Friday, February 26, 2010

Natural Sugars are Still Added Sugars

Anyway I look at it, I have been eating too much sugar, albeit in the form of natural sugars. Women should eat no more than 6 teaspoons of sugars, and for men it's 9 teaspoons. Lucky I don't eat added sugars. At least that's the way I saw it, since my sugars are mostly natural and hardly processed.

My latest revelation is based on information I read in CSPI's Jan/Feb 2010 Nutrition Action Healthletter. The cover story is SUGAR OVERLOAD, Curbing America's Sweet Tooth. Read it!

I was happy to see my favorite subject broached, but I thought to myself, 'This doesn't pertain to me anymore. I quit sugar over two years ago.'

What I read, however, turned my perfectly ordered world of natural sugars upside down.

I was not ready to have over two years of my work be thrown out the window by one statement. "[Added sugars] include high-fructose corn syrup, ordinary table sugar, honey, agave syrup, and all other sweeteners with calories."

Then I discovered a list in the article that brought me to tears. The list titled, Sugar by Any Other Name, broke down what is considered an added sugar, which just made me grimace. Why? Because my beloved list of natural sweeteners that I held high and mighty and above all reproach found themselves in the same category as the horrible sugars that I have not touched in over two years. How in the world could my raw honey be rubbing elbows with corn syrup? Or table sugar even compare to grape juice? Were not my beloved natural sugars in an entirely different class because they're, er, natural?

Apparently, folks, my head has been in the clouds. I thought I had found redemption in honey and juice concentrates and maple syrups. The sad news is that these are added sugars. That's not an opinion. That's a fact.

And that, my friends, breaks my heart.

An added sugar is an added sugar, no matter what the source of that sugar is. The verdict is in, the science is clear, and the AHA is bold enough to tell us that unless we keep all of our added sugars in the 6-9 teaspoon range (9 for males, 6 for females), we may be headed for medical troubles including increased risk of heart disease, high triglycerides, diabetes, visceral fat, gout, overeating, high blood pressure and obesity.

Added sugars do not include fruit, dried fruit, vegetables and other whole foods.

I'm angry for giving natural sugars an exception in my kitchen and in my diet. I thought I was free to eat as much "sweet" as I wanted, as long as my sweet was natural and barely processed. Now I see that I confused science and philosophy. Because I believe philosophically that honey is a better sweetener than sugar (raw, local, not processed, etc.), I made the mistake in believing that it is healthier, too. It may or may not be healthier, (honey has about 300 more calories per cup than white sugar) but as far as all those medical diseases are concerned, I have to limit honey as much as I have to limit white sugar because they are both added sugars.

I don't want to play by the rules of the AHA (6 teaspoons, approximately 100 calories, is not very much sugar, especially if you drink sweetened beverages or alcohol), but I also don't want to be suffering from heart disease or diabetes in the future, trying to convince myself that natural sugars are off the hook.


Heather McD (Heather Eats Almond Butter) said...

So true...agave is 90% fructose. Not good for us, even if it is an all raw "natural sweetener". Our body doesn't know that and treats it the same as high fructose corn syrup. :(

Natalie said...

While your latest bit of information may upset you, remember people who develop diabetes and heart disease aren't just abusing sugar. They also, typically, are not exercising, are eating foods with trans fats and as Michael Pollan likes to say, "food-like substances." Their entire lifestyle is usually at fault.

Reading over this post, I feel like you were really hard on yourself. If you watch your sugar intake so carefully, I'm willing to bet you have the whole "package" down. I'd be very surprised if you were to tell your readers you watch your sugar intake but eat processed foods with trans fats and high sodium content...

Jen said...

I am really glad that you wrote this post. I've been reading your blog for a while now and I have to admit, I thought your natural sugar philosophy was a little misguided but never wanted to be that obnoxious finger wagging blog commenter lol. Now you know the truth, and can revamp your intake as you feel you need to. The past two years were not wasted, they were an important journey!

kilax said...

Despite that article, I think you can still use those... just don't abuse them, right? I mean, they will never be a health food, for sure, but a little bit every once in awhile probably isn't that harmful.

kimber said...

Let me start by saying that I have been following your blog for about one year, and I love your honesty!
I agree that you are being too hard on yourself, and that diabetes is a problem with eating, not just with sugar. I too have been 'off' processed sugar for over one year. I too allow myself honey, maple syrup, fruit sugar and date sugar. I feel better, absolutely, no doubt about it!!
Having said that, my dad is a diabetic and he reminds me, sugar is sugar. Your body does not distinguish.
BUT naturally occurring sugars are full of good, life enhancing properties such as enzymes, antimocrobials, antioxidants etc. There must be a reason that we all crave sweet. I do not believe that science holds all the answers. (It was scientists who developed the 'mad cow diet' claiming it was an efficient advance in feeding bovines). I believe that whole unprocessed foods, like honey and pure maple etc. are life enhancing (in moderation-everything in moderation). I don't think we do ourselves any favors by becoming fanatic about our food. That causes anxiety which is no good for anyone. If you are in the 6 teaspoon range you are probably healthier than most people on the planet! Rock on.

Farty Girl said...

HEY!!! You and me are in the same boat! It's tough to hear but true.

At the same time, I agree with Natalie and Kilax. I think it's perfectly fine to serve dessert at a party, eat a cookie or slice of pumpkin pie at Christmas time, or indulge in a once-a-month PMS 70-100% cacao chocolate bar.

How much is 6 teaspoons? Is it anything close to fifteen grams? That's my cutoff point right now. But I'm wondering if maybe even that's too high.

Nita said...

Yes, natural sugars are sugars. BUT I take the longrange view. By switching to sugars with other nutrients instead of empty white ones, you're moving in the right direction. Now you can slowly reduce, as fits your health and lifestyle, the natural ones IF YOU NEED TO. And 10 years down the road, you'll have an amazing healthy food intake and enjoy it!

You're on the right track, just keep evaluating what you need to do to be healthy.

stephanie said...

I've been on a Candida cleanse for the past 6 weeks, which entails complete avoidance of anything sweet. No sugar, maple syrup, honey, dried fruit, tropical fruits, or pretty much any other fruit. It's tough, but it feels REALLY good -- aside from the occasional chocolate craving :)

Congrats on making it so long without sugar; I just wanted to pipe up and say that living without any sweeteners is not all that difficult to do. Especially if you've been off sugar for so long -- it's just one step further. (Oh, on my cleanse, stevia is allowed, but that's it. I am making do with that just fine. And I have to be on it for 8-9 months... And I should mention that I normally have an MEGA sweet tooth!)

will said...

I came here after reading and article on to see what, if anything you had to say about stevia. He says we should avoid all sweeteners, but stevia. Even honey =( How ironic that you are talking about the very same issue. oh sweet will be difficult to eliminate natural sweeteners. I'm taking the slow road.

Andrea (Off Her Cork) said...

I'm totally down with natural sugars and really don't give a flip if they are considered added sugars. My thought is that these are natural occurring sugars (honey, maple syrup) and are still better for my health than processed sugars. I consider them real foods as opposed to refined white sugar which is crazy bad.

My Year Without said...

Thanks for all these great comments, everybody! Farty Girl-- 1 teaspoon of sugar weighs approximately 4 grams so that gives us room for about 24 grams of sugar, according to the AHA. That may seem high, but if you look at the label of everything you eat, it can be used up so quickly, often with just one item!

Also, as a closing thought on the subject of natural vs. processed sugars, my overall thought is that no matter what type of sugar we are consuming, we need to keep the amount to a minimum. It all turns to glucose in the body...

Shanti said...

thanks for this. i recently decided to cut out all sugars altogether for 30 day to see how i feel. i've been off refined sugar for about 5 months now, but i've realized that i've just replaced my addiction from refined sweets to "naturally sweetened" desserts. i feel my addiction coming back, and i don't like it one bit! i really do see myself as an addict, and don't know that i'll ever be able to "just eat one now and then." it always sends me spinning down the road to more and more sweets!

Farty Girl said...

Thanks for the reply!!! And thanks again for posting this!

Ricki said...

I see I'm way late to the party, but want to add my two cents anyway. It's true that all sweeteners are converted to glucose in the body, but there's a HUGE difference between white sugar and something like honey or yacon syrup, for instance (or even pure maple syrup, which is 98 on the glycemic index to sugar's 100).

Honey, for instance, is antimicrobial, antifungal, antibacterial, and has live enzymes and other components that are totally health-ENHANCING. That is not to say you should eat mounds and mounds of honey! Similarly, pure maple syrup contains a host of minerals and more calcium per volume than milk. So you are actually getting some nutritional benefit when you ingest maple syrup vs. sugar.

That said, you still want to avoid spikes in blood sugar levels. When you combine natural sweeteners with fiber and fats, for instance (as in whole grain cookies), you are lowering the overall glycemic index, so that the blood sugar levels rise more slowly than they would with pure sugar. I'd still advocate moderation, but like anything--full-fat cream, champagne, steak, coffee, chocolate, etc--it's okay occasionally, in smaller portions, and doesn't usually cause any harm unless your body is already damaged by overeating or poor eating habits to begin with. I am a chronic overeater and sweets addict, so I can't have those things (my stomach doesn't know the meaning of "moderation" when it comes to sweets); my husband, on the other hand, who has been a normal eater all his life, can eat whatever he wants and remain slim and healthy. That's because he has a small piece of brownie ON OCCASION, and never eats the entire pan as I used to do.

But just because some of us need to avoid these sweeteners, I'd hate to see everyone giving up their favorite foods because of something the CSPI wrote (I used to get their newsletter and did sometimes find their info questionable).

Okay, rant over! ;)

Patron of the arts said...

It's been 12 days since your last post! I', keen to know what you are going to do next. Keep at it!
Your blog has been a thing of wonder.

geekyrandomgirl said...

No offense, but DUH. That said, stop freaking out about it. You've obviously found all kinds of personal health benefits from cutting out evil refined sugar, so instead of crying about how you didn't know that natural sweeteners were cheating, figure out whether you want to modify your diet moving forward, and keep blogging about it.

Frugal OR Localvore said...

Like another poster, I have to steer clear of all sugars. However, that means eliminating fruits and starches from whole grains (non-flour, not rolled, just whole and unhulled). The not having fruit part is going to be a challenge, but step at a time. I have already stopped wheat and dairy, which has been a help, along with caffeine. Not adding sugars is fairly easy for me, as I rarely have any added sugars of any kind anyhow (aside from whole fruit!).

I have stopped dried fruit, at this point too and have realized that steering clear of any kind of potato is a good option as well. My body has definitely let me know that is a "sugar" it does not like, at the present time.

It is an evolving journey for sure! I aim for fresh is best in all that I do, for the most part. ;-)

(Oh, and for me I would rather omit a supposedly wonderful food that gives a few moments of "pleasure" for countless hours and days of long lasting pleasure in the form of energy and bountful living free of pains, breathing free, increased freedoms, etc.)

Blessings to you all,