Celia Cruz brought us the all too familiar interjection, “Azucar!” a line we Latinos warm up to because we identify with a “sweet” nature. Right? Or it could be that for centuries, sugarcane was responsible for a thriving Cuban industry.
Sugar, is a term of endearment, the ‘sweet’ note that not only soothes and tantalizes, but also stimulates our tastebuds. Sugar is used for everything from body scrubs to that sinfully sweet coconut custard flan. Sugarcane in its raw, natural state has amazing health benefits, however, in the U.S. sugar has been adulterated from its natural state to create artificial sweeteners that are claiming peoples’ hearts, lives, and good health.
The days of consuming pure sugar are not long gone. They are, however, not practiced enough. There are important lessons to be learned from consuming adulterated sugar. We must be careful not fall asleep on refined sugars and artificial sugars aka sugar substitutes. The all too modest sugarcane is looked to for garnishing mojitos, but this is not the best way to maximize on its potential. Sugarcane is actually great for your teeth; sucking on sugar cane prevents tooth decay. It is also known to fight prostate and breast cancer. There is also less sugar in a sugar cane than there is in a soft drink. Due to heavy marketing, the once strongly practiced tradition made its way out the door, welcoming all of the additives that are creating a new health risks today.
Did you know?
Refined sugar is highly addictive. Once mass produced for human consumption, sugar leaves the realm of a simple craving to becoming a necessary “substance”. Because artificial sugars are high in fructose and glucose, they enter the blood quickly giving you a seemingly energetic rush, which is then followed by a crash as soon as the body has processed it. This creates a desire for yet more sugar to recover from the previous sugar rush. Sugars found in sodas/soft drinks, chocolate, cereals, artificially sweetened juices, and hundreds of other foods are usually responsible for stealing -not giving you- energy.
To compliment the sweet rushes and crashes is the glycemic index (GI). GI, as defined by Wikipedia, is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream have a high GI; carbohydrates that break down more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, have a low GI. Have a look at this list to get an idea of how the numbers work.
Scientific language can make it difficult for the majority of us to understand what makes a good versus a bad and ugly sugar. Hopefully, this mini list will serve as a guide. As always, before making any changes to your diet, be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner.
Let’s start with the good guys first.
Healthy variations of sugar are honey, maple syrup, palm sugar (from coconut tree flowers), stevia, and xylitol. With honey and maple syrup being the more common household items, I will move on to thelesser known natural sweeteners which are growing in popularity, yet still not mainstream enough to be mass marketed.
Palm Sugar In an article by Natural News, Health Ranger Mike Adams explains, “Palm sugar is a nutrient-rich, low-glycemic crystalline sweetener that looks, tastes, dissolves and melts almost exactly like sugar, but it’s completely natural and unrefined. It’s acquired from the flowers growing high on coconut trees, which are opened to collect their liquid flower nectar. This nectar is then air-dried to form a crystalline sugar that’s naturally brown in color and naturally rich in a number of key vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. It is never refined or bleached like white sugar. So the nutrients it was made with are still there. That’s rare for sweeteners, most of which are highly refined.” I need not add anything to the description!
Stevia is native to South and Central America, as well as Mexico. The stevia plant is commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, and sugarleaf. In Paraguay the leaf has been used for centuries. It is widely available in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration is still deciding whether Stevia is safe enough to be used as an additive in processed foods. Stevia is sold under a variety of brands and is safe for cooking, baking, and sweetening your morning café.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring, sugar substitute. It is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms. It can be extracted from corn fiber, birch, raspberries, plums, and corn. Xylitol is growing in popularity. Its uses include chewing gum, toothpaste, and sweetener. Pero, Cuidado! This sweetener, although natural, can cause bloating and diarrhea depending on your tolerance.
Now, please allow me to turn your attention to…
The Bad & Ugly Sugars
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been a highly debated and criticized substance. It is backed by corn refiners who have mass produced corn syrup because of its reduction in manufacturing cost as compared with granulated sugar. Critics argue that HFCS in food sweetening is responsible for weight gain because it disrupts the appetite, and it is more harmful than regular sugar. If these issues were not dangerous enough, HFCS may be a source of mercury which is highly toxic to the human body. Among its countless uses in the U.S., HFCS is found in colas, snacks, artificial fruit juices, salad dressings, and candies.
Crystalline Fructose is a processed sweetener derived from corn that is almost entirely fructose, at least 98%. This brings its glycemic index through the roof. What this translates to is, once again, that it is a simple sugar which the body will quickly break down during a “rush” and then potentially ask for more sugar after the crash. Crystalline fructose is found in Vitamin Water and is common in other popular soft drinks and beverages.
Aspartame is used in many sugar free drinks and foods as well as the sugar substitute Equal® and NutraSweet. One of the most popular controversies around Aspartame is its correlation to cancer causing substances used to produce it. Aspartame and Acesulfame-K are sometimes combined and wherever these ingredients are listed, so too will there be a warning label for Phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is a toxic substance, specifically working against the brains; with prolonged use it can destroy brain cells.
Sucralose is a sugar substitute that is 600 times sweeter than sugar. The ‘real deal’ rings to the tune of some pretty grotesque facts. Sucralose is made by chemically altering the structure of sugar molecules by adding chlorine atoms. Yes, chlorine atoms. The same chlorine that cleans a pool and whitens clothing. Thus, the end product is not a “sugar substitute,” rather it is a “chlorocarbon.” According to Vegan-Nutritionista.com: “Chlorocarbons are poisonous; they’re used in bleach, disinfectants, insecticide, poison gas, and hydrocholric acid.” A famed yellow packet company, better known to many calorie dodgers as Splenda®, claims their product doesn’t have calories because it its main ingredient, sucralose is made from real sugar. To that end, they also claim that the substitute is made from real sugar so it tastes like sugar.
Saccharin is an artificial sweetener. Its primary uses are in drinks, candies, medicines, and toothpaste. This metallic tasting sweetener boasts the following lineup as its primary ingredients: nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, ammonia and sulfobenzoic acid. With so many chemicals, they have officially put aerosol detergents to shame. Saccharin is most commonly found in Sweet n’ Low® and products that claim to be sugar-free.
In conclusion, most health enthusiasts (including myself) will advise that if a word can’t be pronounced, then it isn’t fit to be consumed by your body. We must all enjoy the food we put into our bodies, but at least, if they are of good, natural quality, our bodies will be much better off. Endúlzate la vida a lo natural y Cuídate Latino!
I leave you with Celia Cruz’s abundant sweetness that sings to her metaphoric love of the good sugar, “Azucar Negra”.
Soy dulce como el melao’
alegre como el tambor
llevo el ritmico tumbao’
llevo el ritmico tumbao’
que hace que en el corazon
Y habia una isla rica
eclava de una sonrisa
soy de ayer soy carnaval
pongo corazon y tierra
mi sangre es de azucar negra
es amor y es musica
Azucar azucar negra
hay cuanto me gusta y me alegra
by Jeanelle Roman