Is all sugar evil?

There is plenty of reliable research out there exposing sugar as a major cause of disease and distress to the human body.

Inflammation, diabetes, obesity and even cancer all have links to the amount of sugar we now consume. This is not news.

But are all sugars the same? We are designed by nature to track down the high calorific rewards of sweet things. Honey has been used by humans for as long as there have been humans. Once upon a time, sugar was so valuable it was used at tables as a display of wealth. Pure white refined sugar was only available to the very rich and powerful.

Now that we can buy the stuff for less than the price of clean water, the whole sugar situation has gotten way out of hand.

If only it wasn’t so damned addictive. Alas.

The race is well and truly on to find “healthy” sugar, but the science is the science, and facts don’t lie.

There are 4 kinds of sugar.

Glucose from carbohydrates, fructose from fruit, sucrose from plants, vegetables and nuts; and lactose from dairy. 

Calorie for calorie, they are almost identical. All of them contain around 60 calories per tablespoon. Even ‘healthy alternatives’ like honey contain 64. Maple syrup, a darling of the keto set, for example has 52. Sure, counting carbs is not the same as counting calories, but a tablespoon of white sugar has 15 carbs, whereas a tablespoon of maple syrup has 12.

Alternatives like the alcohol sugars Erythritol and Xylitol contain two thirds of the calories of regular sugar, but they often come with the added bonus of a frantic bowel movement. This may or may not be a story based on personal experience. For sweetness, you may add stevia, which is not a sugar, and which has zero calories.

Monk fruit, another popular sweetener, also has zero calories. These plants contain compounds that produce sweetness. They are not sugar, per se.

Some nutritionists suggest alternatives to refined sugar that may pack the same calorific punch, but have a lower glycaemic index, and therefore break down slower in our bodies- which is a good thing as it prevents insulin spikes.

Coconut nectar or coconut sugar, which is collected from the sap of the flowers of the coconut palm and doesn’t look or taste like coconut, has 45 calories per tablespoon and a glycaemic index of 35. This is good news for anyone with diabetes or blood sugar levels issues.

Agave syrup, which comes from the fluid inside the blue agave plant, yes, the Tequila making one, has a G.I of 42. As a comparison, honey has a G.I of 58, and cane sugar’s GI is 63.

There are sugar syrups made from brown rice and honeysuckle, and dates and bananas both make things sweet. Yes, you will get more vitamins and minerals, the calories will all be about the same though. One cup of banana puree gives you only 200 calories, but not nearly the sweetness of a cup of any sugar mentioned here.

Another interesting alternative is  Yacón syrup, which is  extracted from the tuberous roots of the yacón plant in the Andes of South America. This is often advertised as a weight loss sweetener because of a particular fibre it contains called ‘fructooligosaccharides’, which function as soluble fibres that feed the good bacteria in the intestine. However, as with the alcohol sugars, too much of this sweetener will send you into the bathroom for a long and loud chat with the porcelain. Anyone who grew up in the 80’s knows, saccharine was never our friend.

And so, to answer the question, is all sugar evil, the answer is yes…..and no.

If you are watching your glycaemic index, try the lesser of two evils and go with something that isn’t refined.

For people who take care of their health, who read the labels on things, who avoid desserts every day, something sweet is not going to shut your liver and kidneys down overnight.

Remember, Doctors say 25 grams of sugar a day for women and 30 grams a day for men is harmless and anything more than that is actually trying to kill you.

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