Sugar is one of the most common things I’m asked about from clients.
I’m flooded with questions like, “should you eat sugar?” “are zero-calorie sugars the best way to go?”, “does sugar feed cancer?” and more.
Although the verdict is still out on may aspects to how sugar affects health- like the sugar and cancer connection- if there is a founded and direct link, there are certain things that aren’t in question.
Here are a few key tips I give to clients about sugar, and the right sugar to choose:
1) Cut back on sugar as much as possible: A great way to do this is by cutting back on processed and packaged foods in the diet like cookies, granola bars (YES! For the most part they’re loaded with sugar), cereals and more.
2) Opt away from artificial sweeteners: This is probably the most important thing I share with clients. After a long time coming, recent research is suggesting that artificial sweeteners may throw off the balance of our healthy gut bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract. Gut bacteria plays a role in many things, and having a load of healthy bacteria in there can help to promote immune health, digestive health, blood sugar control, weight management and more. To a lesser degree, but of equal importance, artificial sweeteners may confuse our sense of satiety. This may happen because these sweeteners deliver a lot of sweetness but no calories. This process is that something that has evolved over thousands of years and helps our bodies sense when there will be a large caloric load delivered. When our body tastes intense sweetness, it expects lots of calories and prepares for such. However, with these zero calorie sweeteners, there’s not calories- so it can be confusing to our body’s sense of satiety. Not a system we want to mess with!
3) Use sweeteners that pack nutritional punch: This goes for baking, indulging in a sweet tooth or anything else that requires something sweet, really. I always recommend to choose natural ways to indulge in sweet, and always to choose sweets that pack a nutritional punch too. For example:
• Fruit: Fruit is sweet because it contains fructose, but the good news is that fruit also contains fiber (varying depending on the type of fruit), antioxidants and more. Use fruit to have as a snack on its own, or even as a dessert- like in the case of a baked fruit dish or cobbler.
• Chocolate: Opt for dark chocolate, it’s not too sweet but it contains heart and brain-healthy flavanoids. The darker, and less processed, the better for your health.
• Maple syrup: Use maple syrup on breakfast items like pancakes – maple syrup contains a number of antioxidants and is quite concentrated- so it helps the user to consume less of it.
So, when it comes to choosing to use sweeteners in baking, in tea and in other ways, I love to recommend these natural and nutritionally-powerful sweeteners that do contain calories, and that won’t confuse your bodies sense of calorie perception and satiety. But, you still want to make sure that you’re watching how much of these you’re using.
Here’s my favorite 4 sugar/sweeteners to use:
1. Honey: Honey can be used on oatmeal, in tea, and in baked goods. I love honey because it contains anti-viral and anti-microbial properties. Honey also contains antioxidants, particularly in the polyphenol family that have been found to be heart-healthy. Choose a darker amber honey like Buckwheat honey because it contains more nutrients. There’s also some really exciting research going on right now with the benefits of honey- stay tuned!
2. Maple syrup: I already let this favorite out of the bag, but maple syrup is just awesome- especially the darker amber varieties (seeing a trend here?!). Maple syrup contains a number of antioxidants also in the polyphenol family. Research has found that the antioxidants and nutrients in maple syrup may be beneficial in preventing diseases like cancer, osteoporosis and others; athletes often use maple syrup to help power both athletic endurance and recovery as well. To boot, maple syrup can be used on your skin (see this sweet potato and coconut face mask here) for anti-aging benefits.
3. Stevia leaf: If you must use a zero-calorie sweetener, go for the stevia leaf or stevia leaf extract- the unprocessed form. The good news about stevia is that it does come from a natural source, but when processed into the granulated can often have things like maltodextrin added, which can contain MSG.
4. Organic sugar: Although it doesn’t contain nutritional properties like the others do, in lieu of using artificial sugar, at the very least this stuff has calories. The good news is that you can cut it with applesauce or a mashed banana in baking recipes, which will undoubtedly add to the nutritional benefit. Try to make sure to find organic sugar to avoid other additives and things in there.
It’s always a good idea to aim to use the least amount of sugar possible- so check out my healthier/more natural dessert and sweet options here.