Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We're not going to sugar-coat it

There are different views on carb consumption but the jury is in when it comes to sugar. We need to moderate and choose carefully!

If you’re going to cut back on the sweet stuff (particularly the bad and ugly sugars revealed in our last blog), you’re probably wondering what your alternatives are. The big divide when it comes to sugar substitutes is artificial vs. natural.

The real baddies: artificial sweeteners
Most artificial sweeteners have been listed as safe for human consumption but scientific studies say otherwise. Some research even suggests that they make you fat! A study carried out by the University of Liverpool has revealed that artificial sweeteners stimulate sweet receptors in our intestines that in turn increase the body’s ability to absorb more sugar.

But what other side effects are we facing? Let’s take a closer look at two of the artificial substitutes listed as ‘safe’ for human consumption:

Acesulfame-K (Sunette and Sweet One) is found in diet drinks, lollies, diet yoghurts and baked goods, and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Studies have linked it to cancer in rats; we can’t say for sure what its long-term effect will be on humans.

Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) is found in diet soft drinks, low calorie or sugar-free foods, and even some vitamins. In 1995, the FDA listed 92 adverse Aspartame symptoms, including headaches, memory loss, seizures, cancer and coma. It contains phenylalanine, which is dangerous for people with PKU (phenylketonuria).

Other artificial sweeteners include: neotame, saccharin and sucralose.
We’re not saying you should avoid them at all costs, but you definitely need to cut back on these baddies. If consumed in large quantities, their health risks are too significant to overlook. And anyway, in our humble opinion, natural is always better.

Natural alternatives
Here are some of nature’s answers to the sugar controversy:

Agave nectar (or syrup) is a favourite of the Aztecs in Mexico. This natural sugar alternative is made from the sap of the Agave Tequilana plant, and has a low glycemic index (GI).

Barley malt syrup is made by malting barley grains to produce maltose. It is about half as sweet as conventional sugar and has a malty flavour. The sugars in barley malt syrup are broken down slowly by the body and it is therefore a low GI food.

Coconut palm sugar is a favourite in Southeast Asia and India. The flower nectars are boiled into a syrup, dried, then ground to produce a crumbly sugar that's organic, unbleached, nutrient rich (B vitamins, minerals and amino acids) and low GI. Palms grow in sustainable eco-systems that support the natural habitat.

Maple syrup is a mineral-rich, lower kilojoule natural sweetener derived from maple tree sap. A wide range of imitation syrups exist, often containing no actual maple syrup – wherever possible, go for pure organic maple syrup.

Organic honey is a raw, unprocessed sweetener derived from flower nectar that is transformed naturally by bees. Manuka honey is particularly good for you as, unlike many sugars, it does not feed candida. It also has incredible healing properties.

Pear or apple juice concentrate is created by concentrating the juice through evaporation to retain the natural sugars and minerals. The end product is roughly a third lower in kilojoules than refined sugar by weight.

Rapadura sugar (also known as muscovado sugar) is the only unrefined sweetener derived from sugar cane. The cane is squeezed, evaporated, then ground – no further refinement occurs. Rapadura sugar is chemical-free and nutrient rich.

Stevia is a South American herb used as a sweetener in Paraguay for hundreds of years. It is essentially kilojoule-free (and a great weight loss or management tool) as the body does not metabolise the glycosides from its leaves. It does not cause blood glucose spikes and may be used by diabetics. Stevia crystals are 300 times sweeter than sugar, so use sparingly!

Xylitol is a natural sweetener with 40% less kilojoules than sugar. It looks and tastes exactly like sugar but is in fact an alcohol molecule. Derived from plants (corn, birch trees) and brightly-coloured fruits, xylitol is used in chewing gum, mints and mouth washes due to its anti-microbial properties, and as a sugar substitute in beverages or cooking. It produces no insulin spike and leaves no aftertaste. As is the case for most sugar alcohols, it can contribute to bloating and gas, so people who tend towards IBS need to be careful with this sugar substitute.

Yacón is related to the sunflower and originates from the Andes. The syrup is made by juicing the tubers of the flower and boiling the liquid obtained to concentrate it. Its sweetness stems primarily from fructo-oligosaccharides, compounds that the human body doesn't absorb; yacón is low-kilojoule, low GI and even helps feed the good bacteria in your stomach.

For other natural alternatives, check out the table in part one of our sugar blog (you’ll find them in the ‘good’ column).

So does this mean no more sweet treats? Ever? Rest assured, the occasional guilty pleasure won’t ruin your good efforts; instead it’s the small changes you make on a daily basis that really deliver. Keep it simple and break the sugar addiction in four of your daily habits: tea, coffee, cereal and yoghurt. Bring a packet of stevia or xylitol with you to work and be in control of the kilojoules in your coffee. Your waistline will thank you in the short term, as will your whole body further down the track!

It is important to remember that even natural sugar alternatives add a little to your kilojoule intake (and impact your blood sugar levels). Moderation is still key!

In a nutshell…
Two things to remember from part two of our sugar blog:
  1. Avoid artificial sweeteners wherever possible.
  2. Think natural.
At Urban Remedy some of our faves are stevia, agave nectar, honey and maple syrup. Sugar is so last year.

Thomassian M, 2010: www.dietriffic.com/2010/08/24/food-chemicals/ Cutler M, 2010: www.healthiertalk.com/try-these-healthier-alternatives-sugar-2510 Ursell A, 2009: women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/diet_and_fitness/article6822240.ece Helm A: www.sweetbyhalf.com/sugars/


Fiona said...

I'm steering clear of some of those sugars... should read the FODMAP stuff.


Urban Remedy said...

Thanks for the link. I agree that Xylitol is not good for IBS sufferer and have added in a recommendation about that.