Welcome to Domestic by Design! If this is your first time here, please start here.
If you’ve missed steps 1-5 in our series, you can easily find them here! This is a very difficult step for most people (me included!). But, it is a very important one. So, stick with me!
Here’s the deal with sugar: every cell in our body needs it to function. Minimally processed sugar in and of itself is not a bad thing. What is bad is when we consume too much of it (no matter how little or much it’s processed). When we overdo the sugar, it places stress on the glands which produce our digestive hormones therefore causing our hormones to get “out of whack.” (Do you like my scientific terms?) In addition, did you know that sugar suppresses the immune system?
There are four glands that work together to regulate our blood-sugar levels: the hypothalamus, pituitary, pancreas and adrenal. The hypothalmus regulates all of the other glands 24/7. When something is unbalanced, it sends a message to the pituitary gland regarding what needs fixing. The pituitary gland then converts the message into a hormone and sends it to the appropriate gland that can correct the imbalance. (A key thing to note is that when blood-sugar levels are too low or high, the message is sent either to the adrenal glands or the pancreas). The pancreas produces hormones which aid in digestion, as well as insulin which is used for metabolism. The adrenal glands produce several other hormones including reproductive hormones.
Whenever we eat, our blood-glucose levels rise. However, when sugar is consumed in excess, the levels rise so quickly that it puts stress on our body due to the pancreas or adrenals having to quickly pump out more insulin or other hormones (such as reproductive hormones) to lower the glucose levels. Are you following me?
Not only that, but sugar can cause a number of other problems including:
-cavities, bleeding gums, overall poor dental health
-diabetes, hyper- and hypoglycemia
-contributing to the overgrowth of candida yeast
-increasing chronic fatigue symptoms
-increasing PMS symptoms
-increasing hyperactivity in children
-added difficulty losing weight
So, no matter what type of sugar you consume, it is important to do so in moderation. Here is how my husband and I approach the sugar issue (and this applies to most other foods, too): we have a continuum on which we rate food. There’s the bad for you, neither bad nor good/nourishing, and then there’s good/nourishing food.
We consider high fructose corn syrup to be on the “bad” end of the spectrum.
It is cheaper to make than white sugar because of the corn subsidies and sugar tariffs levied by the government. High fructose corn syrup replaced white table sugar in the 1970s in many products. However, it contains twice as much fructose as white sugar, which reduces the affinity of its insulin receptor. This is the classic sign of type-2 diabetes. There are no beneficial qualities and has been found to leech the body of needed nutrients and raise LDL levels. Plus, it is often made from genetically modified corn.
Fructose has most recently been shown to aid in the proliferation of cancer cells. 1,2,3 This is most alarming considering how rampant the use of high fructose corn syrup is in nearly all processed foods! Speaking of processed foods, are you curious about how much sugar is in popular “foods”? Check out http://www.sugarstacks.com/
Watch out! The corn industry is now trying to change the name of corn syrup, calling it “corn sugar.” It is one in the same!
We also believe white sugar is on the “bad” end of the spectrum.
Here’s why: the methods of processing and refining sugar strip it of most beneficial nutrients.
The refined white sugar that we get at the store starts out as either sugar cane or sugar beets. The process for making sugar is fairly similar with both of them. First they take the sugar cane or sugar beets and wash them, cut them, press or mash them and use chemicals to turn them into a syrup. Next the syrup is heated until crystals form. The syrup is then put in a machine that spins rapidly to separate the crystals from the syrup. The crystals that are left after this are sometimes called raw sugar. In order to get white sugar the crystals are further refined by being treated with more chemicals, filtered and again allowed to crystallize and this time solidify. At the end of this process it is “bleached snow-white usually by the use of pork or cattle bones.” (see sources below)
Not only is all of the fiber removed, but it is then bleached with six different chemicals! We seek to avoid this type of sugar, though we do enjoy dessert when offered to us the homes of others. And we do eat Breyer’s ice cream about once a month. We aim for balance!!
Below are sweeteners I recommend and use. There are others out there, but because I don’t use them, I don’t feel comfortable encouraging you to do so.
While sugars such as Sucanat and Rapadura are still processed, they are not bleached and some of the nutrients are left intact. Though not as healthy as eating the entire sugar cane (which would be pretty difficult!), it is minimally processed in comparison to bleached white sugar. So, we consider sugars like these to be in the middle. We still seek to use them in moderation, but are much more comfortable with using them as opposed to bleached white sugar. I use it in a 1-1 ratio in baking when brown sugar is called for and it does wonderfully.
Organic maple syrup is another good sweetener. Zinc and manganese are important minerals that can be obtained from maple syrup. I recommend organic maple syrup due to higher standards held for their producers and due to the fact that formaldehyde historically has been used in the production of non-organic maple syrup. While the use of formaldehyde is illegal now, I don’t trust all of the other processing it goes through. You can find a great deal on organic maple syrup here. (Make sure to do “Subscribe & Save” for a lower price and free shipping!).
Maple sugar, though pricey, would be another good option. Taking the processing a step further to dehydrate the syrup into crystals, many of the minerals still remain.
Unsulphured Molasses is a great standby that is rich in vitamins and minerals. It is made from a mature sugar cane and is the by-product of making white sugar. Admittedly, I often only use it when making gingerbread and while pregnant. Actually, Blackstrap molasses, which is not as sweet as regular molasses, is often recommended during pregnancy (two tablespoons/day). High in iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium, it can help with anemia. Just one tablespoon yields 20% of the RDA! I need to be a stickler about this next time (Lord willing!) because I get very anemic while pregnant.
Cane juice crystals and Turbinado sugar are still better alternatives to white sugar, but are slightly more processed than Sucanat and Rapadura. I use organic cane juice crystals in place of white sugar for baking cakes and cookies and in homemade ice cream. When I use turbinado, I often put it in my coffee grinder as the crystals don’t dissolve as well when baked. I use each of these in a 1-1 ratio when sugar is called for in a recipe.
Raw honey is by far the best way to go when it comes to a sugar. Most store-bought honey is heated, which denatures enzymes. And, honey is full of enzymes! Honey, as long as it is not heated above 117 degrees, is considered raw. Long before refined sugar was invented, honey was used for health purposes as well as sweetening foods. In addition to containing enzymes, amino acids and water, it also contains calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, chromium, manganese and selenium. It is still a sugar, so it should be used in moderation. However, honey has several nourishing benefits. When using honey to substitute sugar, use half of the amount of sugar called for. For example, for each 1 cup of sugar, use 1/2 c of honey.
A note about artificial sweeteners. We personally do not believe they are good for you because:
-they are not metabolized like other foods (Instead, either your blood or your liver processes it. This is why products with aspartame (similar effect as MSG) have neurological effects,
-they are relatively new products (not much time has elapsed in order to see long-term effects of using them),
-they are completely artificial (though maybe from real food, they are created in a laboratory!)
My personal opinion is that the creation of artificial sweeteners has given Americans the illusion that we don’t have to feel guilty or worry about the consequences from consuming what we are consuming. Supposedly, since they are calorie free, we won’t reap the same consequences as we would with consuming sugar in excess. It has made gluttony permissible. People who consume products containing artificial sweeteners have just as much of a lack of self-control as they did before. We think it is best to avoid them.
Have you read about my history with a watermelon sized uterine fibroid? I believe this was caused, in part, by my own indulgence of Stevia. I have no scientific evidence to back up my claim, but the fibroid grew during a period in which I was obsessive about my appearance and food. Stevia is calorie free, so I used it very liberally. I wanted sweet, but without the consequences that come with over consuming sugar. All this to say, I’ve been one of the worst offenders!
So, in effort to be good stewards of our bodies and to consume a diet of nourishing foods, drastically reducing sugar intake would do us good. It is hard, but it’s doable. Unless there is a serious health problem, eliminating it all together is probably not necessary.
Before knowing each other, my husband and I both totally eliminated all sugars (except honey) from our diet. It served us well. After awhile, we didn’t miss it or crave it. So, if you are looking for a quick way to be rid of it, commit to eliminate it and gear up for a few hard days of craving it when you first begin. After a few days, it will get easier!
Don’t be mistaken, we do consume these sugars now, but seek to do so in moderation. I’m preaching to myself as much as anyone else when I say consume in moderation!