We all know too much sugar isn’t good for us. Yet, do we know how dangerous overconsumption can be? There is a slew of reduced, low, or sugar-free items on the grocery store shelf and, in your home kitchen, there are sugar-conscious alternatives such as plant-based honey, plant-based syrup, or even coconut sugar.
Here’s the truth of the matter: sugar is sugar, no matter where it comes from.
Granulated sugar, also referred to as table sugar and one of the most widely-used types, may be naturally grown from sugarcane, but it’s still sugar. Brown sugar is simply crystalline sucrose (sugar) with a bit of molasses (sugar made at a different boiling point). That sweet tang of honey comes from monosaccharide fructose and glucose (both are sugars). The maple syrup that you drizzle on pancakes in the morning? Made from sugary tree sap. Even most fruits, which are recommended staples of the human diet, has fructose, which is, yes, sugar.
Yet, while a small amount of sugar in your diet is completely safe, especially if you incorporate natural sugars with a higher nutrition content (referred to as natural sugar versus added sugar), too much sugar of any kind is dangerous and can be detrimental to your health.
In our sugar-reliant society, working out your relationship with sugar can be a challenge. How do you weed out all the hidden sugar in everyday grocery store items? How do you decide on the right types of sugar to keep in your pantry? How do you fight those sugar cravings that seem to be too overwhelming to ignore?
What is Sugar?
When we think of sugar images of cupcakes, ice cream, and candy bars spring to mind. Yet, sugar, like all other parts of the food you eat, is simply a natural biological product that has been changed to accommodate our taste buds and ever-evolving food industry.
So, what exactly is sugar? Let’s take a closer look!
First off, there are various types of sugar broken down into two groups: monosaccharides and disaccharides. These sugars are used for different purposes. With that said, all sugars are soluble carbohydrates meaning they can be dissolved in liquid.
Monosaccharides, also referred to as simple sugars, including glucose, — found in vegetables, fruit, sap, and nectar and used as energy for the body, — fructose, — found in fruit, berries, root veggies, grains, and honey, — and galactose, — found in yogurt and milk. Disaccharides, two conjoined monosaccharides, include sucrose, — also referred to as granulated sugar or table sugar and is found in sugar cane, sugar beet, and in some fruits and veggies, — lactose, — found in mammals milk and dairy products, — and maltose, — found in grains and malt such as barley, malt sugar, and processed foods and beverages.
While there are a host of other sugars (starch, cellulose, pectin, etc.), it’s most important to focus on the above mentioned as they are the most prevalent in our processed food products. Topping the list is sucrose. Sucrose is one of the most prevalent sugars and is found in many of those sweet treats that we love to consume — such as baked goods, sweetened beverages, and sweeteners — as well as many processed foods — such as bread and canned soup — in order to extend a product’s shelf life.
The Dangers of Sugar Overconsumption
While research is still ongoing regarding the relationship between sugar consumption and human health, preliminary studies are incredibly illuminating of certain poignant dangers. From overall heart health to cancer to blemish-free and anti-aging properties of your skin, sugar seems to play a vital and detrimental role.
There are a few ways in which sugar has been linked to different forms of heart disease. First off, a high-sugar diet has been shown to lead to “obesity, inflammation and high triglyceride, blood sugar and blood pressure levels,” which are all factors that may increase the risk of heart disease. Sugar has also been linked to blocked arteries, referred to as atherosclerosis, one of the leading causes of heart attack.
Those that suffer from diabetes have an intimate relationship with their blood sugar levels. Generally, it’s a Goldilocks relationship in which harmful and even fatal symptoms occur when there is too little or too much sugar in the blood. Having the right amount is equal to survival. Yet, even though sugar influences the course of diabetes, how does sugar cause diabetes? Research has illuminated that “prolonged high-sugar consumption drives resistance to insulin” and, consequently, “insulin resistance causes blood sugar levels to rise.” Both of these factors play a role in increasing the risk of diabetes.
One of the most recent discoveries in the medical field is the relationship between sugar and cancer. The strongest connection is found in both inflammation of the body (caused by overconsumption sugar) and insulin resistance (caused by overconsumption of sugar). Consuming large amounts of sugar has been shown to increase bodily inflammation, while also increasing insulin resistance. Both of these factors have been shown to affect the “development of cancer and also of treatment and outcome.” This research implies that if your cancer was in part caused by sugar consumption factors, that overconsumption may play a role in your ability to fight off cancer.
Acne and Accelerated Aging of the Skin
Sugar has been shown to influence both your risk of developing acne and the rate at which your skin begins to age. Sugary foods cause “increased androgen secretion, oil production and inflammation,” all three of which have been shown to link to acne. When it comes to rapidly aging skin, look to AGE’s at the cause, also referred to as Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). After you consume sugar, it reacts with proteins within your body and AGEs are born. These AGEs have been shown to damage collagen and elastin, two essential parts of the youthful skin.
Sugar, Sugar Everywhere! Types of Hidden Sugars
One of the most challenging aspects of cutting sugar from your diet is uncovering hidden sugars in seemingly healthy foods. Simply looking at the nutrition information isn’t enough these days. While there is natural sugar in many food items, pay close attention to those dangerous added sugars. Go one step further and take a look at the ingredient list to identify those less-known sugars. Oftentimes, processed products have additional added sugars that go by different names such as malt, dextrose, muscovato, or succanat.
Malt and Barley
It looks natural and healthy, right? In its natural form, absolutely! Yet, when we process these foods into a sugar product, malt and barley is simply just another dangerous added sugar item. These go by other names such as malt syrup, barley malt syrup, and barley malt extract. If you see these, it means the said product has extra sugars.
A simple sugar, meaning it’s a monosaccharide, dextrose is made from corn. It’s generally found in baked goods, corn syrup, sweeteners, and many processed foods. While dextrose offers bodily energy, it is one of the many sugars that add calories without any nutritional value. This empty relationship between food and body is one of the leading causes of obesity.
Muscovato and Succanat
Muscovato and succanat sugars are partially refined and both have a strong molasses base. Instead of striping these sugars of all the natural molasses, it is left to cool and crumble with said molasses still intact. These sugars are generally used in confectionary processes, including the making of rum and other alcohols, yet they are also found in some processed food products. While muscovato and succanat sugar is considered healthier due to their higher mineral and nutrient content, keep in mind, they are still a sugar!
Another seemingly healthy sweet alternative, yet beet sugar happens to be one of the most heavily processed and unnatural of the added sugars. Beet sugar also happens to be one of the dangerous “empty calorie” sugars, referring to added calories with zero nutritional value. One of the most dangerous aspects of beet sugar is its glyphosate residue. Unfortunately, if you don’t buy organic, your beet sugar will be riddle with this product, which happens to be a gut microbiota (bacteria) killing herbicide and antibiotic. To put a cherry on top, glyphosate is primarily used on GMO crops, which means you are most likely eating a GMO product as well.
5 Foods that Fight Sugar Cravings
The problem stems from those added sugars I mentioned earlier. The governmental 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an intake of only 10 percent of added sugars per day (12 teaspoons for a diet of 2,000 calories). Many natural products, such as vegetables and fruit already have sugar, which is generally all you need. Yet, added sugars in processed and packaged foods, as well as adding sugar to foods at home, increase unnecessary caloric intake with absolutely zero nutrient content.
Therefore, the first step to decreasing sugar is to stop adding it yourself. Hold off on that shake of sugar in your coffee, that dollop of maple syrup on top of pancakes, and that spoonful of honey to your tea. Next, take a look at all of the processed foods in your pantry and fridge and throw out anything that has been sweetened. Lastly, stock your kitchen with whole, raw, sugar-craving fighting foods to get you over those sugar craving hurdles!
Dark Chocolate Avocado Truffles/One Green Planet
If you’re cutting sugar, always have a bar of dark chocolate handy! There is one rule when it comes to your chocolate, make sure it has a cacao content of 70 percent or higher (the higher the better for you!). It’ll give you a bit of that craving relief, while also supplying healthy polyphenols, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. When purchasing dark chocolate, take into consideration both the product (low or reduced sugar), as well as the company, such as companies that support fair trade. Theo offers an excellent organic, fair trade, 70 percent cacao Classic Organic Dark Chocolate 3-ounce bar. Equal Exchange also offers a fair traded, organic, 71 percent, cacao Very Dark Chocolate 2.8-ounce bar.
Chia Ginger Fresca/One Green Planet
One of the best ways to fight sugar cravings is by keeping yourself feeling full longer. The best way to accomplish this? Dietary fiber. Chia seeds have about 40 percent soluble fiber and, when combined with liquids in your belly, swell up and keep you feeling full longer. Plus, they are a great source of nutrients! When it comes to purchasing your chia make sure to go raw, go organic, and go non-GMO, such as this 1 pound bag of Organic Pure Foods NON-GMO Raw Chia Seeds for $12.95. Once you’ve got chia seeds in hand try out a few of these low-sugar, chia seed-based recipes: Broccoli Flatbread, Breakfast Chocolate and Fruit ‘Zoats’, or this Chia Ginger Fresca.
Coconut Turmeric Dal/One Green Planet
When it comes to legumes, focus on lentils. Following in suit with chia seeds, lentils have a high fiber content. One cup of lentils offers 16 grams of fiber! Plus, this diverse food is a great meat substitute and can be used in vegan hamburgers, meatloaves, and stews and there’s a variety of colors, such as green, red, yellow, and brown, to choose from, each offering its own unique flavor and texture. Lentils are easily purchased at your local grocery store or online, such as this five-pound bag of non-GMO Organic Red Lentils for $26.39. Lentil-based recipes, such as this Smashed Lentils With Grilled Vegetables or this Coconut Turmeric Dal, are also easy to make completely free of any added sugars due to their savory flavoring.
Black Bean Chili Stuffed Sweet Potatoes/One Green Planet
Sometimes you just gotta have something sweet! Sweet potatoes are a great substitute, especially when it comes to making your favorite desserts. One cup of mashed and boiled sweet potato offers up over eight grams of fiber, over four grams of protein, a host of vitamins and minerals, and trace amounts of healthy fats. While filling you up with good carbs, the sweet potato will also provide an array of vitamins, minerals, and sweet flavoring! With all that said, keep in mind that the sweet potato also has a higher starch (sugar) content, therefore, if you’re trying to kick that sugar habit, add this one in as a sweet treat instead of a regular occurrence on your meal plate.
Since sweet potato already has a higher sugar content, make sure to pick sugar-free recipes such as this Sweet Potato Soup With Ginger, this Miso Coriander Stir Fry With Sweet Potato Noodles, or these Black Bean Chili Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.
Simple Fermented Vegetables/One Green Planet
You may have heard that fermented foods feed your gut, but how do they help stave off sugar cravings? Where there is a healthy gut, there is healthy communication between your brain and your processed food. Where there is healthy communication, there are fewer cravings due to the fact that your gut will only signal the brain when it needs more food, not when you simply need a bit of sugar due to an insulin spike. Plus, it’s easy to make fermented foods right at home such as this Homemade Raw Sauerkraut or this Simple Fermented Veggies recipe.
For more recipes to help you get rid of those sugar cravings, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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