Added Sugar - why it is harmful and how you can avoid it
You may have noticed lately that there is a lot of information about sugar and how bad it is for you. In fact, some people have gone to not even eating certain fruits and vegetables because of the sugar content. This is just another crazy fad gone awry. I couldn't imagine not eating fruit simply because of the sugar content. Now, have I cut back on fruit and increased the amount of vegetables I eat, YES! But that is because vegetables are more versatile when cooking compared to fruits.
Sugar is a fact of life. Sugar occurs naturally in many foods and when this happens, the sugar is not bad for you. The reason why naturally occurring sugar is not bad for you is that the sugar is combined with vitamins and minerals, making the food higher in nutrients. Below is a chart of some commonly eaten fruits and vegetables with the sugar content vs. a perceived healthy breakfast that has added sugar:
In the chart, the Hot Oatmeal with apples & cinnamon has added sugar. It is hard to know that this is added sugar just by looking at the chart. In fact, the grams of sugar is less than some fruits with natural sugar, such as apples and unsweetened frozen blueberries. So you may be asking yourself, well if the oatmeal has just as much sugar as the fruit, why not eat that? I'll be getting the fiber I need and a filling breakfast.
The reason added sugar is so bad for you is that the sugar has been extracted from the nutrients it may be carrying. For example, corn by itself has 3g of sugar as well as other nutrients. such as potassium, folate and vitamin C. But when corn is processed to extract just the sugar, it becomes an added sugar without any other nutritional benefit.
So how can you avoid added sugars? A good way to avoid them is to eat foods that are not processed. That's right! Shop the produce aisle or go to a farmers market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables. When fruit and vegetables that you like may not be in season, canned or frozen always makes a great option. But if you are buying canned or frozen, make sure sugars are not added to it. Canned fruit may be contained in a heavy syrup, which would defeat the purpose of eating the fruit.
Another way is to limit your intake of cookies, cakes and ice cream. I am not saying cut it out altogether but instead of having a sweet treat every night, maybe just one night a week. Now if you just have to have a sweet treat in the evening, try making your own cookies or cakes and cut out 1/3 of the sugar the recipe calls for. I promise you won't even notice the difference! Or you can try sugar substitutes such as:
Date Sugar, which is finely pulverized dried dates so it is high in fiber and retains the vitamins and potassium of the fruit. One product I really like is the Now brand Date Sugar.
Wholesome Coconut Sugar is another sugar alternative that is an unrefined brown sugar. Wholesome states that no animal by-products are used when making the sugar, so it is perfect for vegans.
The key to using an alternative sugar when baking is to use the same type of sugar that the recipe calls for. If granulated sugar is in the recipe, then find a granulated better for you sugar like the ones above. If a liquid sugar is called for, then substitute it for a liquid alternative like honey or maple syrup.
Plenty of people like to use alternative sugars that are sugar alcohols or derived from aspartame or saccharin. These are synthetic substances that may be derived from naturally occurring substances. They are very sweet and may have an after taste. The reason people use them is they add very little calories to anything they are added to (Source: Mayo Clinic). While they are not the right choice for me, I can see why some people would prefer to use synthetic sweeteners vs. natural sugars due to the calorie intake.
The bottom line when it comes to sugar is to try to use as natural a sugar as possible to get the benefits of additional vitamins and minerals from the sugar source. This will help you gain the best possible nutritional value when consuming sugar. If you are using a sugar alternative, let me know what kind and why you choose it. I love hearing about your experiences!
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