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  • The use of sugar and its effects on health and weight is important to discover for all of us who want to remain trim and vital. Of course, the wise use of sugar is crucial for everyone, children especially. As mothers, fathers and support guides for our youth, keeping sugary foods in check is a valuable lesson to learn. Paying attention to the foods that constitute “real food” and “treats” is an important guide for kids to learn as early as possible. Real foods are fresher and most natural, while treats are more typically processed and sugary, such as baked goods, sodas, candy, chips and more.

    Therefore, given this is one of the key principles for healthy eating; here are my 10 tips for sugar use. Remember, there are many foods that have natural sweetness. Just think of the juice of a peach, apple or strawberry running down your chin, or the fresh sweetness of corn on the corn, peas and carrots, and most fresh fruits and veggies. Plus, grains like rice have a wonderful sweetness. These natural foods are primarily where we should get most of our dietary sugars. Watch out though, even too much of a good thing can be excess! Those of us trying to lose or maintain our weight often go on a “low-carb” diet.

    Even away from Halloween and other holiday times, we can often find treats everywhere, so stay centered and follow the guidelines that are best for you and your health. Even so, we tend to use birthdays and any holidays to increase the offerings and consumption of sugar.

    1. Sugar is found in so many foods that are now available in the modern grocery stores and even natural food stores. It goes into food primarily as refined cane sugar (including brown sugars) and high-fructose corn syrup (the new leader of sugar consumption). More natural sugars include honey, maple syrup, malt sugar, date sugar, molasses and others. Foods that are high in sugars should be used only as occasional ‘treats’ in the diet, not as a main component of our food consumption. The best natural sugar may be the herb, stevia, also called sweetleaf. Xylitol is an alcohol sugar, tolerated by most people and a good substitute for refined sugar. There are also many naturally sweet desserts that include almonds, apples, dates and other fruits.

    2. Traditional Chinese Medicine views the desire for sugar, or the sweet flavor, as a craving for the mother (yin) energy, a craving that represents a need for comfort or security. In Western cultures, we have turned sugar into a reward system (a tangible symbol of material nurturing) to the degree that many of us have been conditioned to need some sweet treat to feel complete or satisfied. We continue the pattern with our children, unconsciously showing our affection by giving them sugary foods. We ideally do not want to unconsciously reinforce the “treat” pattern.

    3. For most of us, sugar is a symbol of love and nurturance. As infants, our first food is lactose, or milk sugar. Overconsumption and daily use of sugar is the first compulsive habit for most everyone with addictions later in life. Simple sugar, or glucose, is what our body, our cells and brain, use for fuel for energy. Some glucose is stored in our liver and muscle tissues as glycogen for future use; excess sugar is stored as fat for use during periods of low-calorie intake or starvation. If we don’t exercise or take periods of lower calorie intake, the fat never disappears.

    4. Our problem with sweets comes from the frequency with which we eat them, and the quantity of sugar we consume. The type of sugar we eat is also a contributing factor. Refined sugar or sucrose (a disaccharide made up of two sugars — glucose and fructose) is usually extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets, initially whole foods. However, most all of the nutrients are removed and retained only in the discarded extract called molasses. When the manufacturing process is complete, the result is pure sugar, a refined crystal that contains four calories per gram and essentially no nutrients. The biggest concern in my sense over the past 20 years is the wide use of highfructose corn syrup; I suggest people use this at a minimum.

    5. Many nutritional authorities feel that the high use of sugar in our diet is a significant underlying cause of disease. Too much sweetener in any form can have a negative effect on our health; this includes not only refined sugar, but also corn syrup, honey and fruit juices, and treats such as sodas, cakes, and candies. Because sugary foods satisfy our hunger, they often replace more nutritious foods and weaken our tissue’s health and disease resistance via stressing our immune system.

    6. The use of sugar in our culture sometimes resembles a drug, and can be treated as such. If you are “hooked” on sugar make a clear plan for withdrawal, while working emotionally to eliminate the habit. Our responses to certain flavors, and the feelings we get from them are usually conditioned. Selfreflection can be valuable when trying to understand these compulsions. To stop bad habits and see things clearly, we may need to talk these feelings through, transitioning from compulsion to a safe and balanced lifestyle. Talk to your hands and guide them to reach for healthier foods and snacks. A desire to improve and the use of will power can often get us through our sugar cravings. Although often emotionally hard to stop, the physical withdrawal is not as challenging as many other substances, such as with nicotine and alcohol. Still, it takes a full-fledged plan to clear and change any habits.

    7. The Glycemic Index basically rates how quickly foods are turned into sugars and/or absorbed into our blood stream. This is an important concept to know about. In simple terms quick-absorbing sugars are more of a concern with our blood sugar and energy. It may be helpful to consume some protein, such as a few nuts or nut butter, when eating some simple sugar like fruit, or easily assimilated carbohydrates like rice, bread, or potatoes. Remember to read those labels in the stores; there are loads of hidden sugars in items you wouldn’t even think should have added sweetener and concentrated sugars, like in some juice drinks. There are now many glycemic index resources online and as apps for your phone so check them out to learn more.

    8. If you do crave sugar, there are several supplements that can help you utilize the sugar better as well as reduce your desire for those sweets. These include the B vitamins (25–50 mg of most twice daily), vitamin C (500–1,000 mg twice daily), calcium (250–500 mg), and magnesium (150–300 mg). Chromium helps the body utilize the sugars more efficiently; it is usually supplemented in 100–200 mcg twice daily, in the morning and about 3:00 p.m. Also, the amino acid, L-glutamine (500–1,000 mg two to three times daily), helps to feed the brain and reduce sugar (and alcohol) cravings.

    9. Drinking plenty of water is crucial to keep the body balanced and lessen cravings and addictions. An alkalinizing diet high in greens and vegetables reduces cravings as well and helps with detoxification. Also, regular exercise does the same. Don’t be afraid to move that body for fitness with active aerobics and weight training. Yoga stretches can also give you inner and outer strength to be your true self. Walking in nature is another way to get in touch with your inner nature and gain your will power.

    10.There are usually emotional issues around excess sugar and carbohydrate consumption, and being overweight. Be open to explore these areas as you attempt to heal your habits and create a healthier body and weight. A support group or a counselor can help in this healing process.

    Good luck and make wise choices.

    Stay Healthy.

  • Stevia, sold as a “dietary supplement,” is no stranger to the health food world and under this heading one finds extracts of quite varying composition and purity. More narrowly, stevia also is used to indicate an extract consisting only of stevioside. The leaves of stevia rebaudiana Bertoni are the primary source, but related species are native from Mexico to throughout South America and known by names such as sweetleaf, sweet leaf and sugarleaf, as well as stevia. The leaves of the plant are 30–45 times as sweet as table sugar and stevioside is 200–300 times as sweet as sucrose. In Paraguay the plant has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and as a sweetener for mate and other beverages. Stevia extracts of varying composition have been used widely as sweeteners in Japan since 1971 without restriction or reported health hazards. Indeed, there are both animal and human data that suggest that stevia extracts may increase insulin sensitivity and improve blood glucose control without side effects. Most health food shoppers no doubt assume that stevia is officially accepted as a natural, calorie free herbal extract that can be used as a sugar substitute or as an alternative to artificial sweeteners. After all, stevia in all of its forms can be purchased freely as a dietary supplement.

    Those making this assumption would be wrong. To this day, stevia remains on a total United States FDA Import Alert as an “unsafe food additive”— the FDA technical category that includes sugar substitutes. The exception, as of December 2008, is the steviol glycoside called rebaudioside A, which is allowed to be sold as a “food additive,” that is, as a sugar substitute or sweetener. Rebaudioside A is available under trade names including Only Sweet, PureVia, Reb-A, Rebiana, SweetLeaf and Truvia. The developers of all allowed versions are Cargill and The Coca-Cola Company (in the case of Truvia), or PepsiCo and the Whole Earth Sweetener Company, a subsidiary of Merisant (in the case of PureVia).

    In other words, stevia is safe if it is sold as a dietary supplement, but it is unsafe if sold as a food additive, which is to say, as a sweetener. The sole exception is rebaudioside A. How this state of affairs came about requires a bit of explanation.

    The potential market for stevia as a sweetener is huge. Sugar has been the great American “success story.” In 1850, approximately 55 percent of the calories in the American diet came from complex carbohydrates. Today, that figure is only about 20 percent. Authorities estimate that perhaps 15 percent of the calories in the American diet now come from fructose (mostly derived from corn) and that a total of at least 25 percent of the calories in the standard American diet come from added sugars. This amounts to more than 150 pounds of added sugars per person per year. Simple sugars have now supplanted complex carbohydrates as the dominant source of carbohydrates in the American diet. The question is whether natural sweeteners can claim a share of sugar’s “success.”

    No one doubts that there are incentives for the adoption of natural sweeteners. Our sweet tooth has created an enormous market, but one with an equally great downside. More than 60 percent of adult Americans are overweight or obese; moreover, year-by-year the epidemic of weight gain seems to claim a growing percentage of younger individuals. Artificial sugar substitutes have capitalized on our love/hate relationship with all things sweet, yet many consumers feel at least vaguely uneasy about habitually ingesting saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame K or sucralose. Despite this unease, natural sweeteners as of yet have not been able to break out of comparatively tiny niche markets.

    Reasons for the failure of sales of natural sweeteners to expand fall under several headings. Taste is one of these.

    Quite a number of carbohydrate sugar substitutes exist, but, along with varying amounts of calories, most of these provide less sweetness and a poorer flavor profile than is found with sucrose, much to the consumer’s chagrin. An example of this is tagatose, which is 90 percent as sweet as sucrose and has 1.5 calories per gram. Sugar alcohols would appear to be better candidates. Indeed, one well-known sugar alcohol, xylitol, is roughly as sweet as sucrose. It also offers the advantages of protecting against tooth decay while supplying 2.4 calories per gram. However, sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect in many individuals when ingested in significant quantities at one time. Another prominent concern is that sugar substitutes often are not useful in cooking because of flavor changes, a failure to lead to desired developments in texture and color when baked, and so forth. Stevia’s flavor profile typically exhibits a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar; some extracts at high concentrations, however, can leave a bitter aftertaste.

    Another hurdle is regulatory definitions, as in the case of stevia. In order to be labeled a “natural” sugar substitute as opposed to being a synthetic “food additive,” such as aspartame, a natural compound should also be a carbohydrate. Steviol glycosides in chemical terms have a glucose component, but this “sugar” is not readily cleaved and thus it is questionable whether stevia can be characterized as a carbohydrate any more than the flavonoid rutin can be characterized as a carbohydrate even though it is a flavonoid glycoside. Therefore according to some regulatory thinking, stevia must be labeled a “dietary supplement” and not a sweetener or sugar substitute.

    In retrospect, the definitional hurdle for stevia seems to have played no role in the troubles the compound has faced in achieving acceptance by the FDA as a sugar substitute. Instead, a concern over safety was raised. The manner in which this came about and the attendant controversy could be expanded to fill many pages.

    Stevia leaves have been used for hundreds of years in Paraguay and Brazil to sweeten local teas and medicines and as a “sweet treat.” In the modern period, the Japanese have been using stevia as an at-home sugar substitute, in food products and in soft drinks (including Coca Cola) since 1971. Stevia accounts for 40 percent of the Japanese sweetener market. Stevia is widely used in East Asian countries and in many other states around the world. At the very least, it has been consumed safely by millions in Japan for approaching four decades without reports of toxicity.

    Given its record of a long history of use, both traditionally and in modern industrial countries, the issue of stevia’s safety seems a bit of a stretch. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the FDA’s declaring stevia an “unsafe food additive” and restricting its import led one Congressman to label the FDA’s action against stevia “a restraint of trade to benefit the artificial sweetener industry.” The FDA total Import Alert and restriction on stevia as a sweetener resulted from an anonymous 1991 “industry” complaint. Giving verisimilitude to the charge of collusion with industry is the fact the FDA deleted names in the original complaint in its responses to requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act. The FDA’s stated reason for forbidding importation in the Import Alert was and remains “toxicological information on stevia is inadequate to demonstrate its safety.” As many reviews have pointed out, the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act forced the FDA to permit stevia’s use as a dietary supplement, although not as a food additive, a position that simultaneously labels stevia as both safe and unsafe depending on how it is sold. Tellingly, the FDA has never issued any document that declares in a binding fashion that stevia is unsafe and cannot be sold, only that it cannot be sold as a sweetener.

    It has been observed that the study originally credited with leading to the import ban on stevia was so badly done that even distilled water would have been labeled a mutagen under its conditions. Be that as it may, at one point results of animal studies were adequate to raise the issue of whether processes in the gut are sufficient to produce a mutagen from stevia glycosides. The European Commission in 1999 banned the use of stevia in the European Union until these questions were answered. As of this writing, a variety of international and national health bodies all have dismissed the earlier concerns and given stevia a clean bill of health. Most recently, the European Food Safety Authority issued its allowance in a 2010 safety review establishing an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) for steviol glycosides expressed as steviol equivalents of four mg/ kg bodyweight/day.

    The United States now, as it were, is the “odd man out” in its bifurcated assessment of stevia as safe as a dietary supplement and potentially dangerous as a food additive. As of 2008, this picture became more complicated in that the FDA accepted that a particular extract of stevia can be imported, labeled and sold as a sweetener. In that year, the FDA gave a “no objection” approval for GRAS status to Truvia and PureVia, both of which use stevia-derived rebaudioside A.

    Today in the United States it is possible to purchase freely stevia in various forms as a dietary supplement and in the form of rebaudioside A as a sweetener. One issue of interest is whether stevia is more than merely a sugar substitute. Traditional use in South America with those suffering from diabetes supports the argument that stevia is potentially useful to those with blood sugar regulation issues. Modern research shows that rebaudioside A possesses insulinotropic effects. As noted in the outset, stevia supports blood glucose and insulin regulation and may even be useful for blood pressure support. In other words, stevia may be much more than merely a sugar substitute for those hoping to escape sucrose, fructose and artificial options. Sweet!

  • You've read and heard about the health-depleting effects of sugar and artificial sweeteners like aspartame, There's another sweetener that we've known scientifically is also health-depleting (especially when it's derived from genetically-modified corn), HFCS. Now research sheds an entirely new light on this sweetener as a result of a newer study from the University of Utah1 confirming why we, (especially females) should avoid it.

    You may be asking why it's used in so many prepared foods—the answer is simple—it's cheaper to produce than sugar and the manufacturers can "sell" it by claiming, "it's natural" because it's derived from corn! They're correct, it is derived from corn, but that isn't the entire equation. It can even be hidden under generic titles on labels such as "natural ingredients."

    Scientifically Speaking...
    Scientists and researchers tested the effects of sweeteners on mice, looking at a fructose-glucose mixture known as HFCS and sucrose or table sugar. At the end of their study period, they didn't see any differences in male mice regardless of the sweetener they consumed. However, something interesting was happening that is cause for great concern when it comes to how the study affected female mice.

    All the female mice that were in the HFCS group died at almost twice the rate of female mice in the sucrose group. In addition, they were producing fewer offspring by about 26 percent—a definite sign that HFCS causes reproductive damage. The researchers summed it up this way, "We speculate that the different sugars could favor different microbes in the guts of mice—possibly causing more bacteria to get across your gut than another form of sugar." Interpreted, this means that even though table sugar destroys healthy gut bacteria and causes havoc with your blood sugar, the HFCS did even more damage to overall health and reproductive processes.

    You Might NOT Know...

    High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)...

    • Causes and/or accelerates Insulin Resistance/Diabetes—disrupts the way muscles make glycogen, which is a form of stored carbohydrate from food energy production;
    • Reacts with protein molecules to form "toxic, advanced glycation end-products (AGEs)"
    • Is known to be addictive;
    • Accelerates Metabolic Syndrome (high cholesterol and triglycerides) through mechanisms that create disorders called lipoprotein metabolism disorders;
    • Damages the immune system—studies prove it inhibits white blood cell action;
    • Speeds Aging Processes by inducing insulin levels;
    • Is loaded with mercury "YES" the same toxic substance used in dentistry. Scientists tested batches of HFCS and over one-third of 55 popular brand-name foods and beverages contained mercury;

    Foods Routinely Containing HFCS...

    • Jams and jellies
    • Crackers and baked goods
    • Salad dressings and sauces
    • Dairy products
    • Carbonated beverages/sweetened drinks like flavored waters

    Healthy Natural Sweeteners

    • Stevia (from herb leaves)
    • Xylitol (from birch trees)—watch carefully for gas-bloating and/or bowel changes as too much can cause those symptoms because it's a sugar alcohol
    • LoHan—also known as monk fruit is available in brown or white and is the only natural sweetener that can be used for baking in the same proportions as sugar.

    The Way I See It…
    Americans get 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugars, especially because they’re used in such high amounts in food processing—the same amount researchers used in the study cited above. These dangerous sweeteners are hard to avoid if you’re not making most of the food you consume. And, to make the situation worse, the manufacturers are now renaming the HFCS to appear on labels as simply “fructose,” therefore, even avid label-readers may have no idea how much HFCS is in your prepared foods. The best way to avoid HFCS and hidden ingredients is to avoid, or severely minimize, any processed foods and become an avid label-reader like I teach my clients. Instead, replace these foods with homemade high-fiber foods, quality protein, leafy greens, berries, and a natural sweetener when needed.