This is first in a food series I’m starting about the food choices we’ve been making as a family. I’ve already posted about our decision to cut out highly processed foods, but in these I’ll go into more detail about the science behind this choice. My hubby is joining me in this blog series by contributing to each post in his own words. The first topic we’ll cover here is SUGAR!
I have a sweet tooth.
Most people do.
Most people also know that sugar is bad for them. But what is sugar and why do we feel guilty after we overindulge in it?
What it is
Ordinary table sugar is scientifically called sucrose. It is made up of both fructose and glucose. Fructose is the same sugar that is in fruit.
High fructose corn syrup is a highly refined sweetener and appears in most processed foods. We’ve avoided HFCS for years, mostly because it signifies a cheap, low-quality food product and it has no nutritional value. But it’s important to understand that while avoiding HFCS is a good thing, the body handles both these sugars the same way: both will spike your blood sugar, both will give you a jolt of energy followed by a “sugar crash,” and both will leave you wanting more. More recently, we’ve made an attempt to reduce all refined sugar from our diet.
Why it’s bad
Aside from the sugar crash, sugar is addicting, bad for teeth, weakens the immune system, and excessive consumption can lead to obesity and diabetes. Every time we drastically spike our blood sugar, our body has to work hard to create insulin to regulate it. It’s all about balance.
And sugar is highly addictive. The more you eat, the more you want…but the reverse is also true: the less you eat, the less you miss it! There’s a lot of conflicting advice about food, from carbs to cholesterol to chemicals. But despite all the drama and debate, everyone seems to agree that lots of sugar is lots of bad. You don’t hear about scientific studies linking high sugar intake to high longevity. You don’t hear nutritionists promoting some new research about a traditional culture from the 1300’s that thrived on kilograms of honey and sugarcane. You don’t hear alternative bloggers touting their innovative six-packs-of-a-soda-a-day diet that revitalized their lives and made them feel 25 again. I (Josh) think it’s pretty interesting that people who disagree about so much agree about this.
- Pure maple syrup and honey – These are natural, unrefined, straight from nature. Get the best you can afford. While they are still processed the same in your body (all sweet things are), they are the same sweet things our ancestors found in trees and enjoyed on rare occasions.
- Coconut sugar – This is a lovely invention! It’s the evaporated sap of the coconut palm (also called palm sugar). It tastes like brown sugar, but has nutritious vitamins and antioxidants from the plant still intact due to its minimal processing. It also has healthy amino acids from the coconut. The best part is it’s cheaper than maple syrup and honey, and it’s a 1:1 substitute for sugar in baking!
- Stevia – I don’t use stevia personally because I think the aftertaste is a little funky, but lots of people enjoy this all-natural, super sweet, no calorie alternative to sugar. I would stick with the liquid or the 100% pure powder, as some have additives to make it less concentrated (it’s many times sweeter than sugar and should be used a drop at a time!)
- Fruit – Some fruit is very sugary. This sugar is fructose. I use it to my advantage. In the form of fruit (not juice, but the fruit itself) fructose is accompanied by vitamins, minerals, potassium, and fiber. Most recipes taste great sweetened with fruit alone. Oatmeal is fantastic with just some raisins or fresh blueberries as sweetener! Many desserts taste great with just a banana or handful of dates instead of sugar. Or try plain yogurt with frozen berries or mangoes mixed in as an ice cream alternative! Even when doing a week with strictly no added sugar, we allow fruits in our diet.
How to read a label
How to break the sugar habit
It’s hard to start, but easy to maintain a lower-sugar lifestyle. I (Emily) started by cutting sugar out of my coffee and tea. That was a big step, but the less you eat sweets, the less you crave them, and the more special they are when you do have them (made from scratch, with natural sugar substitutes!) I’ve found my threshold for sweet is much lower now, and I enjoy other flavors more as they are allowed to take center stage.If you’re trying to cut out added sugar, we’re here to support you!
Stay tuned! The next post is about fat!
Sources and further reading:
What to Eat – Marion Nestle
Skinny Chicks Eat Real Food – Christine Avanti
Salt, Sugar Fat: how the food giants hooked us – Michael Moss
In Defense of Food – Michael Pollan