Sugar: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Part Two

I have been so confused by the myriad of sugar alternatives available on the market and how to decide what is  best, but I think much depends on a). usage b). glycemic index c).taste, and d). processing.

First off a few words on the glycemic index, since I touched on it briefly in my last post. The glycemic index is a comparative measurement of the amount of glucose released by a particular food over a 2-3 hour period. Foods that rapidly release glucose rate high on the glycemic index (GI). Foods that slowly release glucose are low on the glycemic index. Ideally, you’ll want to keep your glucose level low, so it is slowly released. High glucose levels lead to diabetes and other health issues. Just to give you an idea, a best practice is to keep your total glycemic load under 100 per day (Foodie for Healing)


First off this list is not meant to  all inclusive, as there are some sweeteners amiss, so that I could focus on the most popular.

HFCS-high fructose corn syrup and sugar/sucrose have GIs at 68 and 65 respectively which doesn’t seem all that bad when we’re looking at all of these sweeteners in relation to glucose at !00, but they are highly processed and stripped of all nutrients and HFCS has been one of the contributing factors of obesity in the country since its in nearly all processed foods found on supermarket shelves today, including soft drinks.

Glucose or White bread: Everything else is in relation to this. GI: 100

Artificial Sweeteners like, Nutri-sweet, Equal, Splenda, and aspartame:These  alternative sweeteners are chemically processed, toxic, and should be avoided. They’ve been known to cause brain tumors in lab rats and have short term side effects such as nausea, migraines, excessive sweating, and heart palpitations. GI: N/A

Agave Syrup: Although it has been the super star of the hour and touted as a great low GI alternative for diabetics and now can even be found at Costco,  the natural label is deceiving.  Agave syrup derives from a cactus like plant from Mexico. In it’s purest form agave is clear, but after processing is likened to maple syrup or even HFCS.  Because most agave comes from Mexico, there’s not much in the way of quality control, and  there are about 60 calories per tablespoon in comparison to 40  in regular table sugar. GI: 15-30

Stevia: Like agave, stevia has enjoyed some super star status of its own, particularly for diabetics, and has been marketed as a natural sweetener, but it’s not.  Stevia has actually been banned by the FDA. The two major name brands of the (isolated extract called rebaudioside-A (Reb-A)-not actually stevia) are Truvia and Pure Via, manufactured by Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola respectively. Red flag Anyone? Pure Stevia as derived from the plant and ground up looks nothing like sugar. The manufacturers process the extract by using additives like  erythritol, isomaltulose, and cellulose powder.  GI: 0

raw honey

Honey: Like many foods in it’s natural states, raw, unprocessed honey is considerably healthy and maybe even believed to be a superfood by some alternative health care practitioners; however most honey available  on the supermarket shelves, the golden clear like liquid like syrup is processed. Commercial (processed) honey is heated to 150-160 degrees thereby robbing it of any and all beneficial nutrients.  Raw, unpasteurized honey is labeled as such, murky  and thick in the jar and may  even contain some of the comb. raw honey GI:30, processed honey GI: 75.

Turbinado: This is also known as raw sugar although it’s less refined, it’s still refined and is slightly better for you than cane sugar: GI: 65

Date Sugar/Dates: The reason I combined these two although the sugar is processed is because they have the same GI number; however the sugar is processed, so it’s not gluten free. Dates are high in fiber and minerals, so there are some benefits to this sweetener; however it remains pasty and therefore doesn’t dissolve in liquids, so it’s great for not baked sweet treats and tarts. GI: 62

Coconut Palm Sugar:neither as sweet or fine as cane sugar and possesses larger granules that don’t seem to dissolve as nicely as sugar in beverages. Derives from the sap of the coconut blossom. This sap is low glycemic, diabetic-friendly, contains 17 amino acids, minerals, vitamin C, broad-spectrum B vitamins, and has a nearly neutral pH. Raw coconut palm sugar is minimally evaporated at low temperatures for 90 minutes to remove excess moisture and allow for crystallization. Sap nectar is only 16% sucrose. (Foodie For Healing). GI: 35

Sugar Alcohols: Sorbitol, Mannitol, Xylitol, Lactitol. These occur naturally in plants, but are usually manufactured from sugars and starches. Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugars because they are not completely absorbed by the body. They can ferment in the intestines and cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. This is sometimes the result of chewing too much sugar free gum. (Foodie for health). Xylitol GI: 7

I am still experimenting with sweeteners to find what I like in each situation, but I am finding that in baking  I like coconut palm sugar to replace  half the cane sugar if not all.  I do still like stevia (reb A) aka Truvia in my tea, coffee etc. in trace amounts, because the jury is still out on that, so I would like to avoid it in large amounts. For sticky sweet raw baked goods like protein bars or my date tarts I like to ground dates in the food processor.  I’m looking to experiment with raw honey in the future. Whatever you decide remember the less processed the better. Your sweetener will have more nutritional benefits if the nutrients have not been leeched out with heat or harmful chemical additives. And. lastly consider the GI index, although that measure is not the end all be all; it’s definitely an important factor and of course you should still be consuming sugar/sweeteners in moderation.

bellySo why does any of this matter? Well, if you are like me and lots of people (particularly those of a certain age) you carry your excess weight around the middle.  Freeing yourself of this extra “baggage” is really quite simple.  According to Colorado State University, excess sugar consumption is not something our ancestors worried about because “about 200 years ago, daily consumption of sugar was under 15 grams—research has shown that before the Industrial Revolution, that’s about how much the average person ate.  [sure they had to deal with tuberculosis and other illnesses, but obesity wasn’t one of them.] Compared to today, the average American consumes more than 47 teaspoons of sugar each day  that’s about 189 grams a day,” that’s over thirteen times the amount of sugar.

Our bodies don’t know what to do with all this excess sugar. (Now bear with me here, because I’m not a biology major, so this will be broken down in the most simplified  biochemical terms.) After we eat something sweet or very carb heavy like white bread or pasta our blood sugar spikes and the body reacts by quickly sending out insulin through the bloodstream to bring levels back to normal. When those locations are full the excess is stored in adipose tissue in the buttocks, abdomen, thighs etc.  Where you store the excess fat depends upon genetics, but most people carry it in their middles, so much so that abdominal circumference is often an indicator of insulin resistance. This means that fluctuating blood sugar levels can lead to insulin level resistance, which causes the pancreas to flood the bloodstream with more and more insulin. The result is either greater fat storage and hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. If low blood sugar is resultant then hunger signals are sent to the brain. Michele Ruttkiewicz, a certified nutritionist explains that ” we may feel hungry again so soon after eating a meal rich in easily absorbable carbohydrates (e.g. bread, pasta, sweets and pastries). By routinely choosing to consume these foods we perpetuate the cycle of elevated blood sugar, increased insulin, abdominal fat storage, hypoglycemia and hunger.”

So you can see how a diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates leads to a vicious cycle. The more we eat, the more we want, without ever getting completely satiated. I know I’ve been a victim to this most of my life . I managed to combat it mostly, until I reacher my forties, through exercise, but when my metabolism slowed and hormones kicked in I quickly realized I needed a paradigm shift.

So as to not extend this already lengthy post any further,  I will save some tricks I learned (to kick those sugar cravings to the curb) for another post. Until later. . . . .it’s been SWEET.


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or certified nutritionist, so always consult your physician for expert health advice.