Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Sweet News

Check out the following list of good alternative sweeteners from

Maple syrup is an excellent substitute for sugar. It is high in trace minerals like zinc and manganese, which can assist in heart health and in balancing cholesterol levels. The only real downside to maple syrup is that it is pricey and can be hard to find if you live outside North America. You also want to watch which grade of syrup you're getting: The light "Grade A" or "Number 1," supposedly the most desirable, can contain formaldehyde runoff from the first extraction of the syrup under certain processing conditions. All the other grades are safe, but Grade C (the darkest amber syrup) is the best.

Honey is another item that's often presented as a healthy alternative to refined sugar, but it is sometimes controversial. People who react to sugar as a "brain allergy" (especially common in children, for whom it can trigger ADD/ADHD symptoms) may react to honey the same way. It is high glycemic, and hits the body as a hard sweet. However, most people digest honey much more easily than sugar. Raw, unpasteurized honey is rich in elements which can help with wound healing, kill bacteria, soothe sore throats and digestive upset, and decrease local allergy symptoms. Honey is also sweeter than sugar by volume, so you need less in baking and cooking.

Agave is a sweetener extracted from a South American cactus, and traditionally used to make tequila. Often called "honey water," the agave nectar or agave syrup is light, both in taste and colour. It is runnier than honey and tastes much milder, but is in fact sweeter so even less is required in cooking. Agave is extraordinarily low glycemic - it has almost no impact on blood sugar, making it an ideal sweetener for diabetics and those who are sensitive to sugars.

Stevia, an extract from the leaves of about several species of plant from the genus Stevia, may be the most perfect sweetener for the human body. Stevia has been shown to support the function of the pancreas - increasing enzyme availability and improving your body's ability to process other sugars. Stevia is sold in the U.S. as a dietary supplement, and can be found in either liquid or powdered form in most health food stores. It is sometimes criticized for its slightly bitter aftertaste. For those who enjoy baking however, you substitute only a tiny amount for normal sugar - 1/4 to 1/32 the amount of sugar called for, depending on the kind of stevia. Stevia has also been shown to reduce cavities and has few to no calories (again, depending on the type you use).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Refined Sugar: Not so sweet to the health

"No dessert until you finish your dinner" is a common dinner table command we've all been subject to. As a kid, I always used to wonder why we couldn't eat dessert first and why there was a huge discrepancy between portion sizes of green bean casserole and chocolate chip cookies. It never seemed fair. In fact, it still doesn't. However, I now understand the science behind sugar creating the valid parental concerns of hyper children and cavities among other dangers. These are the not-so-sweet effects of refined sugar:
  • Immune System Suppression- Because of the unnatural chemical structure and industrial contaminants of refined sugar, our immune systems recognize it as a toxic foreign agent and has been shown to increase the vitality and number of white blood cells. It also depresses the body's energy field and makes blood more acidic, which increases the body's susceptibility to toxins, viruses and bacteria. Once the body has a bacteria (like a yeast infection), the sugar feeds it! In addition, the abnormally large quantities of insulin secreted to balance blood sugar upon sugar consumption suppresses the release of growth hormone, which in turn creates immune deficiency.
  • Mineral Leeching- Since sugar is nutritionally "naked," the body is forced to borrow minerals, nutrients and vitamins from other areas to metabolize it. The leeching of calcium from the teeth creates cavities and the excretion of potassium and magnesium from the body can contribute to heart disease.
  • Obesity- When too much sugar is consumed, the liver converts the extra sugar molecules to triglycerides and stores them as fat or cholesterol, contributing to obesity.
  • Behavioral disorders?- Although the disorders and disabilities are up for debate, get this: Chronic violence in prisons was reduced by eliminating refined sugar and starches from the prisoners' cafeteria diets.Crazy, eh?! Plus, there have been links made between sugar and ADHD in children (although nothing has been confirmed).
  • Type II Diabetes- Since the pancreas has to work hard to secrete insulin for sugar metabolism, an excess work overload causes it to shut down, just as any machine would shut down if it is being jammed with more work than it is built for.
But before you go into a depression with the depressing knowledge, you should know you are not doomed. There ARE good sugars (see next blog)! And remember, any extreme measure that causes mental turmoil like completely avoiding refined sugar produces more negative effects for your body through stress than just eating the darn Snickers bar. The key is moderation.