Is all sugar bad for you? Which type of sugar should you choose? How much can you use? These types of questions are commonly asked by our patients and can often be a confusing subject. Time to shed some light on the sugar subject.
When it comes to refined sugar, that is white sugar, caster sugar, brown sugar and raw sugar, they are all totally void of nutrients, in fact, it actually uses minerals from the body's stores just to digest it. Sugar spikes our blood sugar levels causing a release of the hormone insulin to bring blood sugars back into balance. When we eat this in excess (which is very common) this process takes a toll on the body as it is constantly trying to regulate blood sugar levels. When we eat refined sugar in large amounts it can eventually lead to some serious metabolism problems, mood swings and energy crashes. Sugar is also a major contributing factor to promoting inflammation in the body which can lead to dis-ease.
Refined sugar is not just found in our lollies, cakes and chocolate. It is also used in most breads, pastries and cereals. Always check the ingredients label. Sugar is not always labelled as clearly as you would think. Looking for glucose, sucrose, maltose...anything with "ose" at the end is probably some form of sugar. Sometimes there are multiple forms of sugar in one product! Sneaky huh!?
Another important thing to remember is that most sweeteners even the natural ones do have an effect on the bodies insulin response. For this reason it is important to still be mindful and use natural sweeteners in moderation. But instead of using refined sugar which can take from your health, some natural sweeteners actually contain minerals and even enzymes that are beneficial for the body. These are the sweeteners we recommend using as an alternative to the more refined sugars available.
Coconut sugar: Coconut sugar contains a fibre that actually feeds the good bacteria in the gut. It also has a lower GI content which means blood sugar levels are not as severely disrupted as with refined sugar.
Raw Honey: Raw honey has been filtered, but not in a way that destroys its nutrients. It has been around for thousands of years and contains zinc, selenium and iron.
Stevia: Stevia is made from leaves of a South American herb and has no impact on blood sugars! It is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. We like the liquid stevia and have used the NuNaturals brand for years (available on iherb.com).
Maple syrup: Maple syrup contains antioxidants and is full of minerals and has less fructose than honey and dates. It is really important to buy the real deal and look for 100% pure maple syrup as the imitation stuff usually contains additives and added sugar.
Dates: Dates are a great source of potassium which is fab for heart health. They are also full of fibre which is good for digestion.
The take away message here is that all sugar, natural or not (except stevia) will have an impact on the body and your blood sugars. The ideal is to lower you intake of all sugars where ever possible.
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Casey Twist is a Clinical Nutritionist at The Herb Clinic in Auckland, New Zealand. After her own experience with PCOS and anxiety, Casey takes a special interest in hormonal imbalances, weight-loss and digestive health.