Sugar is bad for us for a number of reasons. Mainly, it adds extra calories to your food but provides no nutritional benefit whatsoever. For example, when we eat an apple our bodies receive sugar, but also a load of other nutrients and a feeling of satisfaction at 95 calories. The same cannot be said for eating a lollipop, which won’t fill you up and still cost you 25 calories for a Dum Dum.
Sugar is bad for our teeth and livers, and can result in cancer and Type II Diabetes. In our bodies, sugar converts directly to fat, which makes it extraordinarily hard to get rid of. Sugar is also highly addictive. Like other drugs, it releases dopamine in the brain’s reward center, creating a rush that can result in addictive behavior.
For most of human history, sugar was only ingested in its natural setting (such as an apple or strawberry). However, beginning in the industrial age, humans discovered how to extract sucrose from sugarcane and beets, and since the 1700s table sugar has slowly become ubiquitous across the industrialized world.
As a result, the amount of sugar we consume today is unfathomable. Research from 2013 found that 50% of Americans in 2009 were consuming around 180 pounds of sugar per year. For comparison, that same research found that the average American in 1900 consumed 90 pounds of sugar per year. In 109 years Americans have doubled their sugar intake!
This is largely due to the fact that sugar is found in nearly everything we eat, from salad dressings to supposedly “healthy” snackbars.
While the real problem is that we should just be reducing the amount of sugar we eat in general, it is hard to do in the modern world. Thus, what we really need to avoid today is refined sugar, also referred to as processed sugar.
Refined sugar is the most common form of added sugar we encounter. When you eat a cookie or a lollipop, it’s likely that it was made with the highly processed white sugar you can buy by the pound at the grocery store.
While the refinery process might seem innocent enough when described by sugar companies, the reality is much darker. Raw sugar is safe for human consumption and can be sent directly to consumers, but most sugars are sent to refineries where they are often bleached with bone char, a de-ashing agent that is made from cattle skulls and spines.
The process of creating refined sugar is extraordinarily harmful for the planet and for humans. Because of this, we should opt for natural sugars over refined white sugar.
There are plenty of natural substitute for sugar available that can help sweeten your life up without the unnatural processing!
Honey is a flower nectar that is collected by bees and naturally broken down into simple sugar while stored in honeycombs. Everybody knows honey and loves its amber color. Almost no processing is necessary for honey to be consumed, and it tastes delicious!
When buying honey, make sure that you buy organic raw honey rather than from larger commercial brands. The larger brands process their honey, and it is important to support local beekeepers!
Pure maple syrup is another sugar that is completely naturally derived and lightly processed. To make the syrup, sap is collected from maple trees then boiled and filtered in sugar houses. Maple syrup has low fructose levels (which makes it easier for our livers to process) and is known to contain antioxidants.
Similar to honey, make sure that you buy pure organic maple syrup. There are many companies (like Quaker Oats, which produces Aunt Jemima Syrup), which manufacture syrup with high-fructose corn syrup rather than actual maple syrup. Additionally, most organic companies work to ensure that their syrup supply is sustainably sourced.
Date sugar is also very simple. It’s simply made from ground up dates! The dates are dehydrated then ground into smaller pieces. Date sugar is mildly sweet and has a sort of butterscotch undertone, and can be used as a one-to-one replacement for white or brown sugar in recipes.
Date sugar can be found in most grocery stores in the natural foods section. Bob’s Red Mill is a reputable company to look out for.
Coconut sugar (also called coconut palm sugar, often confused with palm sugar) is derived from a natural two step process: first liquid sap is collected from the coconut palm tree, then that sap is placed under heat until most of the water has been evaporated.
Coconut sugar retains a higher amount of the natural nutrients and minerals than refined sugar does, and when it is made sustainably it is free of harmful chemicals. Coconut sugar may also have a lower glycemic index, but it does have a high amount of fructose, which is hard for the body to process.
Coconut sugar should be easily accessible for you and your family, available in major stores such as Wal-Mart. It can also be ordered online.
Agave is one of the more popular options on this list, available in all major grocery stores in the U.S. It is sourced from the sap of the blue agave plant, filtered, then boiled over low heat to break down the carbohydrates into sugars.
Agave has been criticized recently because of its extremely high levels of fructose, which is even higher than high fructose corn syrup. This means that your liver has to work on overdrive to process the substance and your blood sugar levels are raised. However, its intense sweetness means that you can use less of the nectar to achieve the same desired effect.
While natural sugars each have their pros and cons, they are all better options for your body than the heavily processed refined sugars that are so common. Next time a recipe calls for added sugar, grab one of these great alternatives at the grocery store!