When I talk about food, I try not to use the words “good” and “bad” because such a black & white distinction tends to fill people with unnecessary fears and anxieties about eating, which is an act of pleasure. Instead, I like to use the words "best", "better", and “worst,” which suggest that eating healthily is a series of choices. Some will be better than others, but it’s the overall pattern that matters most.
Each time we pick a food or ingredient, we face options, some of which are more ideal for our bodies than others.
Take sweeteners: we’ve all heard about the dangers of sugar, particularly processed sugar in our diets. We’ve also heard about the dangers of too many artificial sweeteners, though many of us remain attached to diet soda! Today, I’m giving you a quick rundown of sweeteners: best, if you must, and worst.
Best —Raw and Lightly Processed Sugars and Syrups
||What is it?
||What's so great about it?
|Barley Malt Syrup and
Brown Rice Syrup
|Barley or rice that has been soaked, sprouted, and cooked down into syrup.
||Composed primarily of maltose and complex carbohydrates, they are digested more slowly than other sweeteners, so they don't make blood sugar levels yo-yo.
||Sap from the sugar maple tree that's boiled down to thick syrup or a crystallized solid.
||Among the least refined sweeteners available, they are flavorful and contain minerals such as zinc, calcium, and potassium.
||A byproduct of the processing of sugar cane, grapes, or sugar beets into sugar.
||It is probably the most nutritious sweetener with minerals and vitamins such as manganese, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium.
||Extracted from the nectar of flowers.
||It's as unrefined as sugar gets - straight from the bees to your table. Raw honey is the healthiest choice amongst the various forms of honey as it has the most nutritional value with trace amounts of minerals and enzymes.
||All types of stevia are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant, but some forms taste better than others so taste different brands to choose your favorite.
||No calories so appropriate for people watching their caloric intake. People tend to overuse stevia powders, in which the sweetness is really concentrated, so if you've tried powders in the past and didn't like them, try liquid forms. Doesn't work well for baking.
If You Must - Heavily Processed Sugars
||What is it?
||Why is it bad?
||Your everyday white table sugar, made from sugar cane or sugar beets.
||Heavily processed, usually bleached. White sugar has no nutritional value.
|High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
||Cheaper than white sugar,HFCS nevertheless takes a tremendous amount of effort to produce, and is used in many pre-packaged foods, sodas, and juices.
||Some nutritionists believe that it plays a leading role in obesity because fructose must be processed by the liver and is readily turned into fat.
||Highly refined from the juice of the agave plant.
||Most agave syrup has a higher fructose content than any commercial sweetener - ranging from 70-97%, depending on the brand, which is far higher than HFCS, which averages 55%. This makes agave actually worse than HFCS. High levels of fructose can lead to insulin resistance and obesity, among other metabolic effects.
||Sugar alcohols occur naturally in plants. Some of them are extracted from plants (sorbitol from corn syrup and mannitol from seaweed), but they are mostly manufactured from sugars and starches.
||Contrary to their name, sugar alcohols are neither sugars nor alcohols. They are carbohydrates with chemical structures that partly resemble sugar and partly alcohol - hence the confusing name. Examples of common sugar alcohols are maltitol, sorbitol, isomalt, and xylitol. Because they are not completely absorbed, they can ferment in the intestines and cause bloating, gas, or diarrhea.
Worst -Non-nutritive sweeteners
||What is it?
||Why is it ugly?
|Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet)
||A lab-created chemical made from phenylalanine (an amino acid) and aspartic acid.
||The body breaks it down in part into formaldehyde, a carcinogen. some evidence suggests that it can cause brain tumors.
|Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low)
||An entirely artificial, very sweet chemical conbined with fillers such as dextrose, cream of tartar, and calcium silicate.
||Causes bladder and other cancers in lab animals - hence the warning label.
||Sugar processed using chlorine
||No one knows the long term effects of Splenda yet, but if its other calorie-free counterpars are any indication, it won't be splendid.