and Craig loves it for sweetening oatmeal. Local honey is also incredibly beneficial for boosting your immune system and improving allergies. Getting it locally is important because it will contain pollen from local plants, giving you more immunity to local allergens. During colds it is also incredibly soothing on a sore throat, which makes it a fabulous sweetener for hot drinks. We also love using honey as a topping for deserts or baked goods instead of icing or other drizzles. Honey also contains many beneficial vitamins, so overall it is a wonderful addition to your diet. All honey is a better sweetener than sugar, and we use different kinds at different times, but local, raw honey is definitely the most ideal. But as long as it is pure honey with no additives you’re on the right track 🙂 There are tons of recipes available that use honey as a sweetener, or you can look up conversion charts to tell you how to substitute honey for sugar in almost any recipe!
2. Real Maple Syrup – Syrup is probably my favorite sweetener simply because I LOVE the taste! It is so rich and decadently sweet. I love using syrup in my oatmeal, to make homemade chocolate bars or chocolate sauce, and many others. Just like honey, you can find tons of recipes that use syrup instead of sugar. Maple syrup has a lower sugar content and less carbohydrates than honey, and also contains less fructose. It doesn’t contain the vitamins found in honey, but it does have many beneficial minerals not found in honey, so there are definitely benefits to both of these alternatives! As usual, organic is typically best, but as pictured below, even pure syrup is a fabulous alternative!
3. Stevia – Stevia is definitely my favorite for sweetening drinks like coffee or tea. It’s also great for taking with you in your purse to add to drinks on the go or things like oatmeal if you’re eating breakfast away from home. I love buying it in liquid form and just adding a few drops (or nearly a whole dropper full if you’re anything like me) to a drink. It’s my daily coffee sweetener! Stevia is simply made from a plant an has an incredibly sweet taste more than 100 times sweeter than sugar. It has no calories and no carbohydrates, so you definitely don’t have to worry about that aspect of this sweetener! Some people do find that it has a bit of an aftertaste, but others find it to be the perfect sugar substitute! You’ll just have to give it a try and see what you think 🙂 After using it for a few weeks I didn’t taste anything but delicious sweetness! The brand that I typically use is SweetLeaf, but you primarily just want to make sure you’re not using a mixture of stevia and other artificial sweeteners which is what some “stevia” products contain. Some contain a mixture of stevia and something like dextrose, which is NOT what you’re looking for. Make sure to get a stevia product that is pure stevia.
4. Coconut Sugar – Coconut sugar is my absolute favorite sweetener for desserts! It substitutes at a 1-to-1 ratio for sugar, so it is very easy to use and SO delicious. You can practically use this as a substitute in any recipe that calls for sugar without changing any other ingredients. It gives a richer, more maple/brown sugar taste than white sugar, but I find that to usually be perfect for things like cakes and cookies. Coconut sugar is made from the blossoms of the coconut palm tree and is considered low on the glycemic index, meaning it doesn’t raise your blood sugar nearly as much as other higher glycemic index sugars. Regular sugar ranges around 65 on the index whereas coconut sugar is 35. So you’re getting all of that sweetness, but from a healthier source and with much less damage and stress to your body! Love it!
So hopefully this helps you realize that there really are ways to cut down (or even eliminate!) white or artificial sugar without having to forgo the sweetness we all crave! Obviously we still shouldn’t eat these substitutes ALL the time, but whenever you’re needing a bit of a treat, these sweeteners will take away the guilt and leave you feeling much better afterwards 🙂