SUGARS – THE GOOD, THE NOT SO GOOD AND THE DOWNRIGHT UNHEALTHY SUGARS.
The whole question of sugars is a VERY complex subject indeed. Sugar is a highly addictive ‘food’ and if ingested to excess can trigger cross linking in the body, which shows up as wrinkles on your skin. This is because glucose, the simplest form of sugar, binds to proteins in a process called Glycosylation, which can ‘cross link’ proteins that are not supposed to be connected, making them less flexible. Cross linked collagen proteins appear as wrinkles, but this cross linking also occurs in your arteries, tendons and your lungs. Excess sugars in the body, if not utilised during exercise will convert to fat in the body and reside on your hips and stomach.
The average person in the West (especially in the USA and UK) ingests the equivalent of around 20 teaspoons of sugar daily (150-175 pounds of sugar per year) PLUS another 50 pounds annually of sugar substitutes such as High fructose corn syrup, aspartame or the new kid on the block- advantame. It is impossible for the human body to process this much sugar; insulin levels can remain elevated 24 hours daily which is one of the main triggers for Late Onset Diabetes. CLICK HERE to read the Ultimate Self Help Sheet on how to prevent and control Late Onset Diabetes.
Sugar also affects your immune functioning, it causes your blood sugar to become too high which in the long run is a major factor in developing Type 11 Diabetes, too much sugar also triggers inflammation in the body. Keeping in mind that inflammation of the arteries is a factor in hardening of the arteries and heart disease; whilst inflammatory processes in the brain are linked to Alzheimer’s and Dementia and a host of other conditions such as Arthritis – read on to find out which sugars are the truly ‘bad guys’ and discover some healthier alternatives.
On food and drinks labels, you may see for instance Corn Syrup, Sucrose (refined table sugar made up of 50% fructose and 50% glucose)), Fructose, maltose, Dextrose ( also known as Glucose), Agave Syrup, Xylitol or Honey. Sugars come in many forms. The main difference between the sugars has to do with the various ways they are metabolised by the body. To simplify matters I offer here a bullet point help sheet on some of the main sugars which I hope will help you to understand which are the ‘good’ guys when it comes to adding some sweetness into your lives!
THE ‘BAD’ SUGARS
- ·Refined FRUCTOSE bought in packets – that looks and tastes just like refined sugar is a BAD GUY. A high intake of refined Fructose acts as a TOXIN in the body. As Fructose has to be metabolised by the liver, if you ingest too much, it can contribute to a fatty liver, which in turn can raise LDL cholesterol levels. It also triggers inflammation in the body and raises levels of uric acid, a major contributor to high blood pressure. Fructose in its REFINED form doesn’t suppress your appetite, therefore you may keep eating even though you are actually full…. and,because excess sugars, unless burned during exercise, will convert to fat in the body, which will end up on your tummy or hips, you definitely need to cut down on REFINED WHITE TABLE SUGARS and refined Fructose.
In addition if Fructose is taken to excess, it can cause sodium retention – a major cause of high blood pressure. And if you ingest too much fructose at one sitting, because the body can only metabolise so much at once, it can trigger fermentation, which in turn triggers bloating and is a common cause for IBS. This is especially true when concentrated fruit juices are drunk regularly. Whilst fructose has a low glycemic index (GI) – which is a measure of how quickly foods you ingest raise blood sugar levels – its not a ‘healthy’ sugar.
BUT, this does NOT mean that you should stop eating fresh whole fruit which contains fructose in its natural state. This is because the fibres in whole fruits slow the absorption of the fructose enabling your liver to safely cope with it. Fresh fruit is also high in soluble and insoluble fibre and is packed with vitamins and minerals that are vital for your health.
- CORN SYRUP. If you read labels carefully you will find that refined Corn Syrup is used in many foods – from cakes, cereals and biscuits to sweetening for some milks. Refined Corn Syrup is made of FRUCTOSE and corn is a common food allergen for many people including myself. Avoid corn syrup as much as you can.
THE NOT SO BAD SUGARS
- AGAVE SYRUP extracted from the Agave plant. Quite a few celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow sing the praises of Agave Syrup as a natural alternative to refined white Sucrose- table sugar. Yet Agave consists of 47% fructose and 16% glucose. If you want to use Agave which also has a low GI index, then only use small amounts and make sure its raw and organic.
- GLUCOSE (also known as Dextrose) is a simple sugar, a carbohydrate. Glucose occurs naturally in starchy plants, such as corn, rice, wheat products and potatoes. Glucose is a good energy source for the body and if your glucose levels become too low, your ability to think clearly will be affected. After surgery, patients are sometimes given glucose in a drip to help regulate levels. Glucose is the main fuel source for the brain, but it is better taken in its natural complex form in food, as then it will slowly release its sugars into the body. This is why its healthier to avoid ‘refined white foods’ that release their sugars quickly and replace them with their unrefined counterparts. Eg. Use Brown rice instead of white. Brown whole – wheat bread instead of white etc.
- XYLITOL is extracted from the fibres of many fruits and vegetables which has a GI of around 7, whereas table sugar (Sucrose is around 65 and pure Glucose is 100). This plant extract is refined into a white looking table sugar. Yes, it’s OK to use small amounts for cakes etc, but again as it has to be metabolised by the liver, don’t overdo it ! Beware that Xylitol is deadly for dogs….
- COCONUT SUGAR (also known as Palm Sugar) is now becoming popular as a ‘Guilt Free’ natural alternative to refined table sugar. However, although this sugar is rich in minerals, and has a GI Index around 35, it’s also high in Fructose. But because it contains a fibre called Inulin, this may slow the absorption and help explain the lower GI index. Again, this sugar can be used in moderation.
THE HEALTHIER SUGARS
- Stevia. Whilst Xylitol (above) is a non-fermentable sugar alcohol and can be naturally extracted as sap from birch tree bark or more commonly manufactured by industry. It contains 30-40% lower calories than sugar and it’s very low glycaemic index means it does not affect insulin levels. Stevia on the other hand has no calories and comes from the leaves of the South American plant Stevia rebaudiana. It is around 200 times sweeter than sugar but has negligible effects on blood glucose. Though both these sweeteners will help in the management of blood sugar control, stevia (likely to be the more natural) would be the better option of the two.
- BLACK STRAP MOLASSES is a healthier form of sugar. As well as being low in calories and easily metabolised by the body, it’s a rich source of manganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6 and Selenium. Buy organic unsulphured Black Strap for best health benefits.
- RAW, UNHEATED HONEY – is also a ‘healthier’ form of sugar- as it’s pre-digested and is immediately assimilated into the blood which gives an instant energy boost. It’s also high in B vitamins, plus vitamins C, D and E, amino acids, silica, iron, copper, manganese, calcium, potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. Thanks to its high mineral content, Raw, unheated honey is a highly alkaline food, hence why arthritis sufferers swear by its ability to help reduce inflammation- which is triggered by an over ‘acid’ system. WATCH MY VIDEO BLOG in which I make my Highly Alkalising Breakfast whiz (CLICK HERE)This type of honey is OK for children, but not for tiny babies ! Raw honey has long been used to heal digestive problems and aid healthy heart function. In general refined honey is basically liquid sugar !
Naturopath Stephen Langley says ‘ Refined honey is basically Fructose and Glucose and has had most of its health benefits removed, both the anti bacterial benefits which are lost in the heating process – and valuable minerals and nutrients which are lost in processing.
- ORGANIC PURE MAPLE SYRUP. There is quite a lot of research a/v on pure Maple Syrup which contains 54 Antioxidants and has been found to have anti cancerous and anti inflammatory properties. Its GI is quite high at 54, yet, in its pure form, as it is slowly absorbed, it is well tolerated. Use in moderation. Maple Syrup is the third natural sugar, in addition to the 2 above, which are high in Glyco nutrients which are essential for the bodies cellular communication.
- FRESH FRUITS – Although fresh fruit contains fructose, it’s in its natural unrefined state. Fresh fruit is definitely a good guy and 5 pieces of whole fruit a day are recommended. It’s the concentrated fruit juices that should be avoided, as the fructose becomes too concentrated and can trigger bloating, IBS and cause a fatty liver as mentioned above. Fresh whole fruit is best eaten before breakfast or in-between meals. This is because fruit likes a fast passage through the gut and if too much fruit is eaten directly after a large protein type meal, it can become ‘trapped’ behind all the other food and trigger fermentation and bloating.