Sugar has been a popular topic in my household for quite some time. My husband used to get severe migraines at least once every few weeks. In order to solve this issue, he tried eliminating alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and preservatives from his diet. The migraines disappeared. Upon introducing one thing at a time back into his diet, he discovered that the culprit was sugar.
At first, keeping sugar out of the house was very difficult. Read the labels of nearly everything on the shelves of a conventional supermarket and you will find sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. Luckily, our local health food store has plenty of sugar free, pre-made foods to choose from. But many people don’t realize how much of what they eat contains refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. Let’s look at a typical person’s meals throughout the day: For breakfast someone might have orange juice (spikes blood sugar without the fiber), cereal (nearly all are sweetened with sugar) and milk, and coffee (with added sugar). As a snack, a granola bar (sweetened with sugar). For lunch, a salad (most dressings have added sugar) with a protein and a cookie (sugar!). An afternoon snack may be an apple with peanut butter (most conventional peanut butters have sugar). For dinner, spaghetti with tomato sauce (most jarred sauces have added sugar) and for dessert, ice cream (sugar!). Other common foods with added sugar include bread, yogurt, muffins, bagels, jams and jellies, ketchup, dried fruit, crackers, salsa, drinks like juices and soda, bbq sauce, and many more.
It can be pretty tough to eat out as well as many restaurants use sugar, which results in a migraine for my husband. Now that we have Dominik, it’s even more important to us to eat healthy and avoid sugar. But kid’s foods are even worse. Nearly every item geared towards children have a ton of added sugar.
Sugar is something that we cannot help but crave and gravitate towards. Evolutionarily speaking, natural sugars provide the body with a source of energy. Foods such as fruits, that are sweet, have vitamins and minerals essential to a healthy body. So, it is built into our genes to crave and enjoy sweet foods. Unfortunately, when we crave something sweet in modern society, we do not grab the apple or handful of blueberries, we devour a bar of chocolate or a cookie.
This is certainly something I am guilty of, more often than I’d like to admit. I’ve always enjoyed healthier foods and stayed away from junk like chips and soda but chocolate is my best friend and worst enemy.
Chocolate is beneficial, but I’m talking about what is added to it, sugar. I am also talking about all of the other -ose’s found in food. Glucose (simple carbohydrates boost this), sucrose (white sugar), lactose (milk), as well as sweeteners such as corn syrup and the very scary aspartame.
Sugars naturally found in foods such as fruits and complex carbohydrates are essential many basic bodily functions, particularly to those involving energy. These also break down much slower, as the small intestine extracts what it needs over a longer length of time. The fiber in fruit basically keeps the body from getting one big dose of sugar. But artificial sweeteners and refined sugars are pretty much immediately pumped into the blood, creating a sugar “high” which eventually leads to a “crash”. These sweeteners are essentially foreign to our bodies, have no benefit whatsoever, and can cause some scary effects. Here’s a “brief” list on some health effects both refined sugars and artificial sweeteners can have:
-Feeds/causes cancer (depending on type of sweetener)
-Causes food allergies
-Raise bad cholesterol
-Interfere with protein absorption
-Increase risk of diabetes by disrupting insulin regulation
-Cause cardiovascular disease
-Decrease growth hormones
-Feeds bad bacteria
-Decreases the effectiveness of the immune system
-Causes tooth decay
-Create an acidic environment which…
-Cause kidney damage
-Cause toxemia in pregnant women
…the list goes on!
So what to do? First, read labels! It’s always good to know what you are eating, it’s going inside of your body. Also, consider that if you are craving sweetness, your metabolic balance is probably out of whack and you most likely need a boost provided by fruit, leafy greens, or complex carbs. If you simply must have something sweet, go for sweeteners such as honey (although this is not vegan, so if you choose it, be sure it is supporting a local beekeeper), agave nectar, stevia, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and xylitol. These sweeteners have a much lower effect on glucose levels in the blood and even some, like stevia, can help regulate blood glucose!
So, instead of finishing off that vegan bar of chocolate I started earlier, maybe I’ll go for the apple instead…