Remember the days when your mother said too much sugar would cause cavities? Well, not only was she right, but today's moms have more to be concerned about than just cavities. Multiple sugars and sweeteners abound in foods and maneuvering the maze of sweeteners is a far cry from a time when the only real two sources of sweetener were honey from bees and sugar from fruit.
Granulated sugar was invented in the 18th century. By comparison, sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners are relativity new. Today, it's challenging to keep up with all the new sweeteners in our food supply. It's even a hidden game to recognize their names.
If you look at food labels, you will see there are many names for sweetness besides granulated sugar. These include: sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, molasses, monosaccharides, polysaccharides, maple syrup, maple sugar, brown rice syrup, barley malt, date sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and agave.
Non-nutritive or fake sweeteners come in many forms. The main three most common are aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet), saccharin (Sweet and Low), and sucralose (Splenda).
Alcohol sugars are a popular substitute, and contrary to some literature do affect blood sugars in addition to causing gas, bloating and diarrhea. A few names you may see are mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, and maltitol.
Has our incurable craving for sweet gotten out of control? How does all this "sweet" affect us? Are food manufacturers taking advantage of our stress and using more sweet in food to soothe us and increase sales?
In a word -- yes. Sweeteners condition our taste buds to want more and more sweet. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar triggers your brain and body to want sugar most of the time. If your blood sugar dips down, your body gets a signal to eat more sugar. It's almost as if your system has been hijacked.
What eventually happens is that you run on sugar, rather than real energy. This makes it close to impossible for your body to tap into fat stores if you want to lose weight and/or have a strong metabolism.
In the same way, when you eat fake sweeteners, you are consuming packets of sweet that are at least 300-500 times sweeter than sugar. The result? Eventually you need more and more of that sweet taste. We've all seen how many blue, pink or yellow packets people drop into their iced tea or coffee at restaurants. Sugar is not even sweet enough for these folks. Although marketed as "healthier," these fake sweeteners can increase addiction to and desire for food.
Besides weight and metabolism, there are more serious consequences. Current research shows that fake sweeteners are associated with weight gain and insulin resistance, which are precursors to diabetes.
Furthermore, a high sugar diet can eventually harm the pancreas.
There are ultra-important cells in your pancreas. Called beta cells, they manufacture insulin and help you digest your food.
If you are eating a high-sugar diet, your beta cells are working on overdrive all the time, which wears them out. Eventually they start to die (sort of like your car transmission). However, unlike an automobile, you just can't "replace" your beta cells.
Eating a high-sugar diet on a daily basis wears out your pancreas, just like alcohol eventually wears out your liver.
If you have elevated blood sugar on a few occasions, and/or have diabetes, approximately 50 percent of the beta cells in your pancreas are gone.
Some new medications exist that can help regenerate the beta cells, but they are still in the early stages of research. Changing your diet and exercise help immensely, but why get to the point where you have a 911 episode in your body?
Calming down your sweet craving is possible. Sometimes it takes a few weeks or maybe even months, depending on how much of a sweet craving you've acquired.
To quiet your cravings, eat protein at each meal with healthy fats and non man-made carbohydrates like fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds. Consuming proportionally more of your foods without a label is also a good place to start. Adequate rest and regular exercise help immensely.
Changing your recipes to minimize or eliminate sources of sugar is a start. Cutting out fake sweeteners and sugar alcohols will help with normalizing your sweet taste.
Diabetes does not have to be in your future, and if you already have it, symptoms are controllable with the correct balance of food for your body.
After all, there is nothing sweeter in life than a healthy body.
Susan is the author of A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian. Her new book Healthy You, Healthy Baby: A mother's guide to gestational diabetes is now available. For more information, visit susandopart.com.
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