SUGAR IS NOT SO SWEET – WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
With all the talk about reducing our sugar intake or quitting sugar in the media I thought I should talk about it a little. Like a lot of people, I love having something sweet like cake or chocolate, but over the years I have avoided having sugar in a lot of my everyday foods. Looking at the ingredients of some food stuff I was amazed at the amount of sugar contained in them. It is no surprise that drinks like Coke and food like chocolates have a lot of sugar, but when you find out that foods like tomato sauce, soups or low fat foods such as yoghurts contain high quantities of sugar you start to worry, “what food doesn’t contain sugar”.
I am lucky that I have a scientific background which makes it easier for me to understand food labels, so I feel for the ordinary person trying to decipher it all. White sugar is a carbohydrate that has lost all its nutritional benefits during processing. Not only that, but the production of sugar has a huge impact on the environment.
Sugar is produced from sugar cane or beets. These crops need a lot of space, affecting the surrounding environment and habitats of native plants, animals and insects. Normally, herbicides and pesticides are used in large quantities which means not only are we ingesting sugar but these herbicides and pesticides, but also they runoff into the local waterways and soil, adding to the build-up of these toxic chemicals.
Sugar is of a source of energy to us. Unlike more nutritional and wholesome food, digestion of processed sugar gives us a rapid burst of energy which leads to the instant high. Not long after that we hit a low again, which leads to cravings, putting us in a vicious cycle wanting more sweet and sugary foods.
So what can you use instead? There are other sweeteners, but I am going to discuss the healthier, more natural alternatives that can be used.
Honey – is naturally occurring and is known for its antibacterial qualities. Use raw, unpasteurised (unfiltered) honey is best to use. Remember it is sweeter than sugar, so use less. Also, has more calories than sugar.
Coconut sugar – comes from coconut palm blossoms. The nutritional sap is removed and forms sugar crystals. More of this sweetener is produced per acre than sugar, which makes it more environmentally friendly, but adding to its credentials is that it restores damaged soils and it is more sustainable.
Stevia – The leaves of the stevia plant are crushed for their syrup. People love this sweetener because it has no calories and a small amount gives a lot of sweetness. You can add the leaves of the plants into your drinks or meals. If buying the processed version, just read the labels to make sure no fillers are added.
Blackstrap molasses - Why should you use blackstrap molasses when it comes from sugar cane? Because there is no waste. Molasses is a popular health food and can be used as a substitute for sugar. Sugar cane grows deeply into the soil, and because of this it contains many minerals, vitamins and trace elements. Molasses is the syrup that remains after the sugar has been extracted from the juice. Blackstrap is made from the third boiling of the sugar cane, therefore extracting all the goodness from the cane. We supply organic and unsulphured Blackstrap Molasses (http://bit.ly/1RVb0WA). Although there is no definitive research to demonstrate the health benefits of unsulphured, there is reason to believe potential health risks of sulphur dioxide in food processing and its relation to sulphite allergy. Environmentally, sulphur dioxide contributes to the production of acid rain and being organic avoids the use of herbicides and pesticides, as well as other chemicals in the processing.
There are other sweeteners but because of their bad health and environmental credentials I wouldn’t recommend these:
Agave – recommended by lots of people as a healthy alternative, but it is high in fructose. The problem with fructose is that it is only processed by the liver and in high quantities it contributes to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It leads to more sugar cravings.
Xylitol – is chemically extracted from fibrous fruits and vegetables. When it is extracted from hardwoods, it often leads to deforestation.
Date Sugar – If not organic, highly processed methods are used to cultivate these date crops, such as herbicides, fertilisers and irrigation. The dried dates are ground to make a sugar that can be used in baked goods.
Corn syrup – one of the worst sweeteners, regarding its environmental credentials. Much of our corn syrup is produced from GMO corn, using vast crop areas with catastrophic effects on the local environment and habitats, as well as huge quantities of fertilisers and herbicides.
I hope this helps you when reading food labels and making food choices regarding sweeteners. There is a lot of research going on in this area and I am sure we will soon learn about more effective natural sweeteners in the future. The main thing is to avoid over-processed and overcultivated sweetener sources, so your are kind to your health and the earth.
Be earthly passionate,
Attracta & the earthly passion team