Friday, April 9, 2010

On The Subject Of Sugar

As I have stated on this blog, I believe the biggest problem in society's diet of today is sugar. While much is made of fats, it is sugar that we consume at exorbitant rates.

The article I linked to yesterday, The Sugar-coated Truth, does a good job of discussing the various sugars and sweeteners that we consume. I think it is important to always distinguish between natural sugars (those occurring naturally in foods) vs. processed sugars (table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup).

Natural sugars tend to occur in our foods at lower levels. Fruits have natural sugar. So do a lot of vegetables (this surprises people). Honey is a natural sugar. As is pure maple syrup. Even milk has sugar in it.

I advocate all of those sources of natural sugar IN MODERATION. Sugar in highly concentrated levels is the problem. Honey and pure maple syrup can fall into that category too. Bees refine flower pollen into honey, and pure maple syrup is boiled down into a concentrated syrup from maple sap (it take 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of syrup). But what is great about those sources is no additional substances are added, unlike other sources of sugar like high-fructose corn syrup and sugar crystals.

Refined sugars are the big evil. Humans weren't meant to ingest highly concentrated sugars at the levels that refined sugars provide. People will argue that table sugar is natural, but as I posted yesterday, it is so highly refined, with other substances added to it during that processing, that there is nothing natural about it. Refined white sugar is just as bad for you as high-fructose corn syrup.

So here are two lists of sweet things, or sweeteners, that you should enjoy and avoid.

  • Fruits and sweet vegetables
  • Honey (great for sweetening things like hot or iced tea)
  • Pure maple syrup (in moderation)
  • Artificial sweeteners (in moderation and only as opposed to refined sugars)
  • Pure cane sugar is okay in moderation (similar to pure maple syrup)
  • Processed foods (almost all contained refined sugars)
  • Low or no fat versions of things (anything that has the fat removed has refined sugars put in to replace it)
  • Regular maple syrup (non-pure contains high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup)
  • Table sugar (it IS NOT natural)
There are choices out there. Arnold's brand breads have versions of bread without high-fructose corn syrup (I recommend the 100% Whole Wheat). Just realize that regular processed sugar is used in its place, so it isn't perfect. Also, eating this way will cost a little more. But can you put a cost on price?

Also, some will get upset that I included "artificial sweeteners" into the enjoy list. But I think diet soda is much better for you than refined sugar sweetened soda.

A note on pure cane sugar. This is cane juice that is boiled down to crystallize it. It isn't as processed nor refined as table sugar. From the article linked above:
Sugar was brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus. At the time, sugar was processed by boiling the cane juice and then harvesting the crystals left behind after the water evaporated. These crystals contained protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. While they were calorie dense, they provided essential nutrients. It was not until a few centuries later that the process of refining sugars, and stripping out many of these nutrients, was perfected and sugar became a profitable industry.
It is interesting to note that raw sugar is already refined. Only evaporated cane juice is truly “raw” sugar (of the cane variety - sugars can come from other sources as well, such as beets and fruit). Once the cane juice crystals are harvested, they are washed, boiled, centrifuged, filtered, and dried. The purpose of this is to remove all of the original plant materials (stalk, fiber, etc.) to produce the pure sugar. This process removes most of the fiber and nutrients that existed in the original crystals. The sugar then becomes refined, and is now a food high in calories with little nutritional value.
Limiting your refined sugar intake can go a long way to maintaining your weight and remaining healthy. There is virtually no way to eliminate all processed sugars from our diets, but cutting where we can will help.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why Do Americans Think That Sugar Is "Natural"?

I always find it funny when a sugar-snob starts belittling artificial sweeteners, and high-fructose corn syrup. Most of these people will then trumpet the naturalness of sugar.

I have always found that hilarious. Few things in our diets are as highly refined as sugar. The process starts with sugar cane or sugar beets, and then is refined through a process of multiple steps to extract out the sucrose and put it into the crystal form we know as sugar. Of course, these people don't realize just how super concentrated this sucrose really is.

It struck me just how much of a refined product sugar is by watching an episode of "How It's Made".

How appetizing. Added to the cane juice during processing: sulfur dioxide fumes, and powdered lime.

Most people's reaction to this is "You mean sugar doesn't fall out of trees?!?" LOL Of course not. This super-concentrated sucrose now goes into almost everything we eat. And we wonder why diabetes rates are through the roof.

So next time someone tries to tell you how sugar is superior to high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial sweeteners, you'll know the truth. Sugar is no more natural than those other things.

I found this article to be pretty even-handed: The Sugar-coated Truth

Here is a quick summation:
  • Natural sugars (consumed in fruits and vegetables and honey!) are fine
  • Refined sugars (table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup) should be avoided
  • "Artificial" sweeteners, well the jury is still out. Just don't lean on them as a crutch
  • Limiting your portions is the key to weigh control, regardless of the contents
Just remember, after watching that video, can you really claim that refined sugar is "natural"?