Refined carbohydrates are often called empty calories. Actually, they’re worse than “empty” – they’re comparable to credit cards that create nutritional debt in the body. For example, a teaspoon of white sugar seems harmless – it tastes good and contains only 15 little calories. However, a closer look at the chemistry of its metabolism reveals that a tremendous effort is needed for the body to use those 15 calories as fuel. Sugar robs your body of nutrients in order to process it.
Luckily, there are healthier options to choose from. However, there are pros and cons to every concentrated sweetener, no matter how natural the source is. Make sure that you’re not simply replacing a diet high in refined cane sugar with a diet high in another natural sweetener.
Whole food sweeteners have a deeper, richer taste so you often need less than a refined sweetener. The best part is, all of them can help minimize inflammation when eaten in small amounts. It is very important to pay attention to your blood sugar. Spiking your blood sugar is very inflammatory and will cause a cascade of reactions in your body that can lead to many serious health conditions. For more information on balancing your blood sugar, click here.
Recent studies have shown that unrefined sweeteners retain their natural anti-inflammatory antioxidants. By replacing refined sugars with whole food sweeteners, you’ll help protect your body from the inflammatory effects of unbalanced sugar levels, and reap the health benefits of free radical scavengers. Raw honey, whole stevia leaf, and fruits contain the highest amounts of antioxidants [Philips et al 2009; Goyal et al 2010].
For more information on artificial sweeteners, check out this blog post.
For more information on High Fructous Corn Syrup, Maltodextrin, check out this blog post.
My personal all-time-favourite sweetener is raw honey. Unrefined and unpasteurized, it’s the healthiest type of honey to eat, containing all of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that the bees collected during their forage. It’s a source of vitamins B2 and B6, iron, manganese, amino acids, and enzymes. For thousands of years, honey has been used medicinally, but only recently has scientific research revealed how it helps heal and soothe inflammation.
Taken straight from the comb, honey contains traces of propolis, the antibiotic and antifungal glue that bees use to seal the hive and protect it from harmful microorganisms. It’s also high in hydrogen peroxide, a powerful antiseptic. Packed with a punch of anti-inflammatory antioxidants, raw honey can also reduce the damage to colon tissue afflicted by colitis. It’s also a source of allergy-staving quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that prevents histamine release from mast cells.
Fruit! Nature’s Sweetness In A Delicious Package
This is a natural sweetener derived from a South American plant (Stevia rebaudiana), which is related to chrysanthemums and daisies. It’s also known as honey yerba, sweet leaf, and sugar leaf.
Unrefined stevia (which is about 30 times as sweet as table sugar) is sold as a light green powder or whole leaf liquid extract. It has a strong anise or licorice flavour and some people may find that it clashes with the taste of other ingredients in a recipe. For baking and cooking, some people may prefer to use refined stevia.
However, in its whole, raw state, stevia is anti-fungal and antibiotic. This makes it suitable for people trying to balance levels of candida or other microorganisms in the body. It’s also anti-inflammatory and safe for diabetics. Mixing whole stevia extract with freshly squeezed lemon juice and water makes a fantastic refresher that masks the licorice aftertaste.
Refined stevia is a calorie-free sweetener that can be liquid or granular. However, if you use too much, you may find it overwhelming, as it’s up to 200 times sweeter than table sugar. The white granular stevia commonly found on grocery store shelves may be cut with maltodextrin (which is most commonly derived from GMO corn), so look for a brand that is maltodextrin free.
Caution: Avoid stevia if you have an allergy to plants of the daisy family. In a two-year study, European scientists reported that sperm production in male rats was reduced when they were fed high doses of stevioside, one of the sweet-tasting compounds from the stevia plant. However, this has been neither tested nor proven in humans. Another important point to consider is that studying the activity of isolated plant compounds doesn’t necessarily reflect how the whole, unrefined plant may impact a person or animals. What are the main messages here? Avoid eating any sweetener in extremely high doses.
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