As we know, refined sugar and simple sugars like corn syrup, honey, agave syrup and juice concentrates place stress on blood sugar control. When these high sugar foods are eaten in isolation, blood sugar levels rise quickly, producing a heightened release of insulin. Consuming high amounts of refined sugar can also have a negative effect on mood, hormones and our digestive systems and oral health.
Having said this, our bodies do actually need sugar (or glucose) to function. So unless we have a medical condition (like diabetes, or we are following a keto diet as part of a specific health protocol) we should eat sugar, or at least foods that convert into sugar. However it is important to be aware of the different types of sugars out there and how we can best provide our bodies with sugar for optimal physiological function.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that comes in many different forms. In its simplest form it is a monosaccharide: Glucose (naturally found in fruits and plant juices) Fructose (naturally occurring in fruits, some root vegetables, cane sugar and honey) Galactose (combines with glucose to form lactose) Sucrose (which is refined white table sugar) is a disaccharide, containing two monosaccharaides, glucose and fructose.
As we all know, carbohydrates like bread and pasta are also converted into glucose during digestion. The glycemic index measures how quickly or slowly the carbohydrates are digested and what impact they have on the blood sugar level. High fibre carbohydrates digest more slowly releasing sugar into the bloodstream at a slower rate resulting in more constant blood sugar levels. So these are the carbohydrates we should choose to eat most of the time.
Added sugar gives no beneficial nutrients. It simply provides energy, useful during times of physical endurance perhaps, but in excess this can impact negatively on our health. The World Health Organization guideline states that ‘added sugar’ should make up no more than 10% of our daily intake. We all know that most of the food labels in our mainstream supermarkets ‘buck’ this recommendation to the contrary.
When selecting a sugar option or alternative for baking and cooking here are our tops picks:
Sugar Options that Also Provide some Nutrient Value and Lower GI Rating:
Rapadura or Panela Sugar (Derived from Sugar Cane)
Honey may be a simple sugar, but it is raw and contains many other beneficial health promoting compounds
Sugar Free Options:
Xylitol (Beware of quality we choose Xylitol made in Europe from birch bark, some Xylitol can be made from GMO corn) Xlitol is a prebiotic fibre, consuming over 30g at a time can irritate the digestive system. Xylitol is useful in baking recipes as it can be portioned measure for measure like sugar.
Stevia (A sweet herbal extract with no calories, sugar content or side effects) It can have a slightly bitter after-taste that takes time to become accustomed to.
Erythritol (A sweetener derived from the alcohol produced by fruit and vegetable fermentation.)
Other notes: Look for the product that has the least refinement and therefore the most nutritional value, syrups and nectars are concentrated and will have a higher GI than a raw sugar form.