Sugar is kind of the bane of our existence.
Everyone knows that sugar isn’t exactly a healthy food. We’ve been told since childhood that too much sugar is bad for us. Unfortunately, most people don’t fully understand sugar all that well. It feels like if you just eat “pure” forms of it or eat it in moderation, it’ll be fine.
However, sugar really is extremely detrimental to you and your family’s health. It’s not just obesity. It’s not just cavities. Sugar has the power to wreak havoc on your entire body…in any quantity.
Before you take that next bite of food — any food, as hidden sugar is in almost everything! — read about the harms of sugar.
What’s Going On with Sugar in the U.S.?
Let’s start with a little background on sugar consumption in the U.S.
Over the years, sugar has gone in and out of favor, nutritionally.
If you read my blog, Corruption: It’s Not Fat, It’s Sugar, you know, in the 50s and 60s, researchers showed that while sugar wasn’t “healthy” for you, it wasn’t all that detrimental to health. At the same time, researchers showed that fat was very bad for you. This led to manufacturers creating low-fat and fat-free products filled with high amounts of sugar to improve taste and texture. This has since been proven false, with fat being exonerated and sugar coming into question yet again.
However, some intelligent researchers knew sugar was unsafe even in the 60s and 70s. In 1975, researcher William Duffy wrote the book Sugar Blues, detailing the problems that sugar can cause for your health…which were ignored and even ridiculed. (Sound familiar?)
In more recent years, even the mainstream researchers have acknowledged that, yes, sugar consumption is actually extremely detrimental to your health.
What You Need to Know About the Harms of Sugar
In the U.S., the average person consumes around 100 lbs. per year (1)! This includes all forms of added sugars. This is an astronomical amount of sugar, totaling nearly half a pound daily. If you’re reading a food label, it’s about 125 grams.
Consuming so much sugar has been linked to several health issues, including, but not limited to:
- Diabetes (type II)
- Insulin resistance
- Hormone imbalance
- Heart disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Yeast infections
- Candida overgrowth
- Systemic inflammation
This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s pretty scary.
Another major reason to reduce sugar consumption is because some consider it an actual “anti-nutrient.” It contains no nutrients of its own (because it is so refined and heavily processed), but it requires nutrients to digest and eliminate. Since it doesn’t provide these nutrients in and of itself, it leaches nutrients from our bodies and other foods we eat to process them. That, too, is not good at all! Many of us are nutrient-starved as it is, so pulling even more nutrients away is not something we should be doing.
Many people also replace very healthy foods — like real animal fats, meats, fruits, and vegetables — with sugary substitutes, displacing even more nutrients! Think fruit juice instead of whole fruit, ‘fat-free’ cookies instead of full-fat cookies (although you shouldn’t consume them too often, there’s redeeming value in cookies made with real butter, whole grain flour, real eggs, etc.), and so on.
One big reason people are overweight is because of a lack of nutrients — their bodies are craving real food, which signals them to eat more. But what they’re eating is high in sugar, so they gain weight…and still feel hungry.
How Much Sugar Should We Eat?
In a perfect world, we would eat no refined sugar at all.
Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, so that’s unrealistic. Many experts recommend fewer than 25 grams of added sugar per day (equivalent to about 5 teaspoons).
The truth is, if you’re cooking at home and not serving any dessert-type foods or baked goods, you’ll easily consume fewer than 25 grams per day. But, if you’re consuming processed foods, you’ll end up with much more than that without even realizing it.
- 4 grams of sugar per tablespoon of ketchup
- 6 grams of sugar per tablespoon of barbecue sauce
- 5-20 grams per serving of canned soup
Many food items you wouldn’t think have sugar have 5-10 grams! And foods that you would expect to be sweet, like sweetened drinks, have so much more. There are approximately 40 grams in a single 12-oz. can of soda and 16 grams in 8 oz. of Kool-Aid.
The moral of the story: skip the processed foods!
Even in the home-cooked items, you’ll find a fair amount of sugar. Depending on your recipe, muffins can have 5-20 grams of sugar each. Brownies or cookies are much higher in sugar, up to 10-15 grams each (possibly more, depending on your recipe). This is for small servings! It’s wise to consume sweet treats only in moderation.
Even “lower sugar” versions often have 5-8 grams of sugar simply because sweet foods don’t taste good without them. But don’t worry! I have ideas for you.
What About Sugar Alternatives?
For most of the country, the best solution to eating less sugar is simply to replace it with “sugar substitutes,” like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin. These, however, are fake, laboratory-made foods that are even worse than sugar.
These “fake” sugars are linked to migraines, stomach upset, and even cancer. They taste fake. Sucralose was originally part of an insecticide compound (yet we eat it…). There is no redeeming value to these, period.
Some people like stevia and other more “natural” sugar substitutes. Stevia, especially in leaf form, is fine. It’s best to skip the highly processed forms of stevia because they are extracted and refined and are only a part of the plant. They’re definitely safer than other sugar substitutes (and we allow them on rare occasions — for example if the choice is between stevia-sweetened organic tea and corn syrup-sweetened lemonade, we’ll allow the tea as a treat), but not great for frequent consumption.
There’s also evidence that stevia ‘tricks’ the body with its sweet taste and lack of calories and may mess up hormone balance and metabolism. Be cautious with it, especially if you’re dealing with adrenal fatigue or any more serious health issue. In this case, I prefer to use honey — which I’m getting to!
Are Any Sugars Safe?
It’s not realistic to say, “Never eat sugar again!” No one will stick to that despite knowing the harms of sugar. We’re programmed to like sweet foods and to want to eat them sometimes!
The truth is some sugars are a little better than others. It depends on your needs. I recommend sticking to the least processed options and having them only on rare occasions.
This is a form of sugar that’s simply dried, cut sugar cane. It has a bit of a different texture than sugar granules and a little bit of a molasses flavor. Many people use this type of sugar because it is less processed and does contain some nutrients.
I find that many are sensitive to any form of sugar cane, myself included, and this has a fairly high glycemic index, so I previously placed this in the ‘rare treat’ category, although I no longer use it, opting for other sugar alternatives.
This is a form of sugar that comes from sugar maple trees — most of us know that. Trees are tapped for sap, which is then boiled down, typically to 5% of its original volume. It’s thick and rich, with a unique flavor and a fairly good nutrient profile, but it still has a higher glycemic index (though not as high as cane sugar).
People with blood sugar spike problems or an autoimmune disease will likely need to avoid this, too. (I do, for the most part.)
This sugar is from the coconut palm tree. It has a lower glycemic index than other sugars, and many people tolerate it better. Some people with diabetes can include this in their diets, although talk to your doctor if that’s you. I’ve found this is no different than cane sugar — similar taste and effects.
Raw honey is, of course, made by bees and is pure and unfiltered. This is the only type of “sugar” I consume. It doesn’t spike blood sugar and is safe for those with gut issues. It has a wide array of nutrients, plus other health benefits. I would still recommend moderation, but it’s the only form of sugar that’s fairly safe for most.
This is not actually “sugar,” but just dried, ground-up dates. It doesn’t melt because it isn’t a true sugar. It has a lower glycemic index because it comes with all the fiber and nutrients of dates. I recommend this for baking, and I usually mix date sugar and honey. Don’t try it in your tea — it won’t work!
Unbleached, organic cane sugar is pretty ubiquitous. It can be organic “white” sugar, demerara sugar, or turbinado sugar. They’re really all about the same. They’re fairly processed white sugar, with some molasses added for color. They’re not healthier than the pure white sugar you can buy everywhere.
The only time I use this sugar is for brewing kombucha, and that’s because the culture requires it as food — but most of the sugar is fermented out.
Finally, coconut oil, vanilla extract, and cinnamon all add to the ‘sweetness’ of a treat without actually adding any sugar. In fact, coconut oil and cinnamon are very healthy for you! I like to add these to baked goods so they feel more decadent than they really are!
How to Enjoy a Sweet Treat Without Sugar
Even if we know all about the harms of sugar, we all still have sweet cravings, right? Try one of these suggestions for the occasional (healthier) treat:
- Fresh fruit, plain or with real whipped cream.
- A slice of sprouted bread topped with homemade butter and apple butter.
- Almond or coconut flour cake — try my Almond Flour Carrot Cake recipe.
- Homemade ice cream — try one of my recipes: Custard-Style Vanilla Ice Cream, Chocolate-Raspberry Ice Cream, or Coconut Blueberry Ice Cream.
- Homemade popsicles — try one of my recipes: Berry Lemon Popsicles, Lemon-Lime Popsicles, or Probiotic Smoothie Popsicles.
- Fresh-squeezed fruit juices — I do this to make my Orange Cream Smoothie recipe.
- Homemade fruit pies — check out my Apple Pie Filling and Almond and Coconut Flour Pie Crust recipes.
You can even take things a step further and use Earthley’s Cocoa Calm (a combination of non-alkalized, antioxidant-rich cocoa powder with three key adaptogens) as a chocolate replacement when baking!
Of course, the list could go on, but the point is that it’s entirely possible to have a treat now and again without overloading on sugar. Enjoy yourself now and then.