Home Friday 5 Friday 5: Five Things You Should Know About Sweeteners

Friday 5: Five Things You Should Know About Sweeteners

by Erika Nicole Kendall

People are constantly asking me questions about how to handle the “sweets” thing. And, while it makes me a bit uncomfortable because I’m constantly wondering if I’m talking to someone who is looking for a way to continue bad habits in a “safe” fashion, I’m always willing to help. That being said, I have five bits of information that any person looking to live a little healthier should keep in mind when it comes to the sweet stuff.

1) There is a difference between trying to eat sweets as a clean eater, and trying to enjoy something sweet as someone desiring to lose weight. All things that are clean will not guarantee weight loss for you. Let maple syrup – in all its savory deliciousness – be an example of that for you. All things that can aid in weight loss are not clean, and let splenda – in all its creepiness – be an example of that for you.

2) There is such a thing as “sweet” that doesn’t affect your blood sugar… or your weight. And, as a people with an abundance of diabetes around us, it helps to be mindful of these so that we can help each other make those conversions. It’s not easy, because people are often expecting something “exactly like sugar” but better, but it’ll never be the same. I’m a stevia user, but only in specific instances. (Specifically, tea.) Maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, agave nectar… all flavorful versions of “sweet” that can really turn around a dish… or pot.

And, while I’m on it, stevia looks like this.

It is not a powder, it is not white, it is not supposed to have any other lab experiment ingredients in it and it is not supposed to “remind you of sugar” in any way. It has its own individual flavor, it is unique, and it is not supposed to be a “replacement” for sugar. I’m sorry to break this to you, but there is no such thing, and in my personal opinion no one should want that kind of replacement. It does no one any good.

3) Most granulated sugar in the United States comes from sugar beets… which are genetically modified. According to wikipedia, something like 95% of all sugar beets grown in the US are genetically modified, and those are the ones from which a sizable portion of our sugar is extracted.

4) Your ancestors didn’t eat granulated sugar or any of its powdery facsimiles, and they were healthier than you. Sugar was, once, treated like a spice and was kept just as tightly locked up as saffron (which goes for something like $8 per half OUNCE, and is currently the world’s most expensive spice.) Few people could afford it, and therefore certainly the slaves weren’t given access to it. If they wanted something sweet, they put sweet-flavored fruits and veggies in it. That’s why there were so many cobblers and “sweet potato biscuit” recipes, and that’s also why old school cornbread wasn’t sweet as we know sweet. They didn’t have (nor did they need) access to it, and they were better for it.

5) There are cleaner versions of granulated white sugar, if you must have them. To explain briefly, sugar cane provides us with both granulated sugar as well as molasses (the nutrient-laden portion of what we get during the process. Also note, this is where many Blacks got their iron. Now we don’t get molasses, and we’re iron-deficient.) Those two, when still together, give us cleaner versions of sugar that have been neither bleached nor treated and had its nutrients stripped. (As another note, many brown sugars that are sold in grocery stores are merely granulated sugar with molasses poured all over them again.) Sucanat – sugar cane natural – as well as demerara and dark muscovado all serve as granulated sugars that haven’t gone that far through the process,  still have nutrients and are, therefore, cleaner. They’re tough to bake with (insofar as you have to modify every recipe you come across to accommodate the additional moisture) and carry their own flavors, though, but that’s another post entirely.

Six, here, is a bonus: sugar is not vegan. Some granulated sugars are bleached with a chemical that is extracted from pig by-product, and some of the centrifuges that the sugar is spun in are made of animal bone. Sick, gross, yuck and other various other descriptive words.

In closing, you can have cleaner, healthier and more nutritious versions of sweet, but we all owe it to ourselves to think carefully about whether or not we want the sweet we’re seeking, or if we need it. Listen to yourself – if you’re looking to run and hide from your feelings in a sweet treat, then it doesn’t matter what kind of sugar is in it. The problem isn’t the eating, it’s your coping mechanism, and it’s up to you to be honest with yourself about it.

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18 comments

alicia December 2, 2011 - 8:06 PM

there is such a strong reliance on sweetness in America. i cringe when i see women dump packet after packet of splenda into their coffee. sure it’ll save you a few calories but it won’t solve the real problem. i guess some people will just never enjoy unsweetened coffee….so okay, can’t judge. but in my mind sugar should be reserved for things like cake and cookies (aka treats to be enjoyed occasionally, in moderation).

dreadlockdiva2 December 2, 2011 - 11:43 PM

Interesting post. LOL, never knew stevia looked like that instead of a white powder.

I have to say that since I have cut down on my use of sugar (both the granulated stuff and evaporated cane juice) I sleep and feel better and I am not as hungry. When trying to “diet”, I found myself always craving sugar and sweet foods. Now that I am invested in clean eating I actively try to avoid it!

BTW Have you heard anything about coconut palm sugar. I keep reading all these supposedly good things about it on the internet but as always I am skeptical about wonder foods that will seemingly save us from ourselves.

Mishala October 13, 2013 - 7:48 PM

Coconut palm is sweet, but it has a really strong taste all its own. I bought a bag of it, and as yet, haven’t found a use for it, except in coffee, and I don’t drink coffee near often enough to justify that entire bag. I’ve learned to just give in to the sweet cravings with a banana or fruit salad, with the occasional sweet.

Carmen Miller December 3, 2011 - 2:36 PM

I can’t use stevia (unfortunately) it hurts my liver (literally) and leaves my right side sore for weeks. I want to use honey as a sugar substitute, but I’m not sure if it’s “light”. Is honey okay to use in place of sugar?

Kelekona December 4, 2011 - 8:42 PM

I’m not sure, but I think honey is equal enough to sugar to be considered the same thing. (There might be a conversion rate somewhere that compares calories per volume, but the most meaningful difference is probably flavor per sweetness.)

Unless you ask the beekeeper for the raw product complete with bits of wax and stray bee parts, you’re probably getting something that’s almost as processed as any cane sugar. (And wouldn’t you want to cook and filter it at that point?)

Pretty much your best bet is to find your lower tolerances for sweetener… or to rely on natural sources of fructose, like gala apples.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 4, 2011 - 10:27 PM

I’m co-signing Kelekona on this one. You CAN, however, talk to your local beekeeper and find out a good amount about honey, but in regards to weight loss it has the same effect. It has calories, no fiber, and you’ll be responsible for burning them.

Tiera December 5, 2011 - 3:41 AM

Uh..I’m definitely terrified of bees even if they’re dead so is there ANY way to buy raw honey withOUT dead bees or bee parts in it? I bought my raw honey from a whole foods market. Is it REALLY raw?

Tiera December 5, 2011 - 3:49 AM

While I enjoy shopping at the Whole Foods Market, I find that I still have to be aware and read labels because the store is called “Whole Foods” but not EVERYTHING is “whole.” Yet, I continue shopping there because most of the stuff is, in fact, “whole” and I find much better luck finding “clean” foods there than any other store. I know this because I tried shopping at Kroger and Meijer a few days ago and the WORST time finding “pure” foods. I must admit, though, if you’re a “budgetarian,” the “Whole Foods Market” is NOT your friend. I only buy things there that I KNOW I can’t find in the pure state elsewhere. I’ve been able to kind of stray away from shopping there as much ad I used to because I now make most of my own foods like bread, sauces, pasta, etc. I still shop there occasionally….especially for my essential hair ingredients.

Erika Nicole Kendall December 5, 2011 - 11:14 AM

You can get your honey without so much stuff in it from a beekeeper, too, mama. LOL Don’t be afraid of that – just go talk to ’em. If you ask your question, they might giggle a bit, but they’ll tell you straight up about what they offer.

milaxx January 6, 2012 - 1:26 PM

Love this post. I too use stevia (not truvia or purvia), but I also use agave, maple syrup, local honey and on occasion sugar (not often because I try to purchase the vegan sugar that is allegedly not processed with charcoal or animal products and it’s pricey) I also have some brown rice syrup, but I’m not crazy about the taste. The one thing I continue to notice is that the more fruit I have in my diet, the less my cravings for sugar are. It could be my imagination or my the various sensitivities and allergies in my body reacting to having fruit, but that works for me.

FYI- I found out that my local arboretum sells honey, worth getting out your phone book and giving them a call.

Allhoney May 11, 2012 - 7:46 PM

Oh that coping mechanism thing. The administrators gave the teachers lunch today. A nice sandwich from Jason’s Deli complete with a bag of Lay’s original, a dill pickle spear, and a Chocochip cookie. Fifteen minutes into the last day of my duty free lunch week (meaning we didn’t have to eat with the children), the 6th graders came thundering down the hall like a herd of stampeding wildebeest and shrieking like they were on a rollercoaster. There’d been a food fight and they were all running away from it.
As the first two of my 16 girls and 5 boys burst through my classroom door, I handed one the spear and the other the chips. I ate the cookie though, on my way to help clear the hall. I had a fifteen minute lunch. Yes, that cookie was a coping mechanism today.

curlsz May 18, 2012 - 9:09 PM

today at Natural Grocers I saw that NOW Foods produces date sugar, ingredient list reads “Date Sugar from powdered, dried dates.” I use dates if I’m baking, soak a little in hot water and puree. So I almost bought this but then I remembered I had a whole batch of dates at home so why bother – but I do wonder if it’s any good.

I have tapered off of sugar quite a bit – now when I eat it it’s almost a shock to the system, but tapering off foods is always better for me – cutting out overnight just makes me want it more.

Tes July 20, 2012 - 4:23 PM

This is my 5th day Sugar Free. I am trying the clean eating way. This is the 1st day I do not have a pounding headache and feel like I have the Flu. Whew! I have a bad addiction to sugar and it makes me over consume foods in general when I eat it. I am looking to lose 50 lbs. as well as learn how to eat FINALLY and rid myself of my sugar addiction. I feel ok today and am looking forward to the euphoric feeling many speak of that comes with clean eating. Sick and tired of being sick and tired of being overweight and constantly over eating. This was a great article to read at a great time in my life. If anyone has any words of encouragement or valuable information for my transformation please let me know. Also, I have gained and lost the same 50lbs many times. I have NOT, however, tackled my food addictions or ever learned how to eat -CLEAN. – I have been told may times before that I must focus on my diet. I thought out could out fitness my consumption but err ugh NO! Not hardly. So this is for the lifestyle change. I’m kind of excited to actually be committing to this because I never have before. Anyway, any words of wisdom… feel free to dump them on me as I am like a sponge right about now. 🙂

gina darlin August 17, 2012 - 4:40 PM

I’ve avoided all artificial sweeteners and have turned to cinnamon for sweetening. i confess i still use a tiny bit of white sugar along w lots of cinnamon as a sweetener in my plain,generic cornflakes w a sliced banana. Since I’m challenge financially, I can’t always afford to purchase these products. i do have molasses.(the taste takes some getting used to!) I also enjoyed reading about dates in a previous comment. My biggest challenge is being a diabetic, overweight and a chocoholic. I just started reading your articles on fb> VERY INTERESTING!!!

Dalila September 7, 2012 - 8:31 AM

I like using Stevia in my tea as well, but I can’t seem to find the plant version of it, so I end up using the powder.

I use loose leaf tea and make my own tea bags and would love to add the plant version of Stevia to my tea bags. Do anyone know of any places that sell the stevia plant?

Erika Nicole Kendall September 8, 2012 - 12:41 PM

I bought mine from a local store, which now has online shopping and shipping, all available at Miss Tea.

Dalila September 14, 2012 - 12:27 PM

It looks like there are some places in NJ and PA that sells some of their products. I’ll probably buy some online and then check out the stores that carry their products listed on the site.

Thanks for this site Erika! 🙂

Courtney-Rose September 14, 2012 - 3:21 PM

I would also add coconut palm sugar (great for baking) which is a low glycemic non-fructose sweetener and raw honey in moderation.

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