How To Eat Sweets And Avoid Sugar

A mountain of sucrose at the Redpath Sugar Plant in Toronto.

Did you know that when people first learned to refine sugar from sugar cane, only the wealthy could afford it—and they used it like a drug?  We’ve come a long way baby. Unfortunately, now almost everyone can afford sugar and it’s added to just about everything.

The 22 teaspoons of sugar the average American consumes each day is a primary contributor to devastating health effects like soaring rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and cancer.

Most people know sugar is bad for them, but they want their cake and they want to eat it too.

People often ask me to recommend the best sweetener. As usual, the answer is: it depends.

The only time I use table sugar (organic, raw sugar—available in bulk at my local grocery store) is when I make water kefir. I do not recommend consuming sugar, but since kefir needs it to ferment, and the kefir eats most of the sugar I put in it, I’m unconcerned about using it in this way.

One of my favorite sweeteners is fruit. I usually put a banana, an apple (I prefer less sweet varieties), or a couple of dates in my raw shakes to add some sweetness. Note: an apple, banana, or four dates have only about 7-10 grams of sugar and are whole foods—when we eat them we get vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.

I also sometimes include a little dried fruit in my primal cereal (nuts, seeds, shredded coconut, dried fruit). Some recipes for raw or baked sweets also include fruit.

On occasion I like to eat a little raw honey as a treat with some raw almond butter. Raw honey has antioxidants, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and even prebiotics (fiber that helps probiotics thrive in your gut). Again, I don’t recommend honey as anything but a small, occasional treat, but if you want something sweet, it’s a preferable alternative.

I also occasionally use xylitol to replace sugar one-to-one in raw chocolate, baked goods, etc. Xylitol is a natural sweetener, derived from plants, that’s only one molecule different from table sugar (sucrose). But that molecule makes xylitol substantially different in that it’s very low on the glycemic index (about 90 for sugar vs. seven for xylitol) and has 40 percent fewer calories than sucrose.  And xylitol is metabolized without insulin.

Perhaps my favorite sweetener is stevia, a natural herb containing glycosides that are about 200 times sweeter than sugar but with no calories and zero on the glycemic index.  Stevia comes in liquid or powder and a little goes a long way.  It can be used in tea, smoothies, baked goods, etc.  I sometimes put it a couple of drops—yes that’s all it takes—in my raw shakes in lieu of fruit. I also like to use it along with xylitol for raw or baked sweets. I hear some people say stevia has a bitter aftertaste. Not to me—I love it when I want a little sweet taste.

Oh, and stay away from synthetic sweeteners like aspartame (nutrasweet), splenda, sucralose,  etc. There is plenty of evidence that they contribute to everything from brain disease to cancer and that people who consume them gain weight. We didn’t evolve eating them and our bodies don’t recognize them.

Bottom line: We probably didn’t evolve eating a lot of sweets. So, I’ve reduced the sweets in my diet dramatically. I shoot for less than 25 grams of sugar per day—and that’s a maximum. I avoid grains (sorry, even whole grains), which turn into sugar as soon as they get digested in your body.

Some days the only sugar I have is one piece of fruit. Other days I treat myself to a bar of dark (90% cacao) chocolate, which amounts to only seven grams of sugar.

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