Ascertaining the bad guys: Sugar
Ah, yes: a white granule by any other name wouldn’t taste as sweet. Butchering Shakespeare by way of this corrosive substance, the white death we call “sugar,” is acceptable I guess; after all, butchering our bodies with the near-poison from adolescence is viewed with nary a thought by most. With all the craze over the badness of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners of the like, sugar comes out as the great white hope to a lot of the status quo. That isn’t to say I myself haven’t enjoyed a sweet or two in my day, on the contrary: sweets are my most prominent vice (Hey, I’m workin’ on it.). In the hopefully non yawn-inducing paragraphs ahead, I will speak ill of the “natural” sweetener, and hopefully make you think twice before consuming that gleefully granulated godsend. Worry not, I will offer some alternatives, both in substance and in diet practice, that will keep your masticatory life (and your life in general) sa-WEEEEEET! Moving along…
Functions in the body
All right, so I’m gonna can it with the guilt-trips and offer up a few facts to let you decide. Whether it’s cake, or candy, or even a bit of chewing gum, here’s what occurs in your body as the normally-refined white funfest hits your stomach and in minutes corrals its way to your bloodstream: Firstly, your poor pancreas tries damage control. The pancreas, in conjunction with your brain, knows that this substance now polluting the bloodstream ain’t kosher; leaving it there in such quantities would be toxic, so the pancreas billows out plenty of insulin to clean up the mess. Of course, this huge insulin response happening here and there is not indicative of permanent damage, but over time leads to hyperinsulinism and onward from there into more frightening diseases like diabetes and atherosclerosis. I’m still on what happens directly after a huge influx of sugars, though, and it’s far from innocuous. Within an hour of ingesting the sugars, the body’s white blood cells (the guys who save us from sickness) have a decreased capacity to attack foreign bacteria; this goes on, according to one study for at least 5 hours (actually, this was the full amount of time allotted for the study so it could be much longer). Sure makes ya think twice about stuffing your face with grandma’s cakes and cookies during the holiday (read: COLD) season, when the temperature already makes you more susceptible to disease, huh? Within 2 hours of eating sugar, some bad-dad molecules called reactive oxygen species are also generated within our already-debilitated white blood cells. These guys degrade the vitamin E in our system and cause oxidative damage, which in the immediate can cause premature aging of cells as well as shortening of the little caps on the ends of our chromosomes (known as telomeres). The telomeres themselves degrade over time due to mental stress and the resulting frayed chromosomes have been linked to further premature aging and increased incidence of clogged arteries. In the long term, this oxidative stress has been hypothesized to cause Alzheimer’s disease.
More about the long term and that wonderful disease roll-call!
I’m sure it wasn’t any shock to you that sugar is bad for your system, but I’m hoping I’m opening your eyes to just how bad (The MOST baddest, uh huh!). It definitely doesn’t end with what I’ve stated thus far. According to studies here and he-ah, sugar is not unlike an addictive narcotic. The second study cited there is even more damning to the pristine whiteness of our sugary pal in that it suggests folks can become addicted to the stuff even through intermittent binges, effectively killing the “Well, every once in a while’s okay…” argument one may have as a justification for imbibing this junk. Well-documented is the link between sugar and heart disease, as it has been seen to raise triglycerides, as well as lowering HDL (“good cholesterol”) and raising LDL (“bad cholesterol”). It has also been shown to cause deficiencies in copper, chromium, vitamin B1, and interference in the absorption of calcium and magnesium. Now, let’s be honest about your diet: Can you really afford to lose these nutrients, which you’re probably not getting nearly enough of in the first place? If you said “Yes!” or grunted something about “enjoyin’ life,” I’ve got some interesting news about willfully having a sub par diet related to Chrohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gall stones and IBD. (Or as we call it away from the kitchen table, INFLAMMATORY BOWEL DISEASE)
♪ Oh yes, it’s ladies night ♪
Ladies, don’t think I’ve forgotten you. Tonight, ladies eat sugar for free and get a host of horrors in return! Even though women in clinical tests, for the most part, are much more resilient against the threat of developing insulin resistance and therefore diabetes, women have been found to have a propensity for high levels of insulin and sucrose in their blood even after having not eaten anything for some time after having sucrose. This should be kept in mind, since the study cited mentions that this was regardless of the amount of sugar ingested, whether a binge or a nip. Also, high sugar consumption whilst having a baby in the womb causes said baby’s muscles to be significantly weaker throughout his or her life-span, which not only affects his or her potential for exercise but the potential to stave off obesity (less exercise= bigger appetite). There’s more: high sugar consumption has also been shown to cause weakness in bone density and strength, to add insult to the injury of sugar’s aforementioned calcium-stripping powers. This leaves women, who are more prone to osteoporosis later in life, with little other intelligent choice than to curb the “sweet” habit. Oh yeah; and keeping with the theme of ending paragraphs on a gross note, sugar consumption also contributes to and exacerbates the problem of yeast infections as yeast feeds on it. Sorry, ladies!
So, what are the alternatives?
Now, you might be saying something like “but a little sugar here and there can’t hurt.” Arguable perhaps, but the quantities we’re shoving down are far from “a little.” (The average American consumes about 22 teaspoons a day per adult, 34 for children and teenagers). Well, of course ol’ Kiko Rex isn’t gonna just sit here and give you a headache with a bunch of negatives. There’s gotta be a healthy solution, somewhere; your sweet-tooth depends on it. Now, of course I could offer up the spiel about eating right, fruits and vegetables, and I do very-much believe in that spiel (believe it or not, the more healthily you eat, the less you want the sweet stuff). But yeah, I can sympathize with loving sweets, not only for their addictive quality, but for the closeness-to-heart they may have in being homemade staples of home, family get-togethers, et cetera (no mention here of how Big Sugar has permeated the home and heart through its lobbying and advertising power. Nope.). So, I’ll play the “sweety,” and offer you some alternatives here; I’ll even make it easier to find your refined sugar alternatives by making it into a bottom-up top 10 list; people like top 10 lists.
#10, 9, 8, and 7(in no particular order) Organic Raw Sugar / Demarara / Muscovado / Turbinado
These four guys are all essentially the same thing; that is, sugar. The only thing that makes them any “better” than normal, white sugar is that they are less refined (as evidenced by their slightly brown color, denoting no bleaching and molasses retention) and they are held to organic standards i.e. no pesticides/hormones in the growth process, but the process used to extract the sugar is still pretty much the same as refined white sugar (heating, dehydrating, and spinning in a centrifuge). Their glycemic index is less than that of sugar, but the mineral content is still essentially gone. I don’t really recommend any of these, but they’re a step up from white sugar.
This one’s a bit confusing to me as it’s basically the same as the ones above, but after the centrifuge and heating process it still retains most of the molasses. Still, said heating reduces its mineral content a good bit, so it would be only a slight step up from those other four above; and guess what? It’s still sugar.
This stuff’s pretty much the gold standard in things sucrose. It’s as minimally processed as possible to make it into usable sugar. The process to make Rapadura involves very low heat and no molasses separation whatsoever, which results in a very dark brown sugar containing all of its original vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients (yes, it even has protein). While the vitamin/mineral content is small compared to say, a vegetable, it has a surprising amount-per-serving of calcium (40-100g) and vitamin E (110mg). Since there is little man-tampering with the original substance, the glycemic index is the lowest amongst “real” sugars and thus will cause less of an insulin explosion than anything mentioned above, with a fine flavor to boot! It is, however, still a sugar; and thusly should be avoided (or per my recommendation used in small quantities *wink face*).
#4 Raw Honey
It’s sweet, and lower-GI due to its already having been digested by our friendly bee pals. If you can get over the fact that it’s more or less bee vomit and sustenance for bees that we stole for our own recreational use, it’s an okay sweetener. Note that we’re talking raw honey, not the stuff you find in the bear at the grocery store. You can tell the processing differences between that stuff (golden syrup, sometimes even with fructose added) and the real stuff (more like a white spread). It’s significantly higher priced, of course, but due to no harsh processing it retains all the enzymes which are beneficial to your body. If you can locate a local source, all the better; honey coming from your area will assist in immunity from the adverse effects of pollen in the spring; and, as all raw honey, will soothe any cold-wrecked throat.
Okay, so I don’t actually have a 3 and 2.
I’m sure you’re expecting “staples” like stevia, agave nectar, aspartame, and sucralose to make the list since they’re not sucrose; but, at least in the case of the last three, I’d maybe rather have you just eat white sugar (More on that in another post). So, let’s just skip to…
All right, so I’m doubting that you’ve even heard of this one. I hadn’t either, until recently. It’s a sugar alcohol, along the lines of xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol, but unlike those guys it a) is not made from a hydrogenation process; b) does not induce a laxative effect, as your “gut” cultures simply can’t do anything with it. (Thus, it goes in and out); and c) is the only sugar alcohol (or about any sweetener whatsoever) that is suitable for diabetics. The only side effect of Erythritol, if you can even call it a side effect, is it has a “cooling effect” on the tongue not unlike mint. This makes it unacceptable to some who have tried using it in recipes with more base flavors like chocolate, but on the whole it seems most people like it. It is pricy, at about $8 a pound; but hey: shouldn’t sweets be for special occasions, and your health be priceless? $8 is surely a lot less than a medical bill for hypertension-related symptoms, eh? Eh? Anyway, I’ll be dedicating a post to this great stuff in the near-future, so look for it.
That’s about all I have to say on the evil granulated stuff for now. Well, not really, but I think I covered it for you pretty well. Try to keep the white granules in your life limited to under your feet at some gorgeous beach somewhere, every year of your life till you turn 95 (which you will, if you take my advice and say ixnay on the ickay ugarsay). Ciao, folks!