Summer is the season for sugar. Between the funnel cakes, sodas, cookies, ice cream and cotton candy of the state fairs, beach carts, and potlucks, you may feel as though you are constantly at risk for a diabetic coma. To keep your blood from congealing into syrup this season, opt for more green veggie dishes, stay away from the processed foods, and take a look at some sugar alternatives that have lower glycemic indexes. Instead of ingesting empty calories from high fructose corn syrup or refined cane and beet sugars, adding these sweeteners to your baked goods, drinks, and meals will satisfy your cravings while keeping your health in mind.
Sugars and the Glycemic Index: As you peruse the labels at your local supermarket, keep an eye on what kind of sugars are included in the ingredients list and where they fall on the Glycemic Index. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a measure of how much glucose is released by a food within a two-to-three hour time span. The most common sugars fall under sucrose, or table sugars, that are combinations of glucose and fructose. Glucose is the body’s main source of energy and is produced by the digestion of carbohydrates, familiar to us in the form of breads and grains. Fructose is found in most fruits and vegetables. Sugar alcohols (mannitol, xylitol, lactictol, maltitol eruthritol and isomalt) from plants are artificially produced from starches. Other common sugars are lactose, which is found in milk, and maltose, a sugar created by our bodies in the first step of digestion that breaks down starchy foods.
A Note about HFCS: High fructose corn syrup, a sweetener derived from the starch of corn and is nearly twice as sweet as sucrose, is incredibly prevalent due to its abundance and reduced cost. Fructose is low on the GI but is processed in the liver, and when too much of it enters the blood stream, the organ converts the fructose into fats and triglycerides because it can no longer process the substance as a sugar. When these fats are eventually incorporated into our cell membranes, they become insulin resistant, and may lead to diabetes. High levels of fructose can also raise cholesterol levels, and like sucrose, has little to no nutritional value.
Alternatives: Look for foods that are low on the GI in order to maintain a low blood sugar and a slower, more constant release of energy which will help avoid the peaks and valleys that cause irritation and fatigue. Also investigate organic, non-synthetic choices that contain more vitamins and minerals instead of the empty calories that leave you feeling unsatisfied.
Stevia: This Peruvian shrub-derived material is nearly 300 times sweeter than table sugar, and since it is not a true sugar, has a GI rating of less than 1.
Date sugar: This substitute for brown and granulated sugar is made from dehydrated dates and is high in fiber, minerals and vitamins.
Raw Honey: Aside from being a sweet treat, raw honey is full of beneficial enzymes, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and is considered by many to be a remedy for a number of ailments including seasonal allergies. Make sure your honey in unprocessed as refining strips it of most of its desired qualities.
Sugar Cane Juice: Considered to be more healthful than refined sugars, some nutritionists go as far as saying that in moderation, sugar cane juice contains some of the same health benefits as raw honey.
Have a sweet summer and make a date to experiment with some of your favorite recipes to create delicious, healthy treats!