Refined sugar has quickly become one of the worst ingredients in the modern Western diet. Science has now shown that sugar is taking a devastating toll on the health of the population and can lead to wide spread obesity, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and a host of other closely related illnesses. Luckily, with education (and a little willpower!) you can source alternatives to refined sugar or discover ways to make sugar-free living delicious!
Added sugars (like sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) contain a great deal of calories with NO essential nutrients. For this reason, they are called “empty” calories. There are no proteins, essential fats, vitamins or minerals in sugar- just pure energy. These empty and quickly digested calories can actually pull minerals from the body during digestion and may contribute to major nutrient deficiencies in the body.
Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars- glucose and fructose. Fructose can only be metabolised by the liver in small amounts. In excessive amounts, fructose can overload the liver, forcing it to turn the fructose into fat. When fructose gets turned into fat this can lead to Liver Disease.
Insulin is a very important hormone in the body yet having too much glucose in the blood can be highly toxic. When sugar is consumed in large amounts the insulin stops working as it should and can lead to insulin resistance in the body. When our cells become resistant to the effects of insulin, the pancreas tries to keep up with the demand, which can eventually result in a diagnosis of type II diabetes.
The way sugar affects hormones and the brain is directly linked to weight gain. The addictive nature of sugar also leads to a decreased satiety which can trigger an over consumption and dependence on sugar for people to get through their day. Sugar both drives fat storage and makes the brain think it is hungry, setting up a vicious cycle that people tend to feel helpless against.
Luckily, there are alternatives to white processed sugar on the market now that offer real health benefits and do not contribute to many of the associated health risks that white sugar does. If you are looking for a sweetener, try these options instead, and still remember to be mindful about your sugar intake.
Rapadura sugar is an unrefined, natural cane sugar that is pressed and naturally dried at low temperatures, allowing the sugar to maintain the nutritional properties of the natural plant. Rapadura has a fine grain texture, a unique caramel flavour and is a beautiful golden colour.
Rapadura is extracted from the sugar cane plant using a slow, man powered press. This natural process ensures that the sugar molecules are not altered nor crystalised and that the molasses does not separate from the sugar. It is the naturally occurring molasses that gives Rapadura its dark colour and rich caramel overtones. Molasses itself is high in iron as well as calcium and magnesium, it has a low glycemic index so it may be suitable for diabetics and it is also high in potassium and selenium.
Sugar cane is brimming with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fibres, and phytonutrients that help the body digest its naturally occurring sugars. The minerals required to digest sugar are calcium, phosphorous, chromium, magnesium, cobalt, copper, iron, zinc and manganese. Rapadura also contains vitamins A, C, B1, B2, B6, niacin, and pantothenic acid, which work synergistically with the minerals to nourish the body.
Polyphenols are also present in natural sugar cane. Polyphenols are phytonutrients which have powerful antioxidant properties and numerous health benefits. The polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals present in sugar cane help slow down the absorption of the sugars and prevent the sharp rise in blood sugar levels associated with refined sugar.
Rapadura can be used in place of white, raw or brown sugar in any recipe and can lend extra richness and texture. Rapadura sugar can be substituted on a 1:1 ratio — 1 cup of rapadura for every cup of alternative sugar.
Coconut Nectar is the sap from the coconut tree. While most sweeteners lose most of their nutritional value through heating and processing, Coconut nectar has the benefit of being a raw, pure sweetener that retains all of its health benefits.
Coconut nectar contains 17 amino acids, as well as a host of minerals and vitamins B and C. It can be used anywhere sweeteners are normally used. Coconut Nectar has a low glycemic index of 35, compared to raw sugar’s 65, and refined sugar’s 80. Coconut nectar offers the same sweetness. It is an alternative for anyone who wishes to maintain healthier, more consistent blood sugar levels. The lower glycemic index also means that when coconut nectar replaces other sugars you will feel fuller longer, so it can help you maintain or lose weight when combined with a healthy diet and exercise.
Containing short and medium-chain fatty acids, the nectar is perfect for heart-healthy diets or to reduce cholesterol levels. Compared to brown sugar, coconut nectar has twice as much iron, four times as much magnesium, and ten times as much zinc. Other sugar alternatives that are still high in fructose need to be processed by the liver and can be converted into fat in high doses. Coconut nectar is primarily sucrose-based (only 10% fructose), so it is processed by the intestine. While there is still much debate on what types of sugar are the “healthiest” a switch to coconut nectar or coconut sugar could result in a better balance of healthy liver function and blood sugar levels.
Sugar is loaded into soft drinks, fruit juices, sports drinks, and hidden in almost all processed foods on the supermarket shelves. Anything labeled low fat or zero fat is generally loaded with sugar and even things labeled sugar free, are instead filled with artificial sweeteners that can be equally as detrimental to the body as sugar itself. Luckily there are natural and healthier alternatives.