Safe sugars: Is there such a thing?


Part 1 of a 2-part series on sugar and sugar substitutes.

The holidays are quickly approaching! It starts with Halloween candy, then on to Thanksgiving and Christmas parties and beyond to New Year’s Day! My point is not how fast time is going, but what about our sugar intake? If we are trying to be healthy and EAT CLEAN, what does this mean about sugar in our food?

Real sugar and sugar in moderation is not the problem. It’s all the fake sugar and highly processed stuff. Real sugar exists in natural foods like vegetables, milk, and fruits. They actually serve to provide vitamins and nutrients for our bodies and produce energy. However, highly processed sugar like high fructose corn syrup, granulated sugar and anything that ends in ”-ose” on the package label has no such side benefits. Over time, this will take a toll on our bodies and organs like diabetes and heart disease. How much should we have in a day? The American Heart Association recommends that women limit sugar intake to 6 teaspoons or 100 calories of added sugar and men should limit added sugar to 9 teaspoons or 150 calories per day. The average American consumes about 28 teaspoons of added sugar per day, or more than 90 pounds of sugar per year! This does not include naturally occurring sugars in vegetables, fruits and milk. So, what’s a person to do?

The good news is you can totally do this! First, you need to be a sugar sleuth: Read the labels of everything you eat. Sugar is in everything from ketchup to mayonnaise, cereal to cookies, salad dressing to drinks, energy bars to almost all processed food. This is one of the most important steps you can take in cleaning up your nutrition. Look for words like “fruit juice,” “high fructose corn syrup,” “malt syrup,” “organic cane sugar,” “maltose,” “dextrose,” “sucrose,” “fructose,” “galactose,” “brown sugar” and many other names. If one of these occur as the top 5 ingredients on the label, you probably know it’s not a good choice.

As I said before, sugar occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and milk and has benefits for our bodies. There are several healthy choices. The main three that I recommend are pure maple syrup, coconut sugar—also known as coconut palm sugar—and raw honey.

Coconut sugar is from the coconut palm and is heated and evaporated, which reduces it to granules. It tastes similar to brown sugar and has a low glycemic index score. This means that it won’t give you a “sugar rush” and elevate the blood sugar that causes you to crash after eat it.

Pure maple syrup contains beneficial nutrients and also has a low glycemic index score. It helps with digestion and contains antioxidants. When used in proper amounts, pure maple syrup can help lower inflammation and help manage blood sugar.

Raw honey is honey that has not been filtered or pasteurized. It will include beeswax, royal jelly, propolis and bee pollen. Amazingly, it is used in some cultures as a remedy for ailments like ulcers, digestive problems and as an antibiotic. It contains antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes. Realize, however, that most honey has been processed and probably filtered, thus does not contain as many health benefits.

Just remember, even if they are “natural” they are still “sugar” and still contain calories! All sugar is best used in moderation. Remember added sugar for women should be about 6 teaspoons per day and 9 teaspoons for men.

Next time we can talk about the artificial sweeteners. They are either low in calories or sugar free. Are they “safe” or “guilt-free”? Are they helping us? Do they contain any nutritional value?