Sweet foods are delicious. And it feels kind of good to have a little sweet treat and go against all the diet advice you hear. It’s no fun to deny yourself…
But sweet foods aren’t the root of all evil, no matter what nutritionists try to tell you.
“Sweet” is the taste that tells you a fruit is ripe. Many foods are naturally sweet.
But there’s something you should know… the refined sugar in most foods at the store is nowhere near natural.
Sure, they give it fancy names to fool you. “Granulated” sugar, brown sugar, and invert sugar are all refined sugars. None are any good for you. Nor are maltose, dextrose, or lactose.
But I Love Sugar…Sorry, Sugar Doesn’t Love You Back
First, sugar throws off your body’s proper pH balance.
Second, sugar consumption has to do with a chemical process called glycation. You’ve seen it happen yourself. Sugar and a protein molecule combine when heated and things turn different brown. Carmelization is a good example.
In your body, glycation produces advanced glycation end products, or AGEs and the long-term health consequences of this can be disastrous.
When proteins in blood vessels undergo glycation, they get stiffer and less flexible. This can mean higher blood pressure, plaque formation, and heart disease.
Sugar has another effect that’s equally bad.
In one of the earlier of the modern studies done on refined sugar, it was revealed that eating only three ounces of sugar during a meal or snack almost stops white blood cells from being able to destroy bacteria and viruses.1
And that’s ALL sugars – fructose, glucose or sucrose. This immune suppression starts about 30 minutes after you eat the sugar and can last for up to five hours.
Refined sugar is also linked to cataracts, reduced bone strength, and nutrient depletion.
High fructose corn syrup is another processed sugar that can harm your health.
It has been linked with diabetes, high blood pressure, and can contain the toxic metal mercury.
And it can make you dumber.
In a study from the University of California, a research team assisted a group of rats with navigating a maze. They put up little landmarks to help them learn the way.
The rats learned… they figured out quickly how to get through the maze.
Then, the researchers began feeding the rats high fructose corn syrup.
Six weeks later, the rats fed the sugary goo that’s in almost every processed food you can buy had gotten dumber.
Their brains were slower and had declined.2
The study author, Professor Gomez-Pinilla told London’s Daily Mail newspaper, “Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned six weeks earlier.”
To put it bluntly, eating sugar over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information.
But, no one wants to live like a monk and eat nothing but kale and water.
Fortunately, if you’d like to eat something sweet, there are many sweet foods and natural sugar substitutes that have quite a few health benefits.
4 Natural Sugar Substitutes
1. Stevia is probably the best-known of them. This plant related to the daisy, has been used as a natural sugar substitute for over 1,500 years in South America, the FDA doesn’t allow it as a food additive. Only as a dietary supplement.
It’s 200 times sweeter than sugar and may even help lower blood pressure.
But, today this is just one of many natural sugar substitutes that are available at health food stores and online.
2. Lucuma sugar, the dried ground pulp from the fruit that grows in the high valleys along the coast of Peru.
Lucuma fruit may be a little difficult to find, but most natural food stores sell lucuma powder. Lucuma does not have to be heated so it keeps all its nutrients and antioxidants.
Lucuma has lots of protein, calcium, iron, beta carotene and fiber.
3. Another delicious South American sugar is maqui powder.
The purple Chilean maqui berry is also antioxidant-rich and considered an ancient superfood. It has vitamin C, calcium, iron and potassium, anti-aging anthocyanins and polyphenols, and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Maqui berries are part of the diet of one of the oldest tribes on Earth, the Mapuche Indians.
The powder is fruity and sweet, and a healthy stand-in for refined cane or beet sugar.
4. Momordica (Luo Han Guo in China), or bitter melon, is a low-glycemic sugar substitute that’s from a fruit that grows in tropical climates. It’s been used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years.
The sugar made from the fruit is 300 times sweeter than refined sugar and loaded with vitamin C. Diabetics use it because it doesn’t increase blood sugar, it has insulin-like molecules, and even helps to remove glucose from the bloodstream.
Momordica (bitter melon) a slight taste of caramel, so it tastes great in tea.
Also, remember that rapadura, panela, sucanat, muscavado, turbinado, jaggery, palm sugar and “organic raw” sugar are a bit less refined, but still have the same effect in your body as the processed white stuff and are still just different forms of sugar.
It’s easy to get confused with all the names sugar hides behind just remember when it comes to natural sugar substitutes…go with one of the four mentioned above or choose natural unprocessed sweeteners.
But, whatever you do just make sure you stay away from artificial sweeteners.
1. Ringsdorf, W., Cheraskin, E. and Ramsay R. “Sucrose, Neutrophilic Phagocytosis and Resistance to Disease.” Dental Survey. 1976;52(12):46_48.
2. Agrawal R, Gomez-Pinilla F. “‘Metabolic syndrome’ in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition.” J Physiol. 2012 May 1;590(Pt 10):2485-99.