June 11th

theresa albert - my friend in food


Sugar is a Bitter Killer

maple painting

Our bodies are not meant to use the intense sweetness of processed sugar; they are made to pull out the natural sugars and starches that come along encased within other sources like the minerals in fruit and the fiber in flour. If we consume the “food” that has removed the minerals and fiber, the pancreas and liver both go into over-drive.  Do this too often and they wear out. More recent information shows from childhood obesity expert, Dr. Lustig that sugar in the absence of fiber and minerals has a toxic effect upon the liver and a disastrous hand in our collective weight gain.

People are stunned by how much energy they find when they remove the processed sugar from their diets. Having lived on the highs and lows of this drug for days or decades nets the same result, you end up needing more and more of it to get the same amount of “energy.” I am not saying that you can’t eat your own birthday cake but you really do want to at least remove as much liquid sugar from your day as you can (that includes everything from “freshly squeezed” juice and pop to coffee that can outpace an ice cream cone in calories).

Unfortunately, artificial sweeteners are not the answer. In large enough doses (estimated as more than 8 or 10 diet sodas per day), this stuff has been shown to be unsafe. Also, there is burgeoning evidence that the sensation of sweetness without the delivery of calories has a negative impact on our perception of caloric intake. In other words, it tastes sweet but your body doesn’t get the calories it expects from it, which makes you want sugar even more.

Going cold turkey won’t be fun for anyone so here are some ways that white sugar can be replaced in your morning cup of coffee while you are cutting down. It is important to note that they all contain about the same amount of calories, about 16-20 per teaspoon, but, as usual, it is all about what comes with those calories. Less processing means that the minerals are still intact and these sweeteners show less of an impact on, at least, insulin response part of the equation.

  1. Evaporated Cane Sugar – It’s essentially the same thing as granulated white sugar. It comes from the same plant but rather than being bleached and depleted in the processing, in this case, the entire cane plant is pressed and the water evaporated.  Health food stores and bulk stores are good places to find it but Asian and Indian markets are even better.  Look for Jaggery powder as they call it in an Indian shop. It has an almost butterscotch taste with a molasses like color and smell and is incredible in a cup of coffee.
  2. Agave nectar – This is the sweet and honey-like liquid from a cactus that has been shown to be lower on the Glycemic index which measures the body’s insulin response after consuming a given food.
  3. Pure Maple Syrup – My personal favorite having grown up with family in rural Quebec.  Amber maple syrup is a concentrated flavor that adds a certain je ne sais quoi. Real Maple syrup brings with it excellent trace minerals that will help you digest its carbohydrates and add to your nutritional bottom line.  (Note: commercial “maple” flavored table syrups are usually made with flavored corn syrup, which is no better than pouring a can of soda pop on your pancakes.)
  4. Honey – Nectar of the Gods.  Honey has recently been discovered to have anti-bacterial agents that are as potent as penicillin. And, it is under study as the one to use on “super bugs” in resistant strains of infections.   Honey, like the other suggested sweeteners, also has minerals that we sorely need. Its active enzymes are delicate and your choice in honey must be as minimally processed as possible, not pasteurized, creamed or otherwise heated and you will get its full benefits.
  5. Stevia is a sweet herb that has recently been used as a sweetener. It is virtually no-cal and doesn’t affect the blood sugar level.  I find it to have a slightly bitter aftertaste but I know many health professionals who swear by it.  There aren’t a lot of studies on this new kid to the game, and I worry that it will have the same outcome as sweeteners in the “it tastes sweet but didn’t give me any calories so I gotta go get more” category.  For these reasons it isn’t yet my go-to choice but is on my radar.

Now that the liquid is fixed, it’s wise to hunt down the other sugars in your day.  Choosing packaged foods that don’t have a lot of sugar in them is another trick.  I wish I had better news when parents ask me which granola bar “isn’t so bad”. The answer is the one you make yourself.  The muffins and granola bars that you bake with whole grains and the fiber of fruits or vegetables are your best bet for getting rid of this bitter killer.

Here are some recipes to help you get started!

Theresa Albert

Theresa Albert

I love food, try to watch my weight, know more than I want to about healthy living (sometimes I wish I knew less so I wouldn’t feel so guilty when I stumble), am a daughter, sister, friend, mom and wife who worries and scurries the meals onto the table. It is for all these reasons that I completed my nutrition, RNCP designation, wrote my book, hosted my Food Network show, consult with food companies to urge them to get it right (or at least better), constantly write about it, research it, all of this so I can cut through the nutrition and food “news” clutter. Happy to share with friends!


3 Responses

    May 3, 2011 at 11:31 am Reply

    Thanks Theresa. I know all of the above about sugar and try to use maple and honey where I can but find it so difficult to stay away.

    I try. I’ve gone cold turkey and know I feel much better without it but, sadly, it eventually calls me back. And once I get a taste it’s game over.

    Wanting to make the reduction of sugar in my diet a life change – will keep your post close at hand to remind me why.

    May 4, 2011 at 7:59 am Reply

    Is Evaporated Cane Sugar the same as the ‘raw sugar’ you often see in pakets next to the regular sugar??

    May 25, 2011 at 3:35 pm Reply

    This is a fabulous article. I wish everyone would read it and the other one called “Killing Me Sweetly”. We’ve been using evaporate cane sugar, honey, agave nectar and maple syrup, too. I’ve also tried the Stevia but agree with you about the aftertaste. So I gave most of it away for others to try. I really need to cut back on sugar and I look forward to trying your granola bar recipe.

    Thanks, Theresa!

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