Sugar Blues was the title of a book I read when my older son was born. It detailed the affect sugar has on our bodies and why it should be avoided. I was determined to raise my children on a healthy diet and sugar and candy were not staples in our home. My sons thought that raisins were candy; that is until they went to school or grandmas. Then all bets were off. I could easily see both in my own family and as a teacher how sugar affects children. I dreaded party days at school when my students were given many sugary treats and the hyperactivity level in the classroom rose like mercury on a hot day.
I’ll admit, I have a sweet tooth and have always loved cookies, cakes and muffins. Since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve had to retrain my taste buds to adapt to my new diet where I try to eliminate as much sugar as possible. Please read the next sentence very carefully and see why. There is tremendous evidence that sugar feeds cancer. When you eat a lot of sugar, your body produces a lot of insulin. Insulin is a natural substance made by the body but it also encourages cell growth. In simple terms, insulin can “rev up” cell growth. For healthy cells, this is a good thing. Healthy cells grow, divide, die, and are replaced as part of the natural process of living. However, cancer cells are also encouraged to grow and multiply when our bodies produce too much insulin. You don’t want to encourage them!
This makes perfect sense since sugar is an energy source for the cells in our bodies, and it doesn’t discriminate whether they are good cells or bad. Ever had an MRI or CAT scan? The dye they inject is in a glucose (sugar) solution to attract the cancer cells. Since these cells are dividing rapidly and latch on to the glucose first, they are the ones that glow with dye. That’s enough proof for me. However, there are very few oncologists who tell their patients to avoid sugar. The only reason possible is that avoiding sugar is a monumental task at first because it’s added to most foods to make them taste better. Reading labels should now become your new hobby. It makes grocery shopping a bit more involved, but worth the extra effort. To make foods labelled as “low-fat” taste better, sugar is often used.
So what can you do to replace sweets? First and foremost…avoid use artificial sweeteners. This has been a controversy since I did my science project on cyclamates (no longer sold) in the 8th grade. There are no safe artificial sweeteners on the market. Don’t be fooled that Splenda is made from sugar…it’s made from the same elements but when used in different combinations is not the same at all.
The only proven safe sweeteners are plant-based like stevia, truvia, agave nectar, raw coconut sugar, monk fruit sweetener and erythritol. I use erythritol, raw coconut sugar or Truvia in baking since they behave like sugar. None of these natural sweeteners raise blood glucose levels like sugar does. Raw agave is good in baked goods also. Always use raw agave since it has the lowest glycemic index in its pure state. Raw coconut sugar is a great substitute for brown sugar and also has a low glycemic index.
Erythritol is a “sugar alcohol” that is naturally found in a wide variety of foods including mushrooms, watermelon, pears and grapes (as well as fermented foods like sake, wine and soy sauce). It has zero calories and a glycemic index of zero. And it’s widely considered the “almost sugar” by health experts and pastry chefs alike. But while erythritol does a great job at mimicking the sweet taste of sugar, it behaves quite differently in the body. First, it is slowly and incompletely absorbed from the small intestine into the blood. Then, the very small amount of erythritol that is absorbed gets converted to energy by processes that require little or no insulin. That’s why erythritol won’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels, which is great news for anyone who is concerned about their weight! Best of all, erythritol can be used cup for cup in recipes just like sugar, and provides about 70% of the sweetness. It makes cupcakes, muffins and brownies moist and delicious… ice cream that’s rich and perfectly sweet… frostings that are smooth and creamy… and cookies that are crisp and chewy. I have found that many recipes call for much too much sugar, so 70% is quite a good trade off.
So today’s homework is … read all labels before you purchase food at the grocery store. You’ll be amazed how much added sugar is common in products you would not even regard as ‘sweet”.