just a little something
to begin your week.
I am planning a Christmas dessert in a couple of weeks and so I’ve been searching for recipes to use. My dilemma is finding dessert recipes that are still [somewhat] healthy. In light of this, I decided to research the role sugar plays on our health so that in being informed, we can have our cake and eat it too!
Let me boil it down for us how sugar affects the body:
For optimal health, our goal is to keep our blood sugar as steady as possible. When it spikes (after eating sugar), our brain signals our pancreas to produce more insulin. Excessive insulin promotes growth and inflammation, which sets the stage for health issues including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer (because cancer feeds on inflammation).
Obviously, this information is not saying you should never eat sugar again. Instead, the point is to have a balanced approach to sweets. One way to do this is by understanding the role the glycemic index has on our health. The glycemic index measures the rate the sugar enters the bloodstream in our bodies. If a particular food has a high glycemic index, our blood sugar will spike when eaten. A helpful guide is to know which foods are high and low on the glycemic index. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans are all lower on the glycemic index and won’t spike our blood sugar. (For more information on the impact of the glycemic index, click here.)
Another helpful piece of information is understanding the different sweeteners and how they affect our bodies. Below is an excerpt entitled The Decoder Sweeteners adapted from Real Simple magazine (September 2010 issue) that I found helpful in considering what sweets to eat this holiday.
Sugar: a granular substance distilled from sugarcane and sugar beets. Brown sugar comes from the same sources but gets its color from residual or added molasses.
[Also goes by: Sucrose.]
Good to Know: “Aim to consume it on a near full stomach. This will help stabilize your blood sugar, since eating the sweet stuff alone can cause blood sugar to soar, then crash, leaving you tired and more hungry, says Michael Zemel, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville. And yes, brush after eating sugar, as it increases your risk for tooth decay.”
*I was particularly interested to read that normal table sugar is refined which means it’s essentially a chemical (with then name C12h22O) devoid of all nutritional value. This definitely makes me think twice when consuming much of table sugar. The better alternative to white table sugar is Turbinado, raw sugar.
Agave Liquid: a sweet extract from agave, a succulent plant.
[Also goes by agave nectar or syrup.]
Good to Know: “Agave doesn’t spike blood glucose as quickly as table sugar does, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietitian and the author of Read It Before You Eat It. Plus, it’s about 25% sweeter.”
*I have used agave in many dishes, including apple crisp and pumpkin pie, and it has worked well. It is important to note that although agave nectar has less impact on our glycemic index, it still contains about the same calories as table sugar. Also, I have read conflicting advice about the benefits about agave nectar, so use sparingly.
Stevia: an all-natural, no-calorie sweetner derived from the leaf of the stevia plant.
[Also goes by Reb A, rebiana, Truvia, PureVia, Enliten, and Sun Crystals.]
Good to Know: “You can bake with stevia, but it does best with medium temperatures. While the U.S. FDA generally recognizes this group of sweeteners as safe, use stevia moderately, says Jennifer Nelson, director of clinical dietetics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Consume no more than four milligrams per pound of body weight daily. And consult your doctor if you are pregnant.”
*I also read that consuming Stevia does not impact blood sugar.
High Fructose Corn Syrup: an uber-sweet liquid derived from cornstarch.
Good to Know: “Studies suggest that, like table sugar, HFCS may cause you to overeat. This is because it causes your body to not fully release the hormones that tell you that you’re full.”
*On the glycemic index, HFCS measured at 89 while natural fructose (sugar from fruit) measured at 32. Thus, consuming HFCS influences our blood sugar much more than natural sugar.
Saccharin: a safe-for-diabetics, calorie-free synthetic compound that includes sodium, hydrogen, and oxygen. (*According to Webster’s dictionary, synthetic means produced artificially.)
[Also goes by Sweet ‘N Low.]
Good to Know: “It’s 300 times sweeter than sugar and stays that way, even when heated, so it’s good for tea or coffee. But it can have a metallic aftertaste. And you may get so used to saccharin’s intense sweetness that you start craving sugary treats. While saccharin has been linked to bladder cancer in rats, experts have found on conclusive evidence of its correlation with cancer in humans.”
*I was quite surprised to learn that saccharin is made with petroleum and toluene (one of the carcinogens I wrote about here).
Aspartame: Another synthetic, calorie-free option that’s safe for diabetics.
[Also goes by Equal and Nutrasweet.]
Good to Know: “200 times sweeter than sugar, aspartame is found in diet drinks and sugar-free gum. It breaks down in heat, so don’t bake with it. Despite persistent rumors, there is no conclusive link between the sweetener and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”
*Learning that aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde in our bodies was quite shocking to me. Why would we want to put this in our bodies?
Sucralose: chemically tweaked sugar that has no calories.
[Also goes by Splenda.]
Good to Know: “About 600 times sweeter than sugar, it is found in cereals, baked goods, soft drinks, and frozen desserts. It holds up in the heat during baking, but sucralose may cause abdominal discomfort in some people.”
*In Living Natural First, Dr. Steven Hotze of the Health and Wellness Center in Houston said, “Splenda was originally used as a pesticide….dump it on your ant hills and come back tomorrow to see all dead ants. If you have to eat sugar, eat a little sugar. It is better than eating poison.”
To summarize, a few sweet facts to note about sugar:
**Protein, fiber and fat will slow sugar absorption for a healthier effect on the body.
**Flaxseed and nuts (including peanut butter) eaten with sugar lowers your glycemic index.
**Avoid soda as it is liquid sugar which affects your blood sugar faster than sugar in food. (Plus, as noted above, artificial sugar is used to sweeten it.)
**Eat sugar on a full stomach to avoid high sugar spikes.
Keeping these facts in mind, we can have our cake and eat it too this holiday season.