Natural Sugars: Too much of a good thing

Sugar is everywhere. It’s lurking in places that you wouldn’t expect to find it. Soups, sauces, dressings and even baby food contain more added sugar than you would imagine. As consumers have caught onto the danger of excess sugar consumption, it’s easier to find items that promote the use of natural sugars. This is a turn in the right direction, but it’s not without problems.

What’s the problem with natural sweeteners and sugars?
Well, nothing on the surface really. Everything from honey, maple syrup and coconut sugar, to date sugar and molasses, can be found in “healthy” versions of cakes, cookies and bars on Pinterest. Popular bloggers and authors promote the use of these sugars because they’re natural and often contain more vitamins and minerals than straight table sugar (sucrose).

The problem begins with consuming too much. Let’s say you start the paleo diet and you love to bake. Chances are, you’ll be using a lot of natural sweeteners, or a lot of fruit, namely dates, bananas and apple sauce. Are these better versions of baked goods than what you buy in a package? Kind of. However, if you’re making the assumption that you can eat more just because they contain natural sweeteners, you’re doing your body a disservice. Too much sugar of any kind is bad for the body. Additionally, when your taste buds are constantly exposed to that sweet taste, they will naturally want more. The body wants energy, and sugar is one of the fastest ways to get it.

What happens when you consume excess sugar?

Consuming excess sugar can affect everything from your weight and hormones, to immunity and energy. Your body simply cannot process too much sugar coming at it on a regular basis. But what’s too much? That’s going to depend on you. Someone who exercises intensely on a regular basis can afford to have more fruit and healthy carbohydrates in their diet than someone who has diabetes or most other chronic illnesses. Remember that if you aren’t using carbohydrates, you’re storing them as fat.

How should you manage your natural sweetener intake?
If you’re craving something sweet, start with fruit. The more you can tone down your taste buds, the more you will be satisfied with fruit over candy or cookies, regardless of what kind of sweetener they’re made with. Try to consume fruit that’s higher in fiber like apples or berries. You may consider limiting the amount of fruits that are higher in sugar, such as mangos, pineapples and banana. As a snack, pair fruit with additional protein and fiber. Try a 1/2 cup of berries with a handful of walnuts, or a banana with almond butter.

Another thing you can do is limit the amount of baking you do. Reserve cupcakes, cookies and cakes for special occasions so your body doesn’t come to expect them on a regular basis. When possible, use fruit to sweeten any treats you make. Ripe bananas, apple sauce, date puree, or even sweet potatoes and butternut squash can be used to sweeten homemade treats. The less you rely on any form of added sugar to get your sweet fix, the better off you’ll be.

Finally, pay attention to your cravings. Women may notice they crave sweet foods at certain times of the month. Why not plan ahead by having a little extra fruit on hand, or baking something you know will nourish your body and still satisfy your cravings? If you are constantly craving sugar, make sure you are eating enough calories. If you aren’t getting enough food each day, your body will let you know, and oftentimes it does so by screaming for quick energy.

What about artificial sweeteners? Are they healthy?
Artificial sweeteners are still praised by some health professionals, but I don’t recommend them for several reasons. For beginners, they are often several times sweeter than regular sugar, which means your taste buds will continue craving more and more of a sweet flavor. That is exactly what you want to avoid.

One of the biggest problems with artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame is that when your body receives the message that it’s getting something sweet, it expects calories to follow because sweeter foods are often higher in calories. What happens when the calories don’t come because you’re eating or drinking something that’s low calorie or calorie free? Your body STILL wants calories. It will remain hungry, which can throw off hunger cues, hormones and much more. Research is now showing that artificial sweeteners can actually cause diabetes.

Additionally, most artificial sweeteners are derived from corn, soy or sugar beets, which are some of the most genetically modified crops in the United States. If you’re trying to avoid GMO’s, skip the artificial sweeteners.

Make better choices
Now that you know a little more about the dangers of excess sugar consumption and artificial sweeteners, use that knowledge to help you plan ahead and avoid a moment of weakness. There’s no need to deny yourself of the occasional treat, but when you start to make healthy changes for the better, I think you’ll find that sugar becomes less and less appealing.

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