I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that the recipes here don’t feature refined sugar, and infrequently natural sugars such as honey, molasses, or fruit. If you’ve ever wondered why, you’re about to find out!
Proper nutritional education is essential for everyone, but especially for those of us who are trying to help nurture little ones (and raise good eaters!) I was taught almost no kind of nutrition growing up–thanks coaches teaching health class–and the little bit of information was scarce. You know, eat your fruits and veggies, bread, potatoes, pasta, lean protein, and avoid fats. It also turns out that it was bad advice to begin with (Thanks, Ancel Keys!)
This week we’re going to be starting a new series addressing all of the different sweetener options out there. We’ll cover sugar, natural sugars, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners–their composition, effects on the body, and potential health implications. So let’s get down to brass tacks. I hope that you enjoy learning with me!
Today we’re kicking it off with a talk about sugar.
What is it, anyway?
Sugar is a group of sweet tasting soluble carbohydrates which are (very) frequently used in food. The high use of sugar as a food additive today is astonishing–it’s used in everything from common beverages and breakfast cereals to meats and sauces. The average person in developed countries consumes roughly 73 pounds of sugar a year (and 53 pounds in undeveloped countries). Frankly, that’s just appalling. This is straight from wikipedia: “As sugar consumption grew in the latter part of the 20th century, researchers began to examine whether a diet high in sugar, especially refined sugar, was damaging to human health. Excessive consumption of sugar has been implicated in the onset of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and tooth decay. Numerous studies have tried to clarify those implications, but with varying results, mainly because of the difficulty of finding populations for use as controls that consume little or no sugar.”
Many people know of glucose and fructose. Contrary to what most people believe, fructose, also known as fruit sugar, is not a healthier sugar even though “it is natural sugar.” In fact, many health experts believe fructose is the worse of the two. I’m not going to into the chemistry of it for two reasons: one, others have done it before me and written about it more eloquently than I ever could, and two, laziness.
Why is sugar such a problem? Let’s take a quick look at what we know sugar does to the body. It impairs the immune system and your ability to regulate appetite by decreasing leptin production. It increases oxidative stress in the body, promotes free radicals, and even feeds cancer cells.
Is this good? Seems like a ridiculous question when you put it like that, right? No, of course damage to the body isn’t good. As a mom, my number one priority is making sure that my babies get food that nourishes and builds their bodies strong.
There are three primary sugar based sweeteners used in food production and commonly available today: table sugar (sucrose), glucose syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. Sucrose is half glucose and half fructose. Glucose or corn syrup is primarily glucose. HFCS, as the name suggests, is more than half fructose. If you are going to use a sweetener in your foods, quite frankly, these are awful options.
Is there a better alternative energy source? Absolutely, but that’s a discussion for another day.