Is it just me or does the holiday season make you want to eat gingerbread cookies all the time and dip them in hot chocolate? Sweet, spicy gingerbread with a cute little vanilla icing smile, dipped in a steamy cup of hot cocoa.
That’s what I thought – it’s not just me.
But I also know that it’s not just me when I say that processed sugar does not make me feel good. It makes me feel bad, straight-up bad. Every time I tell my brother that something is up with my body he asks me two questions – are you drinking water and are you eating processed sugar. I’m always intensely frustrated by his comments, but I have to be honest, he is on to something.
Why Should We Avoid Processed Sugar?
How can something so good be so bad? And what is so bad about it anyway?
The refined sugars we are talking about include high fructose corn syrup and processed white sugar. Added sugar increases your risk of heart disease. Too much of it raises blood sugar and leads to chronic inflammation. There is a link between lots of refined sugar and type 2 diabetes, depression, dementia, liver disease, and some cancers. They also have no beneficial components – that’s the idea of them being empty calories. They aren’t nourishing our bodies in any way. (6)
“The most common are high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, cane juice, rice syrup, molasses, caramel, and most ingredients ending in -ose, such as glucose, maltose, or dextrose.” (12)
The added sugar in processed food is another reason to base your diet around whole foods. You won’t find many added sugars in the produce section or at the farmer’s market.
What is the glycemic index?
I’m going to leave this one up to the experts:
“The glycemic index (or GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested, absorbed and metabolized and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar (glucose) levels. Low GI carbohydrates – the ones that produce smaller fluctuations in your blood glucose and insulin levels – is one of the secrets to long-term health, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also one of the keys to maintaining weight loss.” (3)
A database maintained by the University of Sydney can show you the glycemic index of any food you wish. It shows you the GI, the serving in grams, the carbohydrates per that serving, and the glycemic load. While the glycemic index evaluates the quality of the carbohydrate, the glycemic load takes into account the serving size and therefore the quality and quantity of the carbohydrate. (4) It is essential to remember that none of these numbers provide us with the full picture of the food, and you can’t determine whether a food is “healthy” or not based solely on these numbers.
Glycemic Index of Table Sugar: 65 (11)
Benefits of Eating a Low Glycemic Diet
Low glycemic foods can improve cholesterol levels, promote fat loss, reduce the risk of cancer, and reduce the risk of heart disease. (10) According to the University of Sydney, eating low-glycemic food all the time is not necessary. There is something called a “second meal effect” where the effects of a low glycemic food carry over to the next meal. What a deal! Even though this effect is true, they still recommend one low glycemic food with each meal. The key to eating a high GI food is to combine it with a protein and another low glycemic food – balance is always key! (5)
Natural Sweeteners and Their Glycemic Index
Monk fruit, named after the monks who first used it in southern China, has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, traditional Chinese medicine uses it in hot drinks to help sore throats. The sweetness comes from the dried monk fruit which is used as an extract. It has no calories, no carbohydrates and no fat, making it particularly alluring to the fitness and clean eating community. Since it doesn’t increase blood sugar, it is safe for those with diabetes.
Monk fruit is safe to use in your baking since it is stable at high temperatures. Be aware that using monk fruit sweetener may alter the appearance, texture, and taste of a baked good – but sometimes change is good, especially if it means I can eat more cookies than usual. (1)
Something to be aware of is that not all monk fruit products are just monk fruit. Some contain other sweeteners to make the sweetness more equivalent to that of table sugar, as monk fruit is around 200 times sweeter than table sugar. (8)
Holiday Recipe Recommendation: Seven Layer Magic Bars
Glycemic Index: 0
Maple syrup reminds me of New England falls, pancakes, and sweet slow mornings with my friends and family. Unlike regular sugar, it isn’t completely empty calories; it contains a good amount of zinc and manganese. Its high amount of sugar though doesn’t make it practical to eat maple syrup just for the minerals, despite its glycemic index being lower than sugar. Its flavor, however, is undeniably incomparable.
Conversion Tip: 1 cup white sugar = ⅔ to ¾ cup maple syrup (13)
Glycemic Index: 54 (11)
Buckeyes are a favorite holiday candy in my family. A creamy sweet peanut butter ball covered in chocolate, what could be better? Regular buckeyes contain an insane amount of powdered sugar, but these ones use just a few tablespoons of maple syrup.
Recommended Holiday Recipe: Naturally Sweetened Buckeyes
Given that dates are a fruit, they do contain fiber that slows the absorption of glucose. If you want to slow the absorption even more, pair your date with a protein (may I suggest, a date stuffed with some nut butter for an afternoon craving).
I can’t wait to get in the kitchen to see how I can use monk fruit, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and dates in my holiday desserts.
Keep us updated on how satisfied your holiday sweet tooth is with these delicious sugar alternatives by tagging us @cookandculture.
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