Refined sugars are scary, try healthy substitutes

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Lauren Gewuerz

Summertime. Chock-full of hot sunny days outside, friend and family barbecues and time well spent in the garden. From juicy berries to succulent peaches, summer abounds with natural goodies for kids and adults alike. True, school started up again and it won’t be long before the changing colors of autumn whisper winter’s coming, but the opportunity to preserve summer’s fresh flavors is ripe.

Surely many Craigites are familiar with the practice of canning and preserving, but maintaining the vitality of fresh-fruit nutrients throughout the process is another question. More often than not, jams and jellies are loaded with more refined sugar than they are fruit. Not afraid of refined sugar? You should be. With the obesity epidemic on the rise, studies show that sugar may be one of if not the largest culprit. This largely is due to the body’s inability to systematically metabolize refined sugar, especially in large quantities.

The high levels of fructose in refined sugar force the liver to work harder and as a result convert the extra calories directly into fat stores. This also triggers a spike in insulin — the hormone that is released into the bloodstream to metabolize food and stabilize blood sugar levels — a pattern which if repeated throughout time is thought to cause insulin-resistance, or Type 2 diabetes. While the exact cause of Type 2 diabetes still is debated, studies point directly to obesity and diets high in sugar as major contributors.

Most recently, high blood sugar levels from refined sugar have been linked to a surge in beta-catenin, a protein whose increased activity in the body has been directly correlated with the development of cancer cells. And as if that isn’t enough convincing, a University of Utah study published Aug. 13 in the Nature Communications Journal found that a 25 percent increase of sugar in the diets of mice doubled the mortality rate of females and significantly reduced the reproduction capabilities of males. Just as a visual measurement, a 25 percent increase would be equivalent to drinking three sodas per day and absolutely no other sugar consumption throughout the day. That’s scary.

So then how do we thwart this problem? Let’s not be ridiculous and talk about ex-naying the classic peanut butter and jelly. Just because refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup cause these toxic reactions in the body doesn’t mean you can’t have raw natural sugars. The two best replacements are honey and agave nectar. No, they aren’t low in calories and no, their natural characteristics aren’t the “OK” to consume endlessly, but they are synthesized differently than refined sugar in the body — at least they won’t give you cancer!

I am particularly keen on using agave nectar. Derived from agave plants, agave nectar is 1.5 times sweeter than refined sugar so you can use less, and it ranks very low on the glycemic index meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar making it a good option for diabetics. Next time you are making fruit jam (or anything requiring sugar), try substituting agave nectar. Here is one of my easy go-to recipes:

Fruit Jam:

• 4 cups fruit of your choice (berries, peaches, mixture, etc.)

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Cinnamon, to taste

• ¼ cup agave nectar

• 1-2 TBSP Chia Seeds/Tapioca

Directions:

  1. Place fruit in a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring to a simmer until fruit starts to break down and release juices
  2. Add lemon juice, cinnamon and agave nectar to taste — continue to simmer until fruit has broken down and can easily be mashed
  3. Remove from heat, stir in chia seeds or tapioca and let sit until cool, jar and refrigerate or freeze

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