Healthy Sweeteners

The effects of blood sugar on overall health

Prior to the Industrial Revolution in the early 1900s, refined sugar was not available. In the traditional human diet, people mainly ate complex carbohydrates (grains, beans, root vegetables) which are composed of the same basic material of sugar: glucose. However, the starches take a long time to be broken down in the body and are absorbed slowly into the bloodstream. So their blood sugar level remained stable throughout the day.

In contrast, sugar needs no digestion and rapidly enters the bloodstream. Therefore, refined sugar has a much greater impact upon our body's blood sugar control mechanisms than starches do.

When blood sugar increases suddenly, the pancreas releases a hormone, insulin, which lowers blood sugar by absorbing sugars into fat tissues. However, soon after this insulin release, there is no more sugar coming into the bloodstream because refined sugar (as opposed to complex carbohydrates like grains and root vegetables) absorbs so rapidly.

Blood sugar crashes because the insulin level is now too high. When blood sugar drops (hypoglycemia), one may feel anxious, nervous, sweaty, or crave more sweets. The pancreas must release glucagon. This hormone stimulates liver cells to use the body’s resources and manufacture more glucose, whose release raises blood sugar levels in an attempt to restore balance, or homeostasis.

At the same time, the adrenal glands work to raise blood sugar. These glands release cortisol, a hormone that triggers the body to extract minerals from the body’s tissues, which the liver needs in order to produce glucose. Although the glucose production regulates blood sugar in the short term, it also depletes the energy stores that allow the body to maintain strong immunity.

Eventually, one feels tired after eating concentrated sweets (candy, pastries, desserts) or refined carbohydrates (chips, sandwich bread, doughnuts, muffins) because the glands are no longer able to produce regulatory hormones due to the over-production that occurs to match heightened refined sugar intake. Chronic conditions may develop such as obesity, hormonal dis-functions, diabetes, celiac disease, and auto-immune disorders.

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My Favorite Healthy Sweeteners

Banana purée: bananas are rich in fiber and potassium, and a good source of vitamins B6 and C. They are also naturally sweet with a subtle flavor, making them a perfect natural sweetener. One banana has about 100 calories. Overripe bananas are the best to use when replacing refined sugar in recipes. They are sweeter and blend well. Use ¾ cup banana purée for a recipe that calls for 1 cup sugar. To make the purée, add bananas to a food processor with a tablespoon of water and blend. Add more water if necessary to reach the consistency of thick applesauce.

Coconut sugar: coconut sugar has a low glycemic load and rich mineral content. Packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients, coconut sugar is versatile and now readily available. Coconut sugar is extracted sap from the blooms of the coconut and then heated. Next, through evaporation, we get coconut sugar. Use ¾ cup coconut sugar in a recipe that calls for 1 cup sugar.

Dates: Dates are loaded with potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and vitamin B6. From the date palm tree, they are easily digested and help to metabolize proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Evidence shows that dates may help to reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood and may reduce the risk of stroke. To bake with dates, soak them in boiling water for 30 minutes then blend them until they form a thick paste. Add more soaking water until the paste reaches the consistency of peanut butter. Use ¼ cup date paste in a recipe that calls for 1 cup sugar.

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Raw honey: raw honey is a true superfood and one of my favorite natural sweeteners. It’s packed with enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin. Together, these essential nutrients help to neutralize free radicals while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. One tablespoon of raw honey has 64 calories and has less impact on glycemic load than a single banana. It’s important to note that these are the benefits of raw honey. Once honey has been pasteurized, it loses the many of the health benefits that raw honey brings to the table. Don’t cook with it to retain its health benefits. Instead, drizzle it over oatmeal or toast.

Maple syrup: native to North America, maple syrup comes in both Grades A and B. While time consuming, maple syrup processing requires only four steps – drilling the hole in the tree, hanging a bucket to catch the sap, boiling to evaporate out the water, and then filtering of any sediment. Maple syrup is an outstanding source of manganese, and contains calcium, potassium, and zinc. Rich with antioxidants, this all-natural sweetener helps to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative damage. Select darker, Grade B maple syrups, as they contain more beneficial antioxidants than the lighter syrups. It is minimally processed and is naturally probiotic. Use ½ cup maple syrup in a recipe that calls for 1 cup sugar.

Brown rice syrup: Brown rice syrup starts with brown rice that is fermented with enzymes to break down the starch. The liquid is then heated until the syrup consistency is achieved. The fermentation process helps to break down the sugars into ones that are easily digestible. Use ½ cup brown rice syrup in a recipe that calls for 1 cup sugar.

Stevia: stevia is native to South America and has been used for hundreds of years in that region to support healthy blood sugar levels and prompt weight loss. Its leaves are 200 times as sweet as sugar. It is available in liquid drops, packets, dissolvable tablets and baking blends. It has zero calories and zero carbohydrates. Stevia can taste bitter, so be sure to try it before you decide to use it in baked goods or tea.

Thanks to Dr. Josh Axe for this healing information.