It is so sweet. Is anything as rewarding as the taste of sweetness? Think of birthday cakes piled high with icing and candles, ice cream cones and sodas celebrating a win after a sports game, the treats handed out at every holiday.
Sugar can be a substitute for the self-love we often deny ourselves. Sweetness can go hand in hand with seductive refined carbohydrates or creamy, dreamy dairy. It can turn coffee and chocolate into something you crave beyond all meaning. It is essentially a drug.
And it is a bad drug.
Sugar has been implicated in just about every horror that humankind has known: war, slavery…and now, obesity, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimers and heart disease. Today, the average American consumes around 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. That may not sound like much, but get out a set or measuring spoons and a bag of sugar and actually measure it out. One major culprit is soda, vitamin drinks and other sweet beverages – that can average 8 teaspoons per serving. That’s the same as three apples. Which will fill you up faster – three apples or a can of Coke? Therein lies the problem.
Sugar is inflammatory. Inflammation is to blame in a laundry list of diseases that humans face today. Too much sugar can imbalance the micobriome in the gut, feeding bad yeasts and undesirable bacteria. Sugar consumption can also lead to insulin problems, diabetes and heart issues. Raised insulin levels can contribute to hormonal imbalance. Sugar is linked to acne, it can cause weight gain. Sugar can aggravate anxiety levels, trigger depression and accelerate aging in the body. Sugar can cause cognitive decline and is strongly linked to cancer in the body.
Really, it seems that the only good thing about it is that it tastes good.
And sugar is sugar. High fructose corn syrup has gotten a lot of bad publicity in recent years. Many health conscious people use natural sweeteners like maple syrup, honey or coconut sugar. The real truth is, the way your body handles any of these is indistinguishable. The main problem is quantity.
Too much sugar is too much sugar.
When added sweetness is necessary, the first choice should probably be fruit. Fruit contains vitamins, nutrients, and most importantly, fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. The second choice would be a natural, minimally processed sweetener, added with discretion. And fiber.
I do not like artificial sweeteners at all and feel that real sugar is always a better choice, if you must make one. Saccharin is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and causes cancer in lab mice. Aspartame has almost no calories, but has been accused of causing headaches, stomach issues and again, cancer.
I have hesitations about Stevia because of the effects it may have on the control of blood sugar, reproductive, cardiovascular and renal systems. I have two girlfriends who claim that use of stevia led to fertility problems for both of them. Their cycles became normal again when they quite using it. If you do decide to use stevia, use it in moderation, as needed. For example, to sweeten your coffee in the morning with a few drops. I don’t recommended baking up dozens of sugar-free cupcakes with it.
I keep coconut sugar, maple syrup and honey in my pantry. For smoothies, I like to use whole fruits and dates to sweeten. But overall, I have experienced for myself the addictive quality of sugar, the negative impact it has had on my health and I can see differences in my mood, my body and my skin when I keep it to a bare minimum.
Over time, and not too much time, your body gets used to running on less sugar. And it runs so much better! Quitting is the hardest part, and avoiding sneaky sources of added sugar – like peanut butter and pasta sauce. Start identifying other foods that you sincerely enjoy eating, and fill your diet with those as you wean off sugar. Fresh strawberries, grilled broccoli with garlic, almond butter slathered on a sliced apple. Try drinking your coffee with a non-dairy creamer and no added sweetener. Or try drinking tea instead. Place fresh lime or lemon slices, cucumbers, or sliced fresh fruit in water and drink that instead of a soda. Make small changes that will add up to new habits and you will be rewarded with a more healthful life.