The Truth About Sugar
It makes evolutionary sense that we crave sweets. Sugar provides instant energy. Nerve cells in the brain depend on a constant supply of sugar (glucose) to function.
Our distant ancestors encountered sugar mainly in ripe fruit and mostly at the end of summer, when they needed to store up calories for the coming winter. Fruit is designed to appeal to us through its sweetness, because by eating it we help disperse seeds. Other than fruit, the only source of sugar in ancient times was the occasional honeycomb.
Evolution did not prepare us for the constant availability of sugar in today’s world. Most people consume large amounts regularly, not only by drinking sweet beverages and eating sweet desserts and snacks but by relying on processed foods and condiments that use sweeteners to enhance flavor. Too much sugar in the diet undermines health.
Obvious problems are weight gain and obesity from calorie-dense sweet foods and drinks, dental caries, and in some people, mood swings. Less obvious are the long-term effects on metabolism, accelerated aging, and increased risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other serious ailments.
All sweeteners contain fructose, often called “fruit sugar” – a deceptively innocent name. In fact, many fruits (berries, cherries, apples, for example) are relatively low in fructose, and their fiber content blunts its effect. Table sugar (sucrose) is half fructose. Honey and agave syrup have much more: 85 percent in the case of agave. Of course, high-fructose corn syrup, widely used in processed foods and beverages, is now a major dietary source. The body does not handle fructose well. It cannot derive energy from it, and large amounts derange liver metabolism, promote insulin resistance and increase body fat, An important element of a healthy diet is to minimize intake of fructose, which means being cautious about consumption of all sweets and sweeteners.
Many people believe they do this by drinking “diet” beverages and using sugar substitutes. The latter are commonly called “artificial sweeteners,” but should be referred to as nonnutritive sweeteners. Some, like stevia, monkfruit, and sugar alcohols, are natural, derived from plants. Artificial ones are saccharin, aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), and sodium cyclamate (Sucaryl). All artificial nonnutritive sweeteners are suspect and should be avoided, because they may increase risks of cancer and other serious diseases. The natural ones are safer but still worrisome for other reasons.
Sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol, used in sugarless chewing gum and sugar-free candy, can cause dose-related GI upsets: flatulence and diarrhea. The best of these is erythritol, available in pure granular form and also in combination with stevia in the product Truvia.
There is not much evidence that reliance on nonnutritive sweeteners helps with weight loss. In fact, it may make eating habits worse. When the brain gets the message from taste buds that sweet calories are coming and then they don’t, cravings for sweets and other carbs may increase. (People who drink the most diet soda are often in terrible relationships with food.) Furthermore, regular intake of nonnutritive sweeteners appears to have deleterious effects on the microbiome, the population of microorganisms in the gut that strongly influence both physical and mental health.
So what is the bottom line about sugar?
It is best to reduce consumption of all sweets, starting with sweetened liquids (soda, of course, but also fruit juice, energy drinks, and sweetened coffee and tea). Eating fresh fruit in season is fine, but be aware that some fruit (bananas, watermelon, grapes) are higher in fructose and that that the sugar content of dried fruit is much higher than that of fresh. It’s OK to use small amounts of sugar to season food and to eat sweet desserts occasionally. Maple syrup has the lowest fructose content (35 percent) of common sweeteners. Avoid products made with high fructose corn syrup and don’t use any artificial nonnutritive sweeteners. Inclusion, use natural nonnutritive sweeteners with a pinch of caution.
If you're interested in eliminating sugar from your diet, but still crave a tasty beverage, try a high-quality matcha green tea. A good high-quality matcha tea such as our ceremonial grade naturally has a slight sweetness to it.
Team Matcha Kari