In the current culture of banishing every inkling of sugar from the diet I know it must be odd to see a guide to the sugars I so highly recommend. Just the other day, I was reading yet another blog post from a woman who recently quit sugar altogether and, of course, reported having multiple benefits such as much more energy and clearer thinking. All the while I am thinking “Ah yes, this is the honeymoon phase!”
The fact is, when you quit all sugars your body will adapt, for awhile, by allowing your body to burn fat as fuel and requiring extra adrenaline and cortisol to break down tissue, muscle and bone to create glucose. (The problem with burning fat exclusively as fuel is the presence of PUFA in those fat cells that are released, often very quickly and oxidized in the body at an alarming rate!!) Fat should be burned in a mixture with glucose. Don’t believe me?? Read The Case for Sugar and find out how the body responds to having no glucose.
Isn’t adrenaline great?? Ah that rush as your “juices get flowing” when you are under the gun.
Nobody ever remembers the ensuing crash, do they??
Of course, after shaking my head throughout this post I realized this woman probably didn’t cut sugar altogether. She probably cut refined white sugar out of her diet. That’s fine since it really has no nutrient value anyway. Wait, who am I kidding? No, she probably hopped right on the bandwagon and cut ALL sugars out of her diet.
The pendulum always swings back the other way, beauties. No matter how good you feel when you stop sugar altogether, remember, the body prefers glucose for its fuel. Its fuel feeds metabolism.
No fuel = Low Metabolism
I don’t make the rules. You need glucose to help the liver convert T4 to drive T3 and without it…..well…. the train don’t move.
So, while I am not suggesting you pour a sugar bowl down your throat I do recommend eating a little “sugar” in the form of sucrose or glucose with a little fructose along with protein and healthy saturated fat like coconut oil, butter, ghee or other traditional fat to help the body to form the basis of a healthy metabolism.
Bottom line, when you eliminate a whole macronutrient group, the body lacks an important building block. If you didn’t have the proper building block for a foundation of a house, what would happen?
Below are my top picks for natural sugars that, while some would call simple, I prefer to call them digestible and readily usable for a healthy metabolism.
Fruit is essentially a dissacharide, or sucrose, with both glucose and fructose and loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, trace elements and antioxidants essential for good health. Because the effect of glucose is stabilized when there is fructose is present this makes fruit optimal for maintaining blood sugar handling health the fact that fruit has soluble fiber contributes to that stability. Also, most fruits contain some potassium which mimics insulin function in the body. Because diabetes is not so much the presence of insulin but the fact that the insulin no longer helps the glucose into the cells (leaving the body high in blood sugar), potassium can aid getting the blood sugar into the cells, making fruit the optimal carbohydrate for diabetics and those with metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance as fruit helps increase insulin sensitivity.
Rules for eating fruit::
Ripe fruits only! We’ve all heard fruit can feed candida, present in the lower intestinal tract. Ripe fruit sugars are assimilated int the upper intestine and, under normal circumstances should not only NOT feed candida but would not cause digestive issues. Many fruits on the market, however, are picked unripe and chemically ripened which does not provide the same effect as tree ripe fruit. Improperly developed sugars, such as those in unripe fruit will not assimilate properly in the upper intestinal tract and travel to the lower intestine where it will ferment, cause bloating and gas, stomach pain and feed bacteria.
Apples and pears contain pectin, a special fiber, akin to cellulose that can be very hard to digest. It does not help that most apples bought in the market today were never ripened making the pectin even tougher to break down. Cooking breaks down this pectin so stewing, sauteeing well, baking and roasting will make these fruits digestible.
Medjool Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree and are an integral part of Middle Eastern diets, the primary religion, and even for healing. They “date” back (pun intended) to the Stone Age in the Arabian peninsula and have even been used as currency in the past. High in potassium, copper, magnesium, and manganese along with B vitamins, the sugars are mostly free fructose and glucose (both monosaccharides) and small amounts of sucrose, these are great when used as a paste or soaked and blended into a syrup and used as an alternative to other sugars or eaten by themselves for a quick source of energy that will help quickly restore low blood sugar without spiking insulin levels. Manganese is critical in the production and utilization of many enzymes responsible for protecting against oxidative damage. Dates are a wonderful addition to your diet when trying to detox from PUFA overload as they can stem the tide of the damage done when these PUFAs are released from the cells.
Palm sugar (or coconut nectar or coconut sugar) is popular these days as a “low-glycemic” sweetener and is popular in Thai, Indian and Indonesian cooking. Contrary to popular belief, it’s as refined as cane sugar with it’s boiling and crystallization process so it behaves the same way in the body as cane sugar but it contains small amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3,B6 as well as minerals zinc, and potassium. It’s delicious and if you like it, use it. I use it in baked goods and it gives everything a nice caramel flavor.
Cane sugar is boiled and crystallized from sugarcane syrup and is pure sucrose. While I prefer ripe fruit, raw honey, and maple syrup as my primary natural sugars (along with root vegetables), cane sugar has a place, especially for those with a slow metabolism or hypothyroidism. A little goes a long way to help hypoglycemic moments, sluggish thyroid and even hormonal imbalances.
Molasses or treacle is a dark, sweet, and rich by-product of refining sugarcane into granulated sugar. It is sucrose which breaks down to glucose and a little fructose in the body. It has a strong flavor and is rich in minerals such as calcium, copper, manganese, potassium and magnesium. I add it to my gingerbread and to my morning coffee when I want a kick. It is great for balancing iron stores whether deficient or overloaded.
Raw Honey contains up to 180 protective and healing substances that provide anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory goodness and help improve immunity. It contains equal parts of glucose and fructose which makes it the optimal sweetener in small amounts. Be careful to buy raw and unprocessed and, preferably local honey (as local honey can help with seasonal allergies).
Finally maple syrup is one of my favorite sweeteners of all time. It is mostly sucrose with some free glucose (does not need breaking down in the body) and small amounts of free fructose. It, oddly enough, has a stronger mineral content than even raw honey being high in zinc and manganese and can be used over pancakes, in custards, and even in ice cream and baked goods.
Be aware I don’t recommend the use of artificial sweeteners as they cannot be digested and is sent directly to the liver for detoxification (putting a toxic load on the liver). By virtue of eating these sweeteners and no other sugar means that glycogen stores are not being filled or able to be utilized for the detoxification process relying on these stores by the liver. This means the toxins cannot leave the body because the liver cannot break them down. This creates toxic load on the body.
Stevia is one of the most overused natural sweeteners out there. It is touted as healthy yet, because it tastes sweet but provides no energy to the body and it can still spike insulin because the brain, as we have discussed, thinks there is sweet therefore will release insulin waiting for the glucose and none comes. Stevia also has estrogenic qualities and can contribute, when overused, to estrogen dominance.
A word about fructose:: Fructose is demonized by nutrition circles these days. Most “health experts” confuse High Fructose Corn Syrup, derived from corn, with the fructose in natural sweeteners. HFCS has been found to have up to five times more sugar per oz. than plain table sugar and it is in many, if not most, packaged foods. Fructose in natural sugars and ripe fruit is always in the presence of glucose and usually in the form of sucrose which makes it assimilated into the body easily (unless there are severe digestion issues whereby there are fructose malabsorption issues but even then ripe fruit can usually be tolerated.). You would have to eat a case of peaches or eat a bag of sugar to ingest nearly the fructose that is present in HFCS laden products. If you stick to a real food diet with digestible sugars in balance of healthy fats and proteins, trust me, you don’t have to worry about your fructose consumption.
A special note about orange juice:: I love freshly pressed and strained orange juice for fueling the metabolism, decreasing the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, increasing immunity and insulin sensitivity, and reducing certain inflammation markers (C-reactive protein to name one) and bacterial endotoxin. Many who have severely impaired digestion and cannot tolerate whole fruits because of a fructose malabsorption issue or starches from root veggies do very well with orange juice. (Straining orange juice eliminates the pulp that can cause bloating for many people.)
Orange juice with a pinch of sea salt is a pro-metabolic, anti-stress hormone treat. Adding in 1 tablespoon hydrolyzed collagen gives a protein boost and blended with a tablespoon of coconut oil adds in protective healthy fats. Aside from the Vitamin C content, there is a multitude of phytonutrients and flavonoids which are powerfully anti-inflammatory and have antioxidant properties important to health.
What are your favorite natural sugars? Have you jumped on the no-sugar bandwagon? Are you ready to jump off and enjoy an important building block to vibrant health?