A Tale of Two Sweeteners

It was the sweetest of times, it was the sourest of times. Sugar has been on our radar in America since the 1970s, when manufacturers found a cheaper way to make sugar - introducing Americans to high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Up until then, all we had was the white stuff that sat in sugar bowls on our grandmothers’ tables - refined white cane sugar (sucrose). When HFCS hit the scene, more companies found it cheaper to work sugar into their products, and so a nation-wide addiction began.

Understanding Sugar

With addiction always comes the hope for change. And so in recent years, trendier, “healthier” sugar options have popped up on health food store shelves across America. From coconut sugar to monk fruit sugar, there are many options out there for those addicted to get their fix. Let’s break down public enemy #1, and one great alternative for those looking for that sweet taste without the walk of shame.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup

High-fructose corn syrup is made when glucose is partially changed into fructose (also a sugar). Corn is milled to produce corn starch. The cornstarch is mixed with water and an enzyme is added to break the starch into shorter chains of glucose. Then another enzyme is added to break the chains into molecules. Finally, some of these glucose molecules are mixed with yet another enzyme to create fructose molecules, ending in a mixture of 42% fructose and 53% glucose. This mixture is about as sweet as sugar, but cheaper

HFCS is so desirable to companies because it is easy to transport, has a long shelf life, and gives breads a beautiful color. Fast food restaurants put HFCS in everything from sodas to condiments. The downside for the consumer is that it is not easily digested, is highly addictive, causes many unknown biochemical errors (Ellis, 2012).

Stevia

One of the designer sweeteners on the market now that is meant to take the place of HFCS is Stevia. Stevia is a calorie-free sugar substitute derived from a plant. It is said to be 200 times sweeter than sugar in the same concentration. High-purity steviol glycosides, an extract of the stevia plant, is considered generally safe to eat by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that “stevia leaf and crude stevia extracts are not generally recognized as safe (GRAS) and do not have FDA approval for use in food” (Cox, 2018).

So, how can we work towards eliminating sugars from our diet? Here are my top 3 tips:

  1. Adopt an elimination diet. Diets such as the Whole 30 or the Detox Diet promote removing sugars from your diet in an attempt to reduce inflammation. Depending on your personality type, you can either go cold turkey, and eat all raw fruits and vegetables and organic grass-fed meats, eliminating anything processed for fear that sugar may be lurking below the surface. Or you can start easy, but eliminating any sugar that you ADD to your foods throughout the day, such as sugar to your coffee or ketchup with your fries.

  2. Shop the perimeters. Most grocery stores place fruits and vegetables, meats and seafoods, and dairy in the aisles surrounding the store. If you stay in those perimeter aisles then you don’t have to worry about reading the labels for those tricky sugars. While you are in the fruit aisle, grab an orange. Citrus gives your taste buds that same sweet fix that you get from chocolate!

  3. Do your research. I found that monkfruit sugar is just as sweet as sugar, and is low on the glycemic index. It comes in granulated form, so you can stir it into your coffee just like you would with that table sugar. The downside to monk fruit sugar is the price. Coming in at around $8 for a small bag of sugar, it can be pricey. However, it is 250-300 times sweeter than sugar, so you will definitely not be using as much. A small bag can usually get me through two months, and I’m a daily coffee drinker.

Don’t be fooled by sugar. You are not crazy when you say, “I’m addicted to chocolate!” The truth is, you probably ARE! But the good news is that there are steps that you can take to affordably replace that addiction, if you are open-minded and do your research.

It is a far, far better thing that we do when we give up artificial sweeteners, than we have ever done; it is a far far better rest from sugar that I go to than I have ever known.

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