Health

Wellbeing with Nutrition
Nurturing the Mind and Body

Most of us as aware that refined sweeteners like white sugar contributes to health issues like: obesity, tooth decay, elevated cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. The important thing to remember is that refined sugars and foods containing them promote acidity and inflammation. Over-time, they imbalance the intestinal flora, increase the possibility of issues like leaking gut syndrome which triggers auto-immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

Refined sweeteners are deficient in vitamins, minerals and fibre. They rob the body of these elements in order to be broken down. Usually minerals are taken from muscles, joints and bones/teeth leading to demineralisation. I have recently noticed mainstream news articles about the dangers of sugar and linking sugar with many health disorders, even to the extent of saying that mainstream advice has been incorrect and that the blame for the obesity epidemic should be on refined sugars and excess carb consumption. Well this is the subject for another blog!

For now, I will highlight some refined sweeteners to avoid:

  • Regular table sugar (granulated, castor, icing etc)
  • Processed fruit sugar (fructose)  such as: High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and fructose-based sweeteners (brand names include: fruisana)
  • Commercial Fruit drinks
  • Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame (brand names include: NutraSweet, Splenda)
  • Sweeteners derived  from the herb stevia, which have been highly processed so that many of the synergistic elements of stevia have been taken out (brand names include Truvia).
  • Processed foods especially the low fat versions, which make up for the lack in taste by the addition of refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup

Be Aware of Fruit Sugars (Fructose)

Fruit sugar (fructose) is mostly processed and broken down by the liver. The body is not designed to handle large amounts of fructose. Unbound fructose found in fruit juices, high fructose corn syrup and in fructose-based refined sugars overload the liver to process a lot of fructose in one go! The liver converts it to triglycerides. This can contribute to obesity, cardiovascular disease, burdens the liver and promotes fatty liver/scarring of liver tissue.  

Use Natural Whole-Food Sweeteners

Firstly, be aware of the issues with some natural sweeteners:

  • Honey - most honeys are highly refined and made by mixing high fructose corn syrup with honey. Some bees are being fed high fructose corn syrup, which is promoting poor bee health and low quality honey!
  • Agave Syrup - consists mostly of unbound fructose,
  • Maple Syrup - like honey, most maple syrup is a mixture of high fructose corn syrup blended with refined maple syrup and flavourings
  • Coconut Sugar (coconut palm sugar)- a relatively new form of natural sweetener derived from the sap of the coconut flower. Very expensive but more importantly removing the sap from the coconut flower prevents growth of the coconut.
Here are some of my ideas and suggestions for natural sweeteners.

Fresh Whole Fruits.

Eat as a snack, or add to smoothies, porridge etc. Avoid drinking fruit juices as the fruit sugar (fructose) has been separated from the fibre, which acts as a buffer to slow digestion. Moderate overly sweet-tasting fruits like tropical fruits (mango, banana etc), which can overload the liver with processing high levels of fruit sugar (fructose).
fruit

Dried Fruits

Dried fruits should be rehydrated by soaking in water. They are much easier to digest in this way, will not be overly sweet and can be used like fresh fruit.
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Raw Honey

This type of honey is not pasteurised or mixed with fructose corn syrup. It retains small levels of  minerals, vitamins and enzymes. Try to find a honey source where the bees have not been fed fructose corn syrup as this is also a common practice used in mass honey production.

Date Sugar

This is made by grinding dried dates to a granulated/powder form.
DateSugar
It doesn't dissolve like sugar but is great as a topping or for flavouring dishes.

Here are some suggestions of natural sweeteners which have undergone a lower level of processing than the available refined sugars.

These sweeteners have been processed by heating but still contain mainly minerals and some vitamins. Use in moderation

Date Syrup

Date syrup is made by cooking dates down into a dark mineral-rich syrup.  You can make your own date syrup by soaking dates and then blending them. If you want it raw then leave it at this stage otherwise cook the blended dates down until the mixture thickens. It is available from many Middle Eastern food shops.
DateSyrup

Jaggery

(Also known as Ghur in India and Panela in South America)

Jaggery is usually derived from sugar cane but there are other varieties made from dates or from palm and coconut sap.

Jaggery

Jaggery is made from heating and concentrating either sugar cane juice, dates, coconut sap or palm sap until a thick syrup is created. The syrup is then dried to create a solid mass. Pieces of jaggery may be used to add to flavour foods or it can be dissolved in water to make a syrup and then used.

Jaggery is mineral-rich and in Ayurvedic medicine it is seen as a digestive agent, inner cleanser which helps to prevent constipation. 

Lighter golden-yellow shades of jaggery are preferred then the darker brown/black shades of jaggery. Sadly there are malpractices in jaggery production to add chemicals to create the golden yellow shade of jaggery!  For this reason, I use the darker versions, which also have a stronger taste of molasses. Jaggery is widley available from many Indian/Pakistani food stores.

Blackstrap Molasses

This is the leftover syrup from making refined sugar. Blackstrap molasses are not very sweet, the taste is bitter/burnt with a slight sweetness. However it concentrates the minerals and is great for adding to cooked dishes like stews, sauces, curries and tagines in place of regular sugar.

Cautions with Unrefined Sweeteners

Even though fruits and the lower processed fruit sugars like date syrup and jaggery have many health benefits, depending on your health, they may be foods which you need to avoid or moderate.

In general, unrefined-natural sweeteners are definitely preferable to refined sweeteners but caution is still required.

If you have issues with blood sugar management such as diabetes or there are imbalances like gut fermentation, inflammation, elevated cholesterol then please take this into account and moderate, reduce or even avoid your intake of sweeteners including fruit.

It all depends on the individual's health status as to how much of these sweeteners they can safely tolerate.

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