Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sugar and Sweeteners - How to Read Labels and Make The Best Choices

I frequently take clients shopping as part of my consultation services. At first, most people think they don't need help shopping, but once we get to the store, everyone is blown away by what we can learn by taking our time, reading labels, discussing ingredients, alternatives, and ways to navigate the aisles.

Sugar is a topic that comes up with almost everyone. Sugars, or simple carbohydrates, which the body essentially treats as sugars in the digestion and assimilation process, can be extremely damaging to one's health. Refined sugars pull minerals from our body's stores, making bones and teeth weaker. Sugars also throw off hormone functions, cause inflammation and weaken the immune system.

Simple carbohydrates include refined grains, like breads, pastas, anything made with flour, fruit juices etc. Sugars are also added to almost all processed foods. This is what we find out when we start paying attention, and decoding to ingredients on packaged foods. Part of the pro
blem is that labels are not easy to understand. For example, there are many words for sugar, some of which you may have thought made foods healthy, and others which you may have thought were chemicals.

·Cane Sugar

Cane Juice

Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids

· Dehydrated Cane Juice

· Dextrin

· Dextrose

· Fructose

· Fruit juice concentrate

· Glucose

· High-fructose corn syrup

· Honey

· Invert sugar

· Lactose

· Maltodextrin

· Malt syrup

· Maltose

· Maple syrup

· Molasses

· Raw sugar

· Rice Syrup

· Saccharose

· Sorghum or sorghum syrup

· Sucrose

· Syrup

· Treacle

· Turbinado Sugar

· Xylose

In many of the sweeter recipes I post, you will note that I recommend using 'whole sweeteners'. While these are still simple carbohydrates, which should still be used sparingly, these are less refined versions, which are healthier options. These whole sweeteners often are accompanied by a wide variety of minerals or other nutrients, which help the body to assimilate the sugars in a more healthful way.

Here are some of the whole sweeteners which I recommend using to replace refined white or brown sugar:

Maple syrup: The maple syrup market is a minefield of artificially maple-flavored syrups with little to no maple content, so be sure to read labels - what you are used to buying may in fact be high fructose corn syrup. Pure maple syrup is rich in important minerals like zinc and manganese and comes from boiling down the sap of maple trees. Available in various grades depending on when the sap was harvested from the tree, syrup produced from tapping early in the season yields a lighter, finer syrup designated grade A. Chose grade B, which comes from sap harvested later in the season; it’s thicker and more luxurious in flavor, color and has the widest spectrum of minerals. Buy pure 100 percent organic maple syrup.

Agave nectar: Lighter, cleaner, and less cloyingly sweet than honey, but with a similar appearance, agave nectar is a fantastic mild-tasting sweetener that is gaining widespread popularity. It is renowned for having a low glycemic index, which is of particular importance to diabetics and anyone who has problems with blood sugar regulation. Look for 100 percent pure agave nectar. The darker amber variety retains more of the plant’s natural nutrients.

Blackstrap molasses: is a full-bodied sweetener that runs thick and black as tar. It is made from successive boilings of sugarcane, and because many of the minerals and nutrients are preserved throughout the process, it is rich in potassium and an excellent source of calcium, vitamin B6, and iron. Like maple syrup, molasses is sold in grades having to do with whether it is from the first, second, third, or fourth boiling of the sugarcane, blackstrap coming from the last. Again because this sweetener is a concentrate, buying organic is important.

Honey: Honey has a flavour that reflects the blossoming flowers of the specific region in which it was produced. Some honeys are thick, dark, and brooding; others are light in color and bright on the tongue. Navigating your way through the vast landscape of honey varieties involves a lifetime of tasting. A honey appropriate for pairing with an artisan cheese might be very different than a honey for baking with, so taste different types, take notes, and try different pairings. Look for raw, unfiltered, unprocessed honey and be aware that darker honeys contain higher levels of antioxidants. Farmers’ markets are typically a great place to find honey producers who can talk you through the nuances of the different varieties.

Stevia: is derived from a perennial shrub with leaves 30-times sweeter than sugar. It has no calories and may be useful for people with diabetes, hypoglycemia or candida. Available in powdered, liquid, concentrate, tea or tablet form.

So, start reading the ingredients labels on the products you buy each week. Don't be surprised if sugar pops up in most products, including whole grain breads, 'healthy' cereals, yogurts, smoothies, and just about everywhere else. Armed with this knowledge you can make better choices, avoid those products where sugar is found in the first 4-5 ingredients, and begin making sweet treats at home with more wholesome sweetener choices.

Questions? Email alicia@blossom-nutrition.com

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