One of the most common questions I get asked by my clients is what can I eat to sweeten my food instead of sugar? This gives you some indication of just how addictive sugar is. The thought of going on a sugar free diet is just too much to bear. The blame can be placed squarely on the food industry which laces processed food with refined sucrose and fructose. Evidence shows these are stronger stimulants of the reward system of the brain than cocaine, releasing the calming brain chemical dopamine and losing its effectiveness over time meaning you need a bigger dose to get the same soothing result. Is it any wonder people are drinking liters of soft drink a day? Added to the addiction are the health implications of eating loads of sugar; weight gain, inflammation, insulin resistance, poor immune function and dental caries.
One of the problem with foods containing sucrose and fructose is that they contain empty calories. This simply means they contribute to weight but not to the functioning of the body (including the conversion of those calories into energy) because they are also nutrient poor. So providing you are not trying to lose weight I generally recommend the odd treat be cooked with natural, unprocessed sources of sugar that also contain nutrients. These include raw honey, maple syrup and rapadura sugar (dehydrated sugar cane juice). For those who are on a weight loss journey it’s best to avoid all sources of sugar so that the taste buds can be retrained to accept and even appreciate the wealth of foods available that are not sweet. However, if this is not possible I recommend stevia, xylitol and a new sweetener on the market called coconut nectar. This has a low glycemic index but, unlike its trendy predecessor agave syrup, is not high in fructose. Fructose has its own extra set of problems as some people are intolerant to it and it can be converted to blood fats in the liver thereby creating another risk factor for heart disease. Consumption of fructose also plays havoc with satiety signals meaning you have trouble knowing when to stop eating.
The sweeteners to avoid like the plague are…..you guessed it, the artificial ones, the best known of these being aspartame. These sweeteners are neurotoxic, forming formaldehyde in the brain, and cause bladder cancer in rats. Due to their meteoric rise in the food industry there have not been any long term studies on their safety in humans but they are chemicals that are not compatible with the human body so my advice is don’t be a guinea pig. Studies do demonstrate that consumption of foods containing these sweeteners do not lead to weight loss but instead further sensitize the taste buds to expect sweet foods on a regular basis.
My advice to sweetening is the same as that for all food. Stick as close to nature as is humanly possible and avoid processed food. If you find yourself craving sugar it is generally a strong sign that you need to break that strong addiction that is easily established or you have a chromium deficiency which becomes more pronounced with every extra gram of sugar you consume.