The USDA estimates the average American consumes over 22 teaspoons of added sugar every single day. How is that possible? Sugar is truly in everything. A single can of soda contains about 8 teaspoons of sugar. This enormous consumption of unnecessary sugar can lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, fatty liver, type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It makes sense this dense source of calories should be more controlled in our diet. Not only are we consuming obnoxious amounts of it, but the sources, like table sugar, obviously aren’t providing us any other health benefits. If you don’t already care about sugar consumption and the healthiest types, it’s important to start.
So, cut out all sugar out completely?
Not necessarily. We believe in moderation of all foods in order to sustainably adhere to a healthy way of life. Just like all other carbohydrates, we need them to live, but not all are created equal. Sugars, or carbohydrates, are essential for energy, such as brain function needed to focus during work and fuel to power through exercise. There are so many options to sweeten foods and it’s hard to know what’s healthiest. Let’s break it down.
Naturally Occurring vs. Added Sugar
There are two types of sugar found in foods, naturally occurring and added. As you might guess, naturally occurring sugar is found naturally in foods such as fruit, like bananas and berries, and dairy, like Greek yogurt and cheese. Naturally occurring sugar is also found in veggies and grains such as brown rice and sweet potatoes.
On the other hand, added sugars are added during processing of food products. These sugars can come from natural sources (things like honey, agave, maple syrup) or could be man-made (such as high fructose corn syrup or sucralose). Foods that you may see sugar added to include soft drinks, fruit juices, sweets and many processed goods.
Natural & Artificial Sweeteners
Natural sources of added sugar are used in the replacement of unwanted, refined sugars, and are often referred to as natural sweeteners. They provide foods with the taste of sweetness without “guilt” because of other nutrition properties that they offer. On the other hand, artificial sweeteners are chemically modified.
Are any of these sources of sugar actually ok? Lots of research has been done to see if these products harm the body. When it comes to natural and artificial sweeteners the FDA has labeled them GRAS (Generally recognized as safe).
Just because we have the ability to man-make a low or no calorie sweetener doesn’t necessarily mean we want to consume it frequently and in large quantities. Here at fit-flavors we have made a conscious choice to choose specific natural sweeteners in replacement of refined ones for a sustainable way to enjoy your food. Natural is always better. There’s a reason why we take so much time looking at each ingredient and swapping it, if needed, for something more wholesome.
Our Top 4 Natural Sweeteners
Stevia is a natural, non-caloric sweetener that comes from a plant known as the sweet leaf or honey leaf. This plant’s leaves are about 200 times sweeter than table sugar which means you need less in order to achieve the same amount of sweet flavor. Use stevia to sweeten homemade protein muffins or mix with fresh berries and oatmeal for a hearty breakfast.
To combat the tart flavor in a smoothie, add 1 teaspoon of stevia to round-out flavors without adding large amounts of unnecessary refined sugar.
Brands we love: Stevia in the Raw, Truvia Nectar
While agave syrup contains calories, it’s lower glycemic index than table sugar. This sugar source comes from the agave plant making it natural. It is 1.5x sweeter than table sugar which means it is also needed in less amounts to achieve the same sweetness level. Agave is a popular vegan substitute over honey. Due to it’s appealing viscosity levels, we love to utilize this for topping pancakes as a refreshing way to enjoy a typically heavy meal.
Brands we love: Wholesome Organic Blue Agave
A very popular source of sweetness is maple syrup. The real stuff. It’s way different than our beloved Aunt Jemima. Maple syrup is made by retreating the natural sugar extracted from a Maple tree. It contains more minerals than table sugar such as manganese and zinc. Real maple syrup also contains small amounts of polyphenols, which are antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. Lower glycemic index, it provides depth to a dish making it more enjoyable. We love to use this in our baked snacks paired with protein and heart healthy fats.
Brands we love: Maple Grove Farms 100% Maple Syrup
One of our favorites, this source of sugar is not only natural but also contains antioxidant, antimicrobial and soothing effects for the body. There are over 300 varieties of honey in the United States which means the color and flavor can vary. Honey is great in dressings, marinades, slaws and homemade baked goods.
Brands we love: Any local honey.
While these are all healthy sources of natural sugars, keep in mind that moderation is key. Even if natural, sugars are still sugar. Limit going overboard.
Tips & Takeaways
- Choose at least 2 nutrients. Pair natural sugar with heart healthy fats and lean proteins to balance out metabolism of meals and snacks to keep you full longer.
- Stay in-the-know. Read nutrition labels and ingredient lists to become familiar with what’s in the food you eat on a regular basis. If you pick up a bar and can’t pronounce a sugar ingredient located on it, put it back. There’s definitely a more natural option.
- Make healthy swaps. When cooking, stick to naturally sourced ways to sweeten foods in replacement of a recipe that calls for white table sugar.
- Keep in mind less is more. Don’t forget you need less quantity of sugar alternatives or natural sugar compared to table sugar.
- Watch out for drinks. Sugary sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in the American diet. Stick with water whenever you can and add citrus like fresh squeezed lemon for flavor.
We believe in moderation of all foods in order to sustainably adhere to a healthy way of life. Just like all other carbohydrates, we need sugar to live, but not all are created equal. There are many options to sweeten foods, and now you’re better informed to make a healthy choice.
Is sugar in general a challenge for you? Learn more on our blog, Overcoming Sugar Addiction.