Everything You Need To Know About Sugar and Sugar Substitutes
Sugar is the devil! Or so we’ve heard a million times. And as powerful as that statement might be, we’d be lying if we said we knew why sugar is the devil. Why is sugar so bad for us? How did we become so dependent on sugar? How do we embark on a sugar-free but still-fun life? All these answers, as well as the best sugar substitutes, to include in your diet, right this way.
Why is sugar bad?
Well, here’s the thing, not all sugar is bad, ‘added’ sugar is bad. These sugars are added to food during production, otherwise known as processed foods. Sugar is added for a whole host of reasons – as a means of preservation against bacteria, as a way of improving texture and mouthfeel, improving the flavour of low-fat foods. The trouble with these sugars is that, firstly, they’re hidden, so you’re eating them unknowingly – that seemingly healthy can of tomato soup? Packed with sugar.
Secondly, these sugars are refined, which means they are stripped of nutrients and are basically straight up syrup. The most commonly added sugars are sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup. When eaten, these simply add empty calories and absolutely zero vitamins or health benefits.
How Sugar Becomes Fat
The reason these sugars are so bad is that along with the added calories, they go straight to the liver and get turned into fat, which ultimately can cause non-alcoholic liver disease. An increase in these refined sugar can also lead to insulin resistance. Insulin is extremely important because it maintains healthy glucose levels and controls the burning of fat. An overload of these sugars can cause an insulin resistance, which can lead to obesity, cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.
Another harmful side effect of sugar is the addictive one.
Sugar causes a dopamine release similar to cocaine in the brain, which is highly addictive. Ever feel shaky if you don’t have your daily soft drink? That’s your body craving out for a drug – sugar.
So where are these sneaky sugars?
Essentially anything processed or pre-packaged will contain some degree of refined or added sugars. Shop bought pasta sauces and soups and frozen meals, long life fruit juices, diet and low-fat foods, as well as fizzy drinks, are all harbourers of added sugars.
Bottom line is, if you’re buying it when you could make it yourself, there will be sugars in there.
Another thing to watch out for is that sugar is legally allowed to be called 61 other names, so even when it doesn’t say ‘sugar’, it could still contain sugar. Look out for terms like high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, maltodextrin, fruit juice concentrate, caramel, cane juice, dextrose, galactose, glucose, lactose, malt, maltose, malt syrup, mannitol, diastase, ethyl maltol, confectioners sugar, corn sweetener and molasses to name just a few.
Yikes. Sugar is everywhere. How do I kick the habit?
Ultimately, the best thing you can do for yourself is cook meals at home. Processed foods were first seen in the United States around the time of the 1950s. The combination of a post-war nation needing to rebuild and growing industrialisation meant that it was easier to produce food quickly, and cheaply. The American mother was also entering the workforce and also needed quick convenience food to feed her family. Hence, refined food began to power the country and eventually, the world.
And yes, cooking at home is time-consuming, but if you want to reduce your sugar intake, this is the first step to doing it. Sure, cutting back on sugar in your tea and coffee can help, as well as avoiding cakes and other sweet treats, but processed foods are still biggest contributor of added sugar.
How Homecooking Can Help You Kick Your Sugar Habit
It’s not as scary as it sounds. Making a tomato sauce for pasta, or cooking a large batch of soup is pretty easy and better for your health overall. If you want to overhaul your sugar addiction, you need to overhaul your habits, so make the time once or twice a week to cook wholesome, healthy meals. Cooking your own meals means you know exactly what’s going into them. In other words, no added sugars or corn syrup.
The thing about added sugar is that when you eat a piece of cake, you know that you’re eating sugar. And that’s fine. We’re human, we’re all entitled to a little sweet treat here and then. It becomes slightly more malicious when you think that frozen Shepherd’s Pie is going to be nutritious, when in fact, it’s packed with sugars.
I don’t even want sugar in my pantry. What are my options? Try these Sugar Substitutes
Just because you are trying to cut sugar out of your diet doesn’t mean life can’t be sweet. Try these sugar substitutes as a means to getting a sweet fix without the damaging properties of refined sugar.
A naturally-derived sweetener from South America with little-to-no chemical additives that also has a zero glycaemic index and won’t affect blood sugar levels. The flavour is also the closest to sugar, although some people say stevia is a lot sweeter than sugar and should be used carefully. There are also numerous resources that say you can bake with it, but because of the structure that sugar adds, you have to adapt your recipes slightly. This is currently one of the most popular sugar substitutes around.
This is a no-brainer. Honey can be used as a sugar substitute to sweeten nearly anything but can leave a noticeable flavour. You also can’t simply substitute honey for sugar in baked recipes, so do your research beforehand.
Coconut sugar is probably the easiest direct switch you can make for regular sugar. Its flavour is similar to that of brown sugar, it can be added to drinks and can be substituted for most baking recipes.
Pure Organic Maple Syrup
Reaching for this will require you to read the label. The syrup needs to be pure, and not mixed with corn syrup or other nasties. As long as it’s pure, you can use it to sweeten drinks or pancakes. It’s also known to contain a high number of antioxidants too.
What about artificial sweeteners as sugar substitutes?
As a rule, just don’t use sweeteners. They are generally packed with aspartame, an artificial non-saccharine sugar substitute that is all-round bad for you. There’s a long list of things that increased use of aspartame can contribute negatively to, such as cancer and dementia, but the bottom line is it has no health benefits and also promotes weight gain.
If you have a very obvious soft drink habit, now is the time to break it. Those levels of sugars are exceedingly bad for you. If you don’t drink the fizzies, you may still not be completely sugar-free if you’re buying pre-packaged foods. Basically, do the best you can and eat as many fresh fruit and veggies as possible, and cook for yourself where you can. You’ll feel better and the food will always taste better. Promise.
Want to learn more about the dangers of sugar? Watch That Sugar Movie for more info.
Try some of these LCHF recipes that use sugar substitutes for sweetness.
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