Effects of Natural and Artificial Sugar on the Human Body  

There has been, and always be, a constant debate around sugar consumption and whether natural alternatives are as good for you as they are marketed. 





There might be no right or wrong opinion, but what is most important is to stay well educated and informed, in order to make the best choices for yourself, your health, your family members who are not yet old enough to balance their choices and for your lifestyle.

Blood sugar imbalances in your bloodstream has many symptoms which are not only harming you directly, because of their manifestation, but are, at the same time, strong indicators that something is not right in your body. Headaches, fatigue, mood swings and cravings are only some of the stages of the addiction to sugar cycle. The main consequences are: obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart problems. [1][2]

Several other chronic conditions can be triggered by high sugar intake:

- Low Immunity [3]
- Chromium Deficiency [4]
- Faster Aging [2]
- Tooth Decay [5]
- Stress Increase [2]

An often overlooked effect of sugar on the body is its effect on the digestive tract. However, addressing this issue is mandatory, as dysfunctions in the gut microbiome have been proven to stand at the base of most conditions listed above.

Being the host of more than 1014 resident microorganisms, from fungi and protozoa to bacteria and viruses, the gut microbiome has been proven to play an essential role in the biosynthesis of vitamins and essential aminoacids and in the generation of important metabolic byproducts left undigested by the small intestine. Diseases like IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), atopic dermatitis or psoriasis, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis and autoimmune arthritis have been strongly connected to gut microbiome improper functions. Studies have shown that increased sugar diets can alter the functionality of the microbiome, by increasing specific bacterial types related to diabetes associated markers [6] [7]

 Natural sweeteners, the alternative to those spoons of sugar you pour in your daily coffee, or while baking the weekly home-made cake are numerous. You have what to choose from, as well as from artificial sweeteners. However, understanding how they really work and what they add to your body is mandatory. Below, there is a list of natural sweeteners recommended to replace sugar in your dietary regime, which can help you, but only if you understand how they really work!

1. Maple Syrup

 Harvested from the maple trees, in late winter, maple syrup is one of the most common alternatives to sugar, preferred in many households, and made popular all around the world by the famous “maple syrup pancakes” photos. Yes, it is natural, and the only processing it goes through is boiling the maple tree sap, harvested with the aid of a spile. The quantity of maple syrup you get is only one tenth of the original amount of sap you collected from the trees. It can successfully replace sugar in any recipe, bringing its own palette of antioxidants to the table, but remember it still contains around 30% fructose, which gets turned into energy deposits in your body.

  2. Agave Syrup

 As all of the products in this list, agave syrup is natural and doesn’t require much processing, being made from the sap of the blue agave plant. It is highly sweet, replacing sugar with success, with lower amounts of the substance required. However, it has 75-90% fructose, even more than high fructose corn syrup, which doesn’t metabolize, raising the blood sugar levels rapidly.

  3. Molasses

 The sugar-cane refining process creates this by-product, which is, in more ways than one, healthier than the final product, white sugar. It contains minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper and zinc, often recommended to those with low blood iron levels. However, it contains the same dangerous substance, fructose.

  4. Honey

 Probably the oldest replacement for sugar all around the world, honey (please read “raw honey”, not the commercial type) is made without any processing. Yes, it is almost half fructose, but its benefits as a cleansing substance, even having antibiotic properties, both in internal and external usage.

  5. Stevia

 This sweetener is made from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant, which grows only in warm climates. Without any carbohydrates or calories, stevia doesn’t raise blood sugar, making it, apparently the perfect substitute for sugar. You can get dried leaves to ground and add to your cooking or coffee, or more processed, as a powder, or syrup made from that powder. However, it still has a downside, perpetuating the desire for sweets, tricking your gut micro-organisms to crave more.

  6. Xylitol, Erythritol and Other Sugar Alcohosl

 The above sweeteners are processed from plant fibers, like birch, berries and, most often, cornhusks. They have very few calories and no carbohydrates, eliminating the risk of raising blood sugar, making it a god option for diabetics. Still, since most of these sweeteners are derived from cornhusks, this could imply inherent GMOs, causing gastric problem to some users.

  7. Lo Han

 Sourced from monk fruit, or Lo Han fruit, from China, this natural sweetener has been used for centuries to treat diabetes and obesity, adding antioxidants and bringing no calories to the table. It has a downside though, creating the need for sweets, like Stevia.


8. Brown Rice Syrup

 The brown rice is cooked and later exposed to enzymes which break it into sugar. As far as is goes, it contains no fructose, making it perfectly safe for those who try to keep their blood-sugar levels optimal. Even if it adds no other nutrition to your diet, it serves its purpose. However, there is a big downside to using it, as some fear it contains traces of arsenic, like brown rice does.

  9. Date sugar

 Made from dehydrated, ground dates, this type of sugar is the richest in antioxidants, with more content than nearly a dozen of the substances in the same category. It also has a high potassium concentration, making it a perfect alternative to sugar. And yet, it contains fructose, being not so much of a choice for those trying to keep their blood-sugar low.

  10. Palmyra Blossom Nectar

Known as the “Sugar of Life”, this sugar replacement is the pure, unrefined nectar of the Palmyra tree (Borassus flabellifer). From this list, it is the highest ranking replacer of sugar, with added benefits that put even date sugar on the second place. Having high levels of B-complex vitamins, iron, potassium and magnesium, it not only adds benefits to our dietary intake, but also replaces the false sensation of energy given by sugar with high energy levels due to components it bring to our body. As reviewed by “The Women’s Health Magazine” in the UK:

“Palmyra Jaggery is a traditional Ayurvedic ingredient that is nutrient dense – 1 tablespoon provides 133% of daily vitamin B12 requirement, 222% of vitamin B6, 665% of your vitamin B1. It also has a glycemic index of 40 making it less disruptive to blood sugar levels - by comparison, white sugar has a GI of 100 and no added nutritional benefit. Palmyra Jaggery is also organic, ethically sourced and a sustainable business for the communities who farm it.”



Bibliography

1. A review of recent evidence relating to sugars, insulin resistance and diabetes - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5174139/
2. The scientific basis of recent US guidance on sugars intake - https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/4/827S/4690051
3. Fructose: A Dietary Sugar in Crosstalk with Microbiota Contributing to the Development and Progression of Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5609573/
4. Effects of Chromium Picolinate on Food Intake and Satiety - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2753428/
5. Which foods cause tooth decay? - https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/dental-health/which-foods-cause-tooth-decay/
6. Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5385025/
7. Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3957428/

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