Sugar has got to be one the most controversial discussion points in the health and nutrition world today. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty around what sugars are “good” and what sugars are “bad”. There’s more than a few types of sugar to say the least. To name a few; artificial sugar, natural sugar, palm sugar and more. So what are the effects of natural and artificial sweeteners on your body?
Whats the big deal about sugar?
Every cell in your body, especially your brain, runs on sugar. When we are first born; our mothers breast milk is packed full of sugars that are so powerful that they make us grow incredibly fast! Back in the hunter gatherer times we typically knew something was an edible food by its sweet taste from sugar. Sweetness from sugar is actually mother natures way of telling us that this is food we’re eating. The problem these days with sugar, is that big companies know how addictive sugar is. They have found ways to make cheap refined sugar products appealing, addictive and most importantly unhealthy.
Whats wrong with refined sugars?… Put simply they are:
And then we have artificial sweeteners…
- Artificial sweeteners are typically synthetic sweeteners created through a chemical process.
- The chemicals in artificial sugars are far more toxic and cause more harm to our bodies than refined sugars.
What you should know about natural and refined sugars
- Natural sugars are found in plant-based whole-foods like fruits and vegetables. These natural sugars also carry thousands of other essential nutrients that help the body fight against disease.
- Natural sources of sugar are digested at a much slower rate. This means they keep us much fuller for longer. This prevents us from over eating, gives us more energy and in turn our metabolism is more stable.
- Natural sugars are known is fructose. Fructose is essential for our health and definitely not a sugar to be afraid of!
- Sucrose is the name for refined sugar that comes from the sugar cane. Unfortunately sugar cane is heavily processed to extract the sugar.
- Interestingly, the sugar cane plant made into a natural fresh juice is healthy and full the fructose! However, when sugar is processed into refined white powder it is stripped of anything valuable. Unfortunately all its nutrients disappeared in the refining process and it becomes a food that has many negative side-effects.
- You will typically find refined sugar in processed sweet foods like lollies, chocolate, cakes and even some foods labelled as “healthy”. This is why its also important to check your labels and ensure you know exactly what’s in there before making a choice about eating it!
- There’s also a strong link between refined and artificial sugars, obesity and diabetes.
- This interesting study discusses how artificial sweeteners were linked with a higher risk of induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota
“ Came from a plant, eat it; was made in a plant, don’t.”Michael Pollan
3 Tips to reduce refined sugars & artificial sweeteners
- Firstly, avoid pre made sauces and toppings. It’s easy to hide high amounts of bad sugars into pre-made tomato sauce, salad dressings, barbecue sauce and more. Try to avoid ‘low fat’ options for packaged food, typically the fat in these foods is replaced with sugar.
- Secondly, try to avoid soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit drinks (that aren’t freshly squeezed). These types of beverages are sometimes made of up to 40% sugar. Unfortunately there is no nutritional value in these drinks are they’re severely dehydrating.
- Finally, processed snacks are also a great hiding spot for refined and artificial sugars; even some ‘organic’ and ‘all-natural’ companies will try and sneak in refined sugars too.
What sugar does our body actually need and why?
- Our bodies use carbohydrates (sugar) to function and our brains use carbohydrates as their many source of energy.
- Sugar found in natural, whole foods such as fruit is a powerhouse source of nutrition. These natural sugars give us valuable energy and carry various minerals, vitamins, fibre and antioxidants.
- Living water contained within fresh fruit is one of the best ways to hydrate our bodies.
- Honey alive and is a great way to sweeten coffee or tea. Another natural alternative to refined sugar is stevia. Stevia comes from a green plant and is a natural, healthier way to enjoy some sweetness in your warm beverages. Interestingly, stevia has been studied and found to increase insulin sensitivity, making it great for protection against diabetes.
- Dates are an amazing replacement for sugar in raw cakes and other sweet dishes.
- If you are vegan, maple syrup is another healthy and nourishing sweetener.
It’s really important that we limit our refined sugar and artificial ‘chemical’ sweetener intake as much as possible. These foods have a reputation of ruining the digestive system and causing toxicity in the body. The reason we are seeing the obesity epidemic continue to rise is largely due to these kinds of foods. Go back to basics with your grocery shopping and opt for pure raw honey, medjool dates and pure maple syrup! Read your labels carefully too, I was very close to purchasing maple ‘flavoured’ syrup just last week! When I had a proper read of the ingredients I found it was full of fake sugar! Thankfully I’ve even found a Stevia based Maple Flavoured Syrup now too!
Finally, when you are craving something sweet, your body is craving natural sugars. Try not to satiate this craving with artificial sweeteners with cakes, lollies and chocolates. Your body will thank you and reward you for opting for whole, real foods.