A 2015 study shows that the average American consumes 126 grams of sugar each day. That’s the equivalent of 32 teaspoons![i] Much of this makes its way into our diet through juices, soda, and carb-heavy processed foods like breads and snack foods.
But the body does need some sugar, right? Let’s unpack that question a bit.
Sugar itself is a simple carbohydrate. Our body does need it to operate. Every cell in our body needs sugar to operate. Sugar supplies energy and supports brain function.[ii]
Fruit sugar, in particular, is quick fuel for the body. “The sugar from fruit will get into the bloodstream at a steady rate as the fruits digest in the stomach. Fruits also provide great sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, so fruit sources of sugar are great for the brain and your body.”[iii]
So ultimately, yes, we do need sugar. Our body runs on it. In fact, there are eight types of sugar that are essential: glucose, xylose, galactose, fructose, mannose, N-Acetyl galactose, N-Acetyl glucosamine, and N-Acetyl neuraminic.
The problem is, the main source of sugar in the standard American diet isn’t one of these essential sugars. It’s sucrose (table sugar). Sucrose is a hybrid of fructose and glucose. These “simple sugars” break down quickly and provide a very quick increase in blood sugar. Table sugar is an over-processed, altered sugar that the body does not recognize and rejects.
Complex carbohydrates, which come from starchy vegetables and whole grains, are processed more slowly by the body and are more safely absorbed.
What we need to avoid are the added sugars found in soda, juices, processed foods, candy, and virtually everything with high fructose corn syrup. Artificial sweeteners are best avoided as well. Read labels carefully to know what exactly is in the products you choose. Splenda is made with sucralose.[iv] Nutrasweet and Equal both contain aspartame.[v] Saccharin and high fructose corn syrup are downright dangerous.[vi]
The Results of Extra Sucrose
We’ve heard for decades that sugar is bad for our teeth and makes us put on weight. Both are true, but there is so much more that we’re doing when we binge on the wrong kinds of sugar.
Sugar can cause you to become insulin resistant, which leads to diabetes. It can also overload your liver, which can lead to potential liver damage. That’s too high a price to pay for indulging your sweet tooth.
Too much sugar and fructose will affect your metabolic system as well, causing weight gain, abdominal obesity, decreased HDL (high-density lipoprotein), and increased LDL (low-density lipoprotein), elevated blood sugar (diabetes), elevated triglycerides, even high blood pressure.[vii] And make no mistake, sugar can be as addictive as alcohol.[viii]
Healthy Sugar Alternatives
Just because you’re avoiding excessive sugar (sucrose) doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy healthy alternatives. Here are our favorite natural sugar substitutes:
Maple syrup is a flavorful sugar substitute that is also a healthier alternative. Choose 100 percent pure maple syrup, ensuring there are no added ingredients like sugar syrup or corn syrup. As a general rule, use ¾ cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of sugar.
Coconut sugar not only tastes great but includes vital nutrients like iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium. It has a lower glycemic index than sucrose.[ix] Use coconut sugar cup for cup as a replacement for table sugar.
Raw honey is a wonderful alternative to sugar and corn syrup. It also has a variety of health benefits, including promoting the growth of friendly bacteria in your intestinal tract. It also reduces homocysteine levels, which promotes heart health. Honey also helps soothe coughs, fight viruses, and bolsters nutrition because it includes enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. In addition, honey supports allergy relief and even prevents tooth decay.[x]
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is found naturally in certain fruits. It is a low calorie natural sweetener. It’s not quite as sweet as sugar, but it has about 6 percent of the calories. Erythritol doesn’t spike blood sugars or insulin levels and has no effect on biomarkers like cholesterol or triglycerides.[xi] Studies show that it is safe but, like all sugar alcohols, consuming too much at one time can cause digestive issues.[xii]
Xylitol is another sugar alcohol whose sweetness is comparable to sugar. Dentists have been recommending it for years because of its possible benefits for dental health.[xiii] Like erythritol, it doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels[xiv], and may improve bone density and aid in preventing osteoporosis.[xv] The biggest drawback of xylitol is that it is toxic to dogs, so be sure to keep it safely stored away.
Stevia, which is extracted from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, is a plant that has been known for its sweetness and medicinal value for centuries. It is many times sweeter than sugar and has virtually no calories. While the sugar alcohols have no effect on blood sugar, stevia actually lowers blood sugar levels in diabetics.[xvi] It can even lower elevated blood pressure.[xvii]
A Gift from Us
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As you cut the extra sugar from your diet, you will find that you feel better, have a clearer head, and no longer experience the burnout you feel after a sugar high. You’ll also find that the sugar-free life can be satisfying and delicious!
[xvii] https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2125.2000.00260.x/abstract, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S014929180380334X