We've long had a love affair with white sugar. And why not? Its sweetness cheers us up, perks us up, and makes all the good times seem even better. So it's disappointing when we learn that sugar has been cheating on us. The happy, energy burst that sugar gives us is followed by a deceptive low that we didn't expect. And the sugar-laden cake and ice cream that we ate to celebrate an occasion leave us with extra pounds as a bitter reminder of the party. Sugar has indeed been a duplicitous lover.
After the break-up, we often go looking for a more authentic, traditional relationship. Honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and coconut sugar all seem like old-fashioned types who can be trusted. But maybe we should ask around about their reputation before we commit to these new sweeteners.
The Secret Life of Natural Sweeteners
Though they may look or sound different, these natural sweeteners are made of pretty much the same ol' stuff whether it's fructose, glucose, or sucrose. Dr. Joel Fuhrman's article, Are “Natural” and Low-glycemic Sweeteners Healthful Alternatives to Sugar? breaks down for us the sugars that make up the "natural" sweeteners.
- Honey: 49% fructose, 43% glucose
- Agave nectar: 90% fructose
- Maple syrup: 90% sucrose, which is very close to being white sugar
- Coconut sugar: 70-80% sucrose
How Do These Sugars Measure Up?
When we compare honey with high fructose corn syrup, (which is 55% fructose and 42% glucose), honey contains a similar amount of fructose (49%) and glucose (43%). The fructose content in agave nectar isn't any better. In fact, it's significantly higher (90%). So the composition of honey and agave are very similar to high fructose corn syrup.
Now let's compare maple syrup and coconut sugar. Maple syrup contains 90% sucrose while coconut sugar is 70-80% sucrose. So, for the most part, maple syrup and coconut sugar are very close to being white sugar. As mentioned above, when we break down the components of these "natural" sugars, they are all pretty much the same.
What's the Big Deal About Fructose?
In Dr. Fuhrman's article, he writes: "Despite its low glycemic index, added fructose in the form of sweeteners still poses health risks. Fructose stimulates fat production by the liver, which causes elevated blood triglycerides, a predictor of heart disease. Elevated triglycerides have been reported in human studies after consuming fructose-sweetened drinks and this effect was heightened in the participants who were insulin-resistant. Fructose, when used as a sweetener, also seems to have effects on hunger and satiety hormones that may lead to increased calorie intake in subsequent meals."
Dr. Fuhrman sums it up by saying that even though "natural sweeteners undergo fewer processing steps than sugar and may retain some phytochemicals from the plants they originate from, their nutrient-to-calorie ratio is still very low, and they contain minimal or no fiber to slow the absorption of their sugars." Consequently, when these natural sugars are consumed as a food instead of as a flavoring, it increases our risk of weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, just to name a few. For additional information, see the links below.
Joel Fuhrman MD Links
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