As it turns out we have inherit reward systems in place that drive our sugar cravings. When we eat sugar our brain recognises this high energy, easily accessed fuel source, and releases dopamine. As well as the desire to eat more, this drives the good feeling we get from eating sweet things.
Sugar interacts with some of the key hormones regulating hunger. So we don’t get the same signals for fullness. This may well be the reason why the whole block of chocolate disappears so easily!
In the kitchen sugar is a staple, we use it in baking, cooking, with breakfast, and in our drinks. When buying packaged foods we are often hard pressed to find ones that don’t have added sugar. With sugar so predominant in our diets, it becomes hard to avoid. Even more so when there are so many different types. This begs the question – are all sugars created equal?
Refined Sugars are highly processed simple sugars that are easily absorbed by the body. They cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, and what goes up must come down right? If you’re like me, you’ll know all too well the sluggish feeling you get after a sugar rush. Overtime these large spikes in blood sugar can lead to more serious health problems.
The two main refined sugars are corn syrup and table sugar. Corn syrup, as the name would suggest, is a refined sugar made from corn starch. These syrups can be made to have varying amounts of glucose, fructose or other sugars such as dextrose. The most common of these is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Containing high levels of fructose, HFCS is regularly used in packages foods that are ’empty calories’ – high in energy and low in nutrients.
Table sugar, which you may also know from any one of its aliases – castor sugar, white sugar, granulated sugar, icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar – is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Like corn syrup, it’s common to find in processed foods, but you’re also likely to have this sugar as a staple in your pantry.
Natural Sugars are the friendlier way of getting sweetness into our foods. (On a molecular level they are the same as refined sugars, however, the difference comes in how they are ‘packaged’).
Have you ever noticed that you don’t get the same big peak and crash in energy from eating a bliss ball as you do from a chocolate bar containing the same amount of sugar? That’s because our bodies take longer breakdown sugars when they are non-refined. This slower release of glucose allows us to use energy more economically as we go about our day.
Natural sugars are generally consumed as they are found in nature – or close to. This means we get the additional nutrients that are already packed in, like fibre from fruits or antioxidants from honey. Offering different complexities in flavours, they add a unique twist on classic recipes. From granules, to syrups or dried fruit, there are a vast amount of natural sugars out there to try!
Sweeteners give a sweet taste without being absorbed as energy. Their chemical structure is similar enough to sugar to activate our sweet taste buds, but they are no taken up as glucose. They are often very low in calories and do not raise blood glucose levels.
It is important to note that there is some controversy over sweeteners, mainly in the safety of the artificially produced sweeteners. However, if your dietary requirements mean you can’t have sugar then plant derived sweeteners are the way to go. Xylitol, Erythirtol, and Stevia are some of the best natural sweeteners available.
Simply no, with so many options out there we can see that some are more healthful than others. All in all, reducing sugar will always be beneficial for your health. But life is about balance, when the occasion calls for it, enjoying that sweet treat is just as important. While refined sugars in small amounts is ok, remember the closest to nature you can get, the better. Explore the different types of natural sugars on offer and try something new today!
Dates – These wonderfully sweet dried fruit are a staple in most raw baking, but they pack in a lot more than just a sweet flavour! Offering a great source of fibre and antioxidants, soak them to make a paste to use in baking or add a whole one to your smoothie.
Honey – We are lucky here in New Zealand to have such great honey on offer, with our Manuka Honey sought after worldwide. Manuka honey has antibacterial properties that help with a number of natural remedies. Regular bush honey also offers many antioxidants, that can benefit heart health. It’s great for adding a drizzle over porridge, in baking, and in balancing savoury sauces.
Coconut Sugar – Made from palm trees, coconut sugar is an easy swap for table sugar offering deeper earthy flavours, our favourite for everyday use! Nutritious elements include zinc, iron, calcium, polyphenols, antioxidants, and fibre.
Organic Stevia leaf Powder – Stevia may help to reduce LDL cholesterol and reduce insulin sensitivity. Being much sweeter than regular sugar a little bit goes a long way when using stevia. Just ½ a teaspoon of stevia powder can be used to substitute 1 cup of sugar. You can add ½ a teaspoon to 200ml of water and use this as a syrup to sweeten desserts, smoothies, hot drinks, or in baking.