By: Michalea Gale
Sugar, what’s not to love? It’s what makes our food taste sweet and keeps our brains and bodies wanting more. According to the USDA, the average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day. That’s equivalent to consuming about seven Krispy Kreme doughnuts! The American Heart Association advises no more than six teaspoons per day for women and nine for men. There are two types of sugars in our diet, naturally occurring and added. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are ones that may be added to your food during preparation, such as the sugar used in baking a cake or the sugar you add to your coffee.
Reading the Food Label
Unfortunately finding added sugars in food is not always the easiest. The sugar line on the nutrition facts panel of food includes both added and natural sugars, making it hard to decipher what you may actually be consuming. A closer look at the ingredient list can help you identify if the product contains any added sugars. These may appear as
* Brown sugar
* Corn sweetener
* Corn syrup
* Fruit juice concentrates
* High-fructose corn syrup
* Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
With all this focus on the overconsumption of sugar, consumers have been turning towards using alternative natural sweeteners to fix their sugar craving. Unfortunately, the truth is that “natural” doesn’t always mean “healthful.” Keep in mind table sugar, or sucrose, is in fact a “natural” sweetener that is extracted and refined from either cane or beet sugar. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular natural sweeteners on the market today…
* Honey- Primarily composed of glucose and fructose, honey is known to have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and soothing effects on the body. A raw tablespoon of honey contains about 64 calories, is fat-free, cholesterol free, and sodium free. Sugar like this will directly enter your bloodstream, causing a rise in blood sugar and providing a quick boost of energy.
* Maple Syrup- One of America’s favorite breakfast condiments, maple syrup is about 50% glucose and 50% fructose (the same as table sugar), but contains slightly more minerals (primarily manganese and zinc). It is also known to have polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. Maple syrup may raise blood sugar more slowly than table sugar.
* Agave Syrup- More processed than consumers realize, agave is 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar and has 1.5 times the calories! Agave syrup is composed of 90% fructose and 10% glucose. Fructose doesn’t cause blood sugar to spike as quickly as other forms of sugar but recent research indicates that consuming too much fructose has serious health implications. It serves as a great vegan substitute for honey, but use sparingly!
* Stevia- This noncaloric option is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. This sweetness comes from its chemical structure containing glycosides, which cannot be metabolized by the human body, creating its noncaloric property. The FDA has granted generically recognized as safe (GRAS) status to highly refined stevia preparations like REB A and purified stevia glycoside, but whole-leaf and crude extracts are not yet approved. It may be available in tabletop packets, liquid drops, dissolvable tablets, spoonable products, or baking blends.
* Coconut Palm Sugar- This sugar is made from boiling down the nectar of coconut plant flowers. It shouldn’t be treated any different than regular sugar, as it provides just as many calories and carbohydrates (45 calories and 12 grams per tablespoon) as table sugar. It is known for its low glycemic index, thus raising blood sugar slower than regular sugar.
Moral of the Story- Sugar is sugar!
It’s important to remember that just because a product is sweetened with an alternative, it doesn’t always mean it’s good for you. With everything in life, moderation is key! Aim for naturally occurring sugars (see recipe below) when your sweet tooth takes over. Limiting the amount of sugar you consume is going to leave you feeling more energized and alert throughout the course of day. Trust me, your mind and body will thank you!
Peanut Butter Banana “Nice Cream”
Try this take on peanut butter ice cream, the same creamy, cold consistency without the sugar and fat of typical ice cream!
Ingredients, makes 2 servings, one serving ½ cup:
2 large bananas, ripe
2 tbsp peanut butter or almond butter, creamy
1 tsp vanilla extract
Almond milk, to desired consistency
* Cut bananas into about 1 inch thick chunks. Place on a freezer safe plate in the freezer for 1-2 hours.
* Place frozen banana pieces into the bowl of a food processor and process until completely smooth, add almond milk as needed.
* Once the banana is creamy, add the peanut butter and vanilla and process until combined. Eat immediately for a soft serve like treat or place in a freezer safe container and freeze until firm or up to 1 day.