Not ripe yet, but these red bananas will be amazingly good when they’re ready…
Sugar is a hotly contested topic in the health world…
Is it good? Is it bad? Does it feed the brain or does it feed cancer? Can diabetics eat it or not?
This week, I’m going to address various viewpoints from the sugar or no-sugar arguments so you can come up with your own conclusion.
Annmarie and I do eat sugars and the reason why is because I’ve found science to support both sides – which leads me to believe that there is a little truth in both. This evidence means that in moderation – as cliche as it sounds – is the best way to eat natural sugars (unless you have a medical condition that advises against eating it.)
Today, I’m going to start the week with a sugar hierarchy of sorts. This is a list from best to worst sugar substitutes that we eat and don’t eat – with commentary on the good and bad of each one.
So here we go…
Of course, the top of the list is real fruit. Full of nutrients, water, fiber, vitamin C and more, fruit provides sweetness to whatever you’re whipping up in the kitchen – or just plain solo.
The Good: There’s nothing like a fully ripe fruit – no matter what kind really. (I almost liked the ripe durian that author Paul Nison told me was the best he ever tasted – that’s saying a lot, since I can’t stand the stuff.)
Ripe fruits have many nutrients, micronutrients and fiber – which helps slow the absorption of sugars into the blood stream keeping blood sugars in check – as long as you don’t eat a lot of fat with your fruit.
Negatives: Many fruits you find in the grocery store are hybridized to have more sugar, taste sweeter and stay on the shelf longer. This means that it’s best to look out for heirloom fruits from your local farmer’s market. I remember being in the Ithaca farmer’s market just around apple season and 3-4 of the vendors had at least 8-10 different apple varieties that I’d never heard from – each was better than the last. This fruits tend to be a little less sweet and more nutrient dense.
Also fruits that you find in the store are usually picked too early and don’t ripen properly – many in fact are under-ripe when you eat them. While this condition isn’t ideal (or the other ones above), it shouldn’t make anyone completely demonize this incredible source of calories and energy.
My favorite choices: For sweetening? Heirloom dates and fresh figs. For eating? Everything except durian.
2. Dehydrated Fruit.
Next up, if you can’t find the freshest fruit or live in an area where it’s $100 for a couple of peaches and a tray of blackberries, dehydrated fruits are a great way to sweeten up your recipes, smoothies, yogurts (vegan or non), and more.
The Good: If you get a good dehydrated fruit or fruit powder, you can use it to sweeten your cereals, oatmeal, baked or non-baked goods and more. I prefer dehydrated fruit or fruit powder to other sweeteners because they still have the fiber and are now a more concentrated source of nutrients.
Dried fruits and powders are also good because they’re usually dried when the fruit is very ripe. This allows you to get the maximum amount of nutrition from the source.
The Bad: Dehydrated fruit and fruit powder sweeteners don’t have much water (almost none!) You can overcome this challenge by drinking water to offset the lack of hydration – so in some ways if the fruit that is being dried is heirloom quality, is dried at low temperatures and you drink some water with whatever you’re eating – you could get very close to eating some of the highest quality sugar you can find.
My favorite choices: Banana Powder, Lucuma Powder, Coconut Sugar (Raw palm sugar), Raisins, Dried Dates, Dried Figs, Dried Pineapple
3. Sugar Syrups.
Under this category, any sugar that is syrupy will fit just fine.
Sugar syrups are generally delicious and easy to use when making foods that require a soft or smooth consistency. Under this category, I will include honey, yacon syrup, coconut sap, carob syrup and maple syrup.
The Good: These syrups are sweet, delicious and easy to use.
The Bad: They fall behind the top two because many of them have little to no fiber. Fiber is essential in slowing down the absorption of sugar into the body to keep insulin levels stable. Any fiber-less or low fiber syrup should be eaten with fiber of some kind. Yacon syrup does have fructo-oligosaccharrides or FOS which is a fiber-like substance in its action and slows the absorption of sugar into the body.
Other considerations: Because this is a broad category, there are more considerations to figure into which one of these products you choose to sweeten with. Honey has the best flavor profile, works great as a substitute to other – more processed – sugars, but it’s not vegan. Yacon, carob and coconut syrup are delicious but have a stronger, more molasses flavor which may ruin delicate recipes. Finally, maple syrup has a great flavor profile as well, is a good source of minerals too, but is slightly caramelized because of the cooking process – because of this I’d recommend this syrup more infrequently.
My favorite choice: Honey, carob syrup
Stevia, in green powdered form, is a great herbal sweetener that has almost no calories. You really don’t need much at all to give what you’re sweetening a serious boost.
The Good: This sweetener has almost no calories and does not cause any blood sugar spikes. It’s good for those on a no-sugar diet. I used a lot of stevia in my chia porridge and just about everything else when I was on a no-sugar, anti-candida diet a few years back.
The Bad: While there’s no evidence that eating too much stevia could be harmful in any way in humans, I would caution anyone using it every single day to take a break from time to time. Most herbs are best used in smaller doses, so I think we should apply the same rules to stevia.
Another negative to stevia is that to some it just doesn’t taste the same as sugar. It has a more bitter and strikingly sweet combination of flavor. Many people I know who use stevia “cut” it with another sweetener like honey to give it less bite.
The only choice: Stevia in green leaf powder. (None of the white stuff!)
5. Other considerations… (You can use infrequently!)
These are some of the other sweeteners that we’ve come across and have tried, but don’t use regularly or at all, since we prefer the ones mentioned above.
Lakanto: This is an almost no-calorie, sweet mixture of non-GMO erythritol (sugar alcohol) and the extract of the luo han guo fruit. I like the taste of Lakanto, but it’s hard to justify buying it since the price is incredible – about $30.00 for a pound at retail prices!
Xylitol: Is another sugar alcohol that is derived from corn or birch. I like the idea of using this sugar in dentistry or in gum (if have to chew it), but I wouldn’t add a bunch of it to my smoothie and think I was doing something healthy.
6. The Bad (Never use or, if so, once in a blue moon)…
This list includes:
- Agave nectar
- Bleached, non-organic cane sugar
- Sugar from sugar beets
- High fructose corn syrup
- Sweet ‘n Low
We don’t have any of these in the house and the only time one crosses our lips is generally when we are given something that we assume is clean, but turns up to have a little agave or sugar in it. (The added sugar is definitely an issue in South America and Central America, so you have to be diligent.)
Which one to choose?
I think the best protocol is to stay in the top four of this list, have fun with them, use them moderately and don’t freak out. Of course, if you have a health challenge that makes it best to not use any sugar at all, please listen to your health practitioner and not me.
If I didn’t list a sugar here in this list, that means we definitely don’t use it. That doesn’t mean it’s good nor bad, it just means we have either not tried it or we like some of these others better.
(Although, it’s also entirely possible that I’ve forgotten one or two that I like as well – even though I’ve reviewed this list about 15 times.)
I want to know your thoughts: What is your favorite sweetener?
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