If your household is anything like mine, this past weekend your kids brought home a boatload of sugary goodness. My kids, dressed as GI Joe’s Snake Eyes and Buzz Lightyear, each ran door to door in our little suburban neighborhood, bringing home the exact same candy that I was trying to give away! Wouldn’t it make sense if we all just kept our own candy and called it a day? Anyway, while I won’t deny my kids the joys of Sugar Daddies, Smarties and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, it is a great segue into the negative effects of sugar in our diets and what I have chosen to use as a replacement product.
We all know sugar isn’t good for you. Dentists don’t like it, your waistline doesn’t like it, and it makes the kids bounce off the walls. However, our bodies actually need sugar to metabolize into glucose, which is a great fuel source for brain function, among other things. But not all sugars are created equal. We can get the sugar we need from vegetable and grains, which provide our bodies so much more than a simple table sugar. So put the candy corn down and just eat the corn!
So what characteristics of a simple sugar make it so bad for us?
High Glycemic Index (GI) – A high GI causes a spike in blood sugar which can lead to increased tiredness, mood swings, headaches, diabetes, and the desire to eat even more sugar, resulting in weight gain.
Immune suppression – Simple sugars have been linked to lowering the immune system, making you more susceptible to getting sick.
Cancer! – Yes, sugar can actually feed cancer cells! I read this information in the book Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr. Apparently a spike in blood sugar levels causes the body to release the hormone insulin to try and bring the blood sugar levels back to normal. One of the many functions of insulin is to promote cell growth, but insulin does not discriminate between normal, healthy cells and cancer cells! Yikes!
So am I going to sit here and tell you that I’ve cut all simple sugars from my diet? No, of course not. I enjoy a weekly cup of Starbucks coffee and I have my own private stash of chocolates hidden from the kids (shhh, don’t tell). But I can tell you one substitution I’ve made and that is with Organic BLUE AGAVE (pronounced “u-ga-vay”). There are many other natural sweetener options, but this is one I chose after reading a bit about it and then finding it at Costco which, to me, means economical! My last trip to Costco it cost me $7.75 for 2-23.5oz bottles.
The Agave plant resembles a cactus and comes from Southern Mexico. The nectar from this plant is what is sold in stores and is similar to honey in color and texture. The taste to me has a lighter flavor than honey and is super sweet, so definitely don’t use a 1-to-1 ratio when substituting for sugar. I use it daily in my morning coffee and while I can easily put 2-3 teaspoons of table sugar in my coffee (yes, I like coffee with my cream and sugar), I put less than a teaspoon of agave to get the same sweetness. During my research I read that when cooking or baking with Agave, you can replace each cup of white sugar with 2/3 cup Agave, and also reduce the liquid by about 1/4 – 1/3 cup. When replacing brown sugar, it’s the same 1-to-2/3 cup ratio but no need to reduce the liquid. I have some bananas that are just waiting to be made into banana bread. I will be substituting the sugar for Agave and I will report back the results!
The most important aspect of Agave is it has a lower Glycemic Index than white sugar, so no spikes in blood sugar, no sudden tiredness because of “crashing” from a sugar high and a decreased production of insulin. But there are two sides to every story. If you Google the negative aspects of Agave, you will definitely get an eyeful, including weight gain and clogged arteries leading to diabetes. In my opinion, it comes down to “everything in moderation.” Too much of a good thing can be bad so it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons and decide what is best for you. I personally am attracted to the lower Glycemic Index and being able to use less agave than sugar to sweeten my foods. A great read that actually convinced me that sugar just isn’t that great for you is The Eat-Clean Diet Recharged by Tosca Reno. Tosca is a 50+ year old fitness competitor and while the book is more about nutrition in general and getting in shape, she writes a lot about the negative effects of sugar. And if you see how FABULOUS she looks at 50, you’ll want to hang onto every word this woman says!