First published in Franklin Journal
Sugar is bad for you. It’s demonic. At least, this is the general message that is being served by many media streams and health organizations. I’m suspect of generalizations. My philosophy is moderation. I eat the best quality I have available and which causes as little harm to the environment, as possible. Of course, I understand this is easier for me, as I live in America, as opposed to some other countries where to have food at all is a challenge.
Last month, I gained five pounds. I couldn’t understand it. The upside of a health issue three years ago is that I have developed an instinct about foods safe for me to consume. As I work my way towards healing, I have come to rely on this instinct. So when you can only eat a few foods and you gain 5 pounds by seemingly changing nothing in your diet and or activity, it is quite a conundrum. Dialing into my instincts, I kept hearing the message “sugar”, but I kept pushing it back and telling myself, “I have hardly any sugar”. Then one day, I was eating a dish of yogurt and I thought “all I taste is sweet, there’s really no flavor here”. Then it hit me. I’ve been right out straight with work and traveling more, so I had started buying organic yogurt, instead of making my own. Instinctively, I knew I should check the label for sugar content. Wow! By eating flavored yogurt, I was getting 34 grams of sugar per one cup serving. I eat three servings a day. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 sugar grams per day for men and women no more than 20. Ugh. I was horrified! This left no room for the sugar content in the fresh fruits I eat daily, nor for the birch and maple syrup, which provides me with otherwise, missing nutrients.
I went to my local grocery store and as I had only been eating flavored yogurts, I chose to check various flavored brands for sugar content. I allowed seventeen grams of sugar for naturally occurring lactose. Beyond this, at an average of 30 sugar grams per cup, I was getting an additional dose of 15 sugar grams. It didn’t matter if the yogurt was merely flavored, or if it was flavored with syrupy fruits. No wonder all I tasted was “sweet” and gained 5 pounds. Further, I realized I had started to become addicted to the sweetness. Indeed, I’ve read the molecular structure of sugar is similar to alcohol and may show a correlation in addictive power, although, personally, I’ve never been drawn to alcohol in that way, so I suspect there’s more to that correlation than molecular structure. At any rate, I readily admit I was eating for the sweet, sugary taste, not the flavor of vanilla or maple.
Juice and soda take a well-deserved knocking when it comes to the sugar conversation. Each 8-12 ounce serving provides large doses of sugar. Attacking this issue has done great service to growing awareness of how much sugar Americans consume when drinking these beverages, but I think it’s caused us to overlook the wider subject of sugar in our diets. When serving on “health and wellness” committees, I repeatedly hear yogurt pushed as an acceptable meal alternative, at the same time we discuss cutting back on juices and soda. We aren’t paying attention to the overall message. Let’s take a closer look.
Discussion of process and nutrition should be part of the conversation. Refined white sugar offers no nutritional benefit in the form of fats, minerals or proteins. When consumers eat up to 10-20% of calories as sugar, this can lead to obesity and nutritional deficiencies. Further, during production, its use of chemicals and damaging pesticides makes it environmentally unfriendly. The best you can say for it is it provides an energy source.
Unrefined, organic cane sugar contains antioxidants, 17 amino acids, 11 minerals, and six vitamins. It has a lesser environmental impact, and unlike refined white sugar, it doesn’t provide trace amounts of lime, sulfur dioxide and phosphoric acid. Plus, it tastes better, which means recipes calling for sugar will taste better.
I found Brown Cow Maple Cream Top with “only” 22 sugar grams. Along with Organic Valley, it’s one of my favorite tasting when I can’t get access to homemade and need to fall back on “everything in moderation”, but sadly, it’s not widely available.
Note, even the better choice of unrefined, organic cane sugar should be consumed in moderation. Calories should provide energy AND nutrients. Remember, quality and quantity matter, whether you consume them in the form of sugar or some other means. I’ve gone back to making my own yogurt.
*Note there are other yogurt options which use stevia or other alternative sweeteners to lessen amount of refined or unrefined sugars.