By Jo Schaalman and Julie Pelaez of the Conscious Cleanse
Sugar is sugar is sugar. No matter how you slice it, sugar is one of the top food demons on the planet. For the health conscious among us, tackling the sugar beast head on can be one of the biggest battles we fight, especially because sugar has been proven to be eight times more addictive than cocaine!
Excess sugar, especially refined sugar, has been linked to suppressed immune system, hyperactivity, inability to concentrate, anxiety, depression, ADD/ ADHD, premature aging, obesity, arthritis, diabetes, headaches, overeating, mood swings, asthma and allergies, highly acidic blood, inflammation, and insomnia. Even synthetic “zero-calorie” sugar substitutes like the ones found in diet sodas can wreak havoc on the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. Research has shown that people who consume daily no-calorie sweeteners like aspartame are at increased risk for becoming overweight and developing diabetes.
These days all the grocery store shelves are lined with so-called “healthy” sugar alternatives, making it confusing to know which is the best option. Is honey okay in moderation? What about agave, Stevia, or Splenda?
This is our list of sugars to keep out of your diet at all times:
1. Artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Aspartame - Many products that are advertised as “sugar-free” or “diet” contain artificial sweeteners like these. Artificial sweeteners are not “food” but factory-made, chemical compounds linked to diabetes and cancer, so avoid these at all costs.
2. High-fructose corn syrup - This sweetener is highly processed and in many products, from candy to condiments. It’s main ingredient is corn, one of the top 8 allergens and ranks high on the lists of products most likely to contain GMOs, another reason to avoid it.
3. Conventional sugar - Cane sugar, white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar - all these are forms of refined sugar, which has been linked to many health concerns such as diabetes, obesity, inflammation, and anxiety, just to name a few. Even raw sugar, though less processed, is just as addictive and should be avoided when possible.
Here are a few of our favorite healthy alternatives:
1. Monkfruit - Monkfruit sweeteners are extracted from a small, melon-like fruit and is a naturally occurring, zero calorie sugar replacement that doesn’t spike your blood sugar. It can be used as a 1:1 replacement for sugar, it doesn’t have the aftertaste that some experience when using stevia, and it isn’t as sweet-tasting, which makes it our top pick for healthy sweetener. Make sure to look for a product that doesn’t have a lot of added extra ingredients or “natural flavors” (Lakanto is our go-to.)
2. Stevia - this sweetener is extracted from the leaf of the stevia plant, won’t spike your blood sugar, and is low calorie. Again, make sure to avoid brands that add “natural flavors” or additional sweeteners like agave. A few cons of this replacement: Stevia can have a strong aftertaste that some object to, and is much sweeter-tasting than conventional sugar. This extra sweetness can reset your tastebuds to want sweet things more, so use in moderation.
3. Honey or Maple Syrup - These natural, unprocessed forms of sugar are a healthier option to use in place of conventional sugars. Honey has antibacterial properties and can help with seasonal allergies. These options have a slightly higher glycemic index (though still far lower than plain sugar) and can spike your blood sugar so use them in moderation.
4. Coconut sugar - Coconut sugar is naturally derived from the coconut fruit and is minimally processed. It also has a low-glycemic index and contains inulin, a prebiotic fiber that can aid glucose absorption. However, it it is higher in fructose, which in large quantities can harm the liver, and is made with coconut, which many people may have an allergy or sensitivity to.
For all of these healthier options, the main thing to focus on is how the food makes you feel. Tune into your body. If you have a reaction to any of these options, don’t continue to eat it. Additionally, if you’ve struggled to lose weight no matter how much you exercise and how little you eat, battle intense sugar cravings, mood swings, hormone issues, anxiety, depression or insomnia, you might consider giving all sugars, even the natural kind, a break for a while. As will all sweet things, enjoy these healthy options in moderation!