Increasing threats of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart diseases have become real concerns for many people due to high consumption of sugar in food, beverage, and confectionery products [study]. According to the World Health Organization , 451 million of people are living with diabetes and about 43% of total deaths under the age of 70 are diabetic patients.
“Everybody's got their poison, and mine is sugar.” - Derrick Rose
Imagine eating 170 pounds of sugar in a year. That would come to about half a pound in a day.
And that’s the equivalent of around 50 teaspoons daily. You’re probably telling yourself that you couldn’t possibly be consuming that much sugar in such a short period of time. But according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), that’s pretty much what Americans are having in a given year.
If you’re having a hard time wrapping your mind around that statistic, think of it this way:
One serving of your typical soda already has eight teaspoons. And if someone’s chugging down 5-6 of these in a day, they’re close to the 50-teaspoon mark!
And that’s not counting “low-fat” food like yogurt, muffins and mayonnaise…
…those “healthy” energy bars and dried fruit snacks…or your favorite pasta sauces and skim lattes.
Those are just some of the sugar-laden types of food that are cleverly marketed as “healthy” meals. Most stores and grocery aisles are CRAWLING with them. And chances are you’re eating a good handful of these on most days.
That half-a-pound statistic doesn’t seem so crazy now.
The Sweet Trap of Sugar
Before we get into the best non-sugar sweeteners out there, you’ll need to understand WHY you need to make the switch in the first place.
As you already know, excessive sugar consumption is detrimental to your health. But what makes it so destructive to your body?
Well, it starts with insulin.
You’ve heard people mention this hormone when they talk about conditions like diabetes, but here’s what you should know:
- When you eat anything with sugar, it goes into your bloodstream, which then spurs the pancreas, your insulin-making organ, into action.
- Insulin then gets busy by moving nutrients into your cells in order to store energy for later use. As for sugar (which is broken down into glucose), insulin also works to get it OUT of your bloodstream and bring down your blood sugar levels to normal.
- Some sugar stays in your blood, while insulin transports the rest into your muscles and liver.
In a healthy individual, this should be a balanced process that keeps them nice and fueled throughout the day. For people who eat too much sugar however, things get off-track in a bad way. If your system is already loaded with all that glucose (like in the muscles, liver and cells), the excess amount they consume has nowhere to go. This is the point where your body is forced to turn that sugar into saturated fats, which is not a good thing. You’ll also end up creating something called triglycerides in your system which compounds the problem.
After putting yourself through this abuse, your metabolism will “remember” sugar as your choice of fuel. Ideally, you should also be burning fat aside from sugar. Instead, that fat is now taking up space around your gut (which increases your risk of heart disease) and other parts of your body.
This is bad news for your leptin, your appetite-regulating hormone. Your system produces this as a way of telling you that you’ve had enough to eat. Once your blood turns into a cocktail of excess sugar and triglycerides, it “jams” the signal sent out by leptin. This means there’s nothing stopping you from eating past your limit. This is called leptin resistance - and with this also comes insulin resistance.
You see, insulin transmits a signal of its own, which is directed to your cells.
It’s ordering your cells to store nutrients, which is fine under normal circumstances. But with so much sugar already in your blood, your cells can’t take in any more. Not unlike a cranky toddler, they dig in their heels and “resist” insulin’s efforts to feed it nutrients and energy.
So your pancreas also digs in its heels and pumps more insulin in your bloodstream.
As you can guess, this escalates the situation. Your cells end up getting damaged from the struggle, triggering them to push back even harder.
And so they begin this back-and-forth dance, which creates a ripple effect across your body.
For instance, your immune system gets involved in this mess. They’ll try to contain the damage from the oxidative stress that your cells are now undergoing. But when this goes on for extended periods of time, it leads to chronic inflammation. This opens the door to a host of complications.
This includes arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and the big “C”.
Breaking The Habit
Switching over to a sugar-free life (or one with way less sugar at the very least) isn’t fun and games. You know too much is bad for you, but your body just can’t quit it. To untangle yourself from the tentacles of the sugar trap, you’ll need to unlearn those poor eating habits.
And part of that is looking for a healthier replacement for industrial-grade sugar. To reduce your dependence, here are some substitutes worth looking into:
Honey is one of the most valued natural sweeteners introduced to humankind since ancient times. Humans have been consuming this since the dawn of time - including tribal groups who don’t have obesity or diabetes.
Honey has a potential therapeutic role in the treatment of disease by phytochemical, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties. Evidences from several studies suggest that the use of honey in the control and treatment of wounds, diabetes mellitus, cancer, asthma, and also cardiovascular, neurological, and gastrointestinal diseases.
While raw honey is a natural food source, it’s important to note that it’s still almost half fructose (which is what makes processed food sweet), along with carbs and calories.
So while it’s not as bad as refined sugar, it’s best to use this sparingly.
2. Organic Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a natural sweetener consumed by individuals of all ages throughout the world. Maple syrup contains not only carbohydrates such as sucrose but also various components such as organic acids, amino acids, vitamins and phenolic compounds. Recent studies have shown that these phenolic compounds in maple syrup may possess various activities such as decreasing the blood glucose level and an anticancer effect.
Maple syrup, in its organic form, has antioxidants and even zinc. Being way less processed than its industrially-produced equivalents, this old-school sweetener is a better choice.
Stevia is a plant native to South America that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. Today, zero-calorie stevia, as high-purity stevia leaf extract, is being used globally to reduce energy and added sugar content in foods and beverages. This is another zero-calorie sweetener that’s been around for hundreds of years. They’re derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana, a plant native to South America that has been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years. Stevia shows promise as a tool to help lower energy intakes, which may lead to the reduction and prevention of obesity [study].
However, look for the organic brand of stevia powder (which are raw green as opposed to grocery store white). This is to make sure you won’t get one that’s processed or filled with additives that can cause gas or make you feel bloated.
In fact, it’s best consumed in its raw form, which is stevia leaves.
6. Coconut Sugar
The lower GI value of coconut sugar suggests that it can be a better source of healthier sugar. Coconut sugar is made by evaporation of coconut sap and is a nutrient‐rich crystalline sugar/sweetener that looks, tastes, dissolves, and melts almost exactly the same as regular sugar. It is completely natural and unrefined and has a far superior taste . The texture and flavor of coconut sugar are also similar to those of brown sugar. Thus, it can easily replace regular table sugar [study].
Coconut sugar contains a load of nutrients such as polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium. It also has antioxidants which reverse cell damage from oxidative stress and contains higher amounts of vitamins (C, B1, B3, B4, and B10) as compared to sugar palm and sugarcane juices.
Moderation is key, so apply a little restraint while keeping your sweet tooth happy.
And I’d also like to point out that people living with certain health conditions like Type 2 diabetes shouldn’t be having them so much – or at all.
Consuming sugar – even the healthier kind – should always be on a case-to-case basis.
Always consult with your doctor if you have any conditions or if you’re trying to lose weight.
Now, we only covered a small part of why controlling your sugar intake is so important.
We’ve just scratched the surface, and seeing the whole picture could save your life.
There are far worse consequences to eating processed sugary snacks that you need to know about.
A lot of people think that it’s healthy to eat less, exercise more and help themselves to those “healthy” low-fat foods that are marketed to them.
The truth is that it’s this kind of thinking (which is shaped by major food companies) that’s killing more and more people every year.
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