“Death, White & Sweet”, or, “I Thought the Hippies Were Nuts”

by Ravi

It’s 1975 and I’m in North Country Coop on the West Bank in Minneapolis – a naive pre-med student at UofM. Coop’s were pretty “seedy” back then – roughly tossed together and staffed by the real political anti-establishment animals – called hippies.

“Yea, man – that stuff is WHITE DEATH” barked the bearded, ever-so-slightly odorous coop worker in his soiled white apron chatting energetically with another shopper. “People just don’t know – white sugar is government trying to dumb us down and manipulate us – just feed ’em, White Death and you’ve got control!”

“Sheesh,” I though to myself, “what a wacko.”  I bought an odd-looking, lumpy  cookie, trotted out of the store and took a big bite.  “Plaaaaa!” I exclaimed, spitting it out on the sidewalk, the taste being what I imagined a mouthful of peat moss and gravel would offer. Sugar was definitely verboten in that hippi-hollow.

RIP Jack...

Fast forward to 2010 as I am giving away the few last bags of refined organic cane sugar to my neighbor to use for hummingbird sugar-water, ever so anxious to get this white stuff (white death?) out of my house.  Notice it was “organic”. The assumption (and lingering hope) upon purchasing some semi-aware months before was that maybe “organic” sugar wasn’t that bad- even though it was still refined white sugar (dumb, really dumb).

(On the fence about white sugar? Think it’s “not so bad for you?” go here and weep)

I’m not going to recap all the myriad dangers of consuming sugar here – refined sugar and high-fructose sugars are killing us in a multitude of ways. I’m also not here to advocate that you continue to consume much – if any – sugar. However, gettin’ honest (with oneself) is the first step to being smarter, and the honest fact is that we will all most probably continue to use some sweeteners – so let’s know about the smartest, “healthiest” ones to consider.

There is also the issue of your conditioned tastes.  If you are not willing to let/help your own tastes to change – that is to give your own sensibilities the chance to live without the constant sweet stimulus – then changing to a healthier sugar consumption state will be difficult.  While living in Europe, I found myself adjusting to a much less “sweet assult” on my taste buds and I seriously reduced my American conditioned preference for that sickeningly sweet style of almost everything.

Sweeteners NOT to Consume:

For reasons ranging from having high GI (glycemic index, glycemic load) having inflammatory properties, being high fructose, being extracts from seeds or grains, being chemically extracted/processed – these are the sugars we recommend you avoid completely: white refined table sugar, conventional brown sugar, agave syrup, barley malt sugar, rice sugar, sorghum sugar, (and in fact ALL grain sugars), sugar beet syrup, fruit juice sugars, date sugar, any and ALL ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS including but not limited to Aspartame, Cyclamate or Saccharin.

Click to get this revealing documentary about Aspartame

The simple fact of the matter is that the chemical companies producing artificial sweeteners, the researchers investigating them or the marketers selling them  **have no complete idea** what the safety of these fake-out chemical sweeteners do to the human body – especially over time. For all the hype (mostly promotional) about helping diabetics, reducing our sugar use, calorie intake etc etc, the upshot is that every chemical artificial sweetener is a product – patented and cheaply produced – with some chemical company (or big pharma) making mucho bucks from “pushing” them. Just DON’T USE THEM!

ALSO, you saw agave on the no-no list.  As “natural” as the sellers of agave syrup want you to believe it is, it is highly processed and super-high in fructose.  The chemical processing alone disqualifies as a healthy sweetener. Here is an excellent take-down of agave by Doc Mercola.

Finally, I’m not sure there are any “ideal” sweeteners because, as a practitioner of the evolutionary/paleolithic diet – I believe virtually none of these was available to our human ancestors in any amount and so our physiology is simply not equipped to process larges amounts of any sugar substance.

The Best Sweeteners to Consume IF you Consume Sweeteners:

What is an ideal white sugar replacement?  Well, we tend to judge every “replacement” against the very substance that we now know we should not have been consuming in the first place!  Learning to use alternative sweeteners is simply re-learning about sweetening in general and it is a lot less frustrating if you dump your expectations and embrace the new tastes, textures and characteristics that the better sweeteners offer.

Unlike the weak, much debated arguments against salt (the subject of my recent salt post here), sugar has very real, significant and immediate metabolic effects that are NOT good, de-sensitizing your insulin response being one of the biggies.  This is argued to be the beginnings of diabetes, chronic inflammation, and depression of your immune system.

Our current sweetener list in order of best to use: Xylitol, Raw Honey/Maple Sugar, Coconut Sugar, Molasses, Sucanat (very seldom and usually only when we want to feed fermentation)

As per our editorial policy, we tell you that we have linked each of these to items at Amazon (or elsewhere) we believe to represent a quality choice for that particular sweetener. Please click through these links to purchase those you are interested in – doesn’t cost you more and helps us out – Thanks!

Xylitol

Until we learn otherwise (and we have been keeping our eyes peeled),  Xylitol looks to be the best choice for a “white sugar replacement” of any of the choices out there.  It’s texture, taste and general characteristics are the closest to white table sugar that most of us are used to. Technically not a “sugar” but rather a “sugar alcohol”, xylitol exhibits somewhat different properties in cooking and in digestion.

The worst thing we have yet found said/researched about xylitol is that it can cause gastric/bowel disturbance for the first days of consumption.  Xylitol is not digested to any degree until it reaches the large intestine.  This is part of the reason why is is so good for dental health (it does not feed bad bacteria – in fact, inhibits them in the mouth) and it does not spike blood sugar/insulin as it is also not absorbed in the stomach/small intestine.

Also, although it is derived from the woody bark and stems of birch trees (birch trees being revered by the native Americans), it has to go through an extraction process in order to obtain the final sugar alcohol product (thus not really qualifying as “natural”) .  Xylitol can be extracted from any woody-stem plant and it often processed from corn stalks.  We advise strongly that you check for GMO-free corn xylitol at the least (the NOW brand we link to is this) or, if you spend a few more bucks – get the better birch-extracted xylitol.

One of the guest writers for the Weston Price Foundation, Ramy Nagel (known for his healing tooth decay book) has contributed to the WAPF site and cast the only shadow over xylitol use we could find.  The problem with his criticism is that he ignores the almost 50 years of substantial xylitol use in many countries other than the US.  Japan,  Switzerland, Germany and Sweden (and other European countries) have had extensive use of xylitol since the 1960’s with virtually no negative effects  or concerns for it’s ultimate health save for the initial digestive issues  – and in fact the dental benefits have been astounding. Additionally, xylitol dental trials have been held in numerous countries around the world.

Although I agree with Mr Nagel’s contention that diet is the most important issue in healing tooth decay, I cannot but want to add to a good diet a healthier sugar if I am going to use ANY sugar.  This is actually one of the 2 areas  of departures I have with the Weston Price Foundation as it stands – the are much more liberal with their stand on using sugars than I believe to be healthy. (that and the use of grains).

In this country, xylitol  is unable to be patented (as the process is already established years ago)  and therefore it is an orphan substance. Being an “orphan” drug or substance means that substances that show great promise may well never be extensively tested as no one is willing to pay for the expensive testing in order to make claims.  Big Pharma couldn’t give a sh*t about even the most exciting substances if they can’t control the production and get their obscenely high profits.

Tests for dental benefits in the US of xylitol have actually be canceled in favor of fluoridation, fluoride treatments and tooth-glazing coatings – all things that are highly profitable to major corporate concerns. The FDA and the USDA – in case you have not figured it our by now – exist (in no uncertain terms) NOT for the safety of the people, but for the protection of big money corporate interests (don’t get me started on that one!).  Why else would you see such obvious poisons as Aspartame approved and marketed as safe?

We would advise that one must test ones response to xylitol and in what amounts. After consuming it as a sweetener for gluten-free, grain free snacks for over 6 months, no one in our little community is suffering any digestive side effects.  I would guess that our consumption is less than 5 teaspoons a day for any one of us.   We also combine xylitol with raw honey or maple syrup when sweetening baked goods and some snacks.

Here is a very good explanation of the past 40 years of xylitol use and research trials. It is from a site promoting xylitol, however, they are very candid and honest with their information.

Some Bees Busy Regurgitating...

Raw Honey

Well – yes – we all know what honey is – but here is the Wikipedia entry anyway: a sweet food made by bees using nectar from flowers. The variety produced by honey bees (the genus Apis) is the one most commonly referred to and is the type of honey collected by beekeepers and consumed by humans. Honey produced by other bees and insects has distinctly different properties. Honey bees form nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and store it as a primary food source in wax honeycombs inside the beehive.

Regurgitation? eeewww – but honestly, RAW honey (the refined honey is NOT as healthy) is very good for sweetening, and it’s GI (about 50) is less than refined honey so it will spike your blood insulin, but not sooo much. . Paleo thought is that raw honey OK but NOT too much – actually good advice we’ll repeat for ANY sweetener. Here’s an excellent and well-priced choice: White Gold Canadian Raw Honey with free shipping to boot.

Maple syrup

Again, from Wiki: A syrup made from the sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees. In cold climate areas, these trees store starch in their stems and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar and rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped and the exuded sap collected and concentrated by heating to evaporate the water. Maple syrup was first collected and used by Native Americans and First Nations, and was later adopted by European settlers.

Maple syrup has a “medium” GI in the 50 range -not as high as straight white sugar (at 100) but not for diabetics either! It is mostly sucrose once boiled down and will spike insulin pretty well.  It’s got a strong taste and although sweetens well, you better like that maple-y yumminess. We use maple syrup in moderation where we either don’t mind or even like the maple flavor addition.  Using a little along with the xylitol or raw honey enhances the taste of many things.

Coconut/Coconut-Palm Sugar

This is one we actually learned quite a bit more about through doing this post. We are already big fans of coconut and coconut oils (**very** healthy) and, upon learning about coconut sugar (GI of about 35 and full of additional minerals and nutrients) – we are experimenting with this sweetener too.  It is sustainably harvested – similar in concept to maple syrup harvesting – but the whole process must be accomplished in a tighter time frame as the nectar collected will quickly ferment into palm wine if not boiled down immediately.  Sweet Tree Sustainable Sweeteners is a small company committed to sustainability and supporting local coconut farmers in Indonesia.  This sugar is a good find – and if you commit to lower your sugar intake and using high-quality sustainably farmed and healthier sweeteners when you use them – this is a good choice. The chart here shows the relative nutrient/mineral values of coconut palm sugar. Try some from Sweet Tree here.

Organic Molasses

From Wiki: Molasses is a viscous by-product of the processing of sugar cane sugar beets into sugar. The word molasses comes from the Portuguese melaço, which ultimately comes from mel, the Latin word for “honey”. Blackstrap molasses has a very strong flavor, so it is best to just replace a small portion of sugar with molasses. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the daily value of each of those nutrients.

Molasses is a very good sweetener for cooking but again, like maple syrup – you have to like the taste. Because it has some good mineral content – it has a little compensation for it’s medium GI (60 or so). Use sparingly as well.

Rapadura/Sucanat (aka Jaggery)

Rapadura is a dried sugarcane juice that is common in Latin American countries  The unique processing of Rapadura gives it a mild, caramel-like flavor which is good for baking and sweetening food and drinks.

Sucanut is a non-refined cane sugar that, unlike white sugar, is a pure dried cane sugar, retains its molasses content. Of all the major sugars derived from sugar cane, Sucanut ranks highest in nutritional value; although, as with most sugars, it is not a significant source of any nutrient apart from carbohydrate.

Sucanut or rapadura are useful when you want something that acts basically like the table sugar you are used to but just with the brown color and the molasses components not removed.  It can be “browned” and has the characteristics of refined white sugar whereas the sugar alcohol xylitol does NOT always “act” like refined white sugar (won’t dissolve the same way or brown)

Stevia/Truvia

Here is a blurb I lifted about Stevia. Personally we do not use stevia for reasons of taste and aftertaste.  That said, some people rave about it and use it many different ways.  We cannot advise for or against it for that reason, you’ll just have to try it!

Stevia is a wonderful alternative for sweetening.  Stevia is a herb that is a part of the sunflower family and is commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia.  It is widely grown for its sweet leaves.  Its extracts have up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar and because it has a negligible effect on blood glucose and is known to enhance glucose tolerance.

One final time,  I will emphasize that it is **really** a wise dietary choice to strictly limit your intake of ANY sugar – and to commit to re-adapting your taste to needing less sweetness in general.  However, if you continue to consume processed/prepared foods, drink soda or eat things like ice cream, sugary candy and cookies – you are going to find this to be a very hard task.  Try going cold turkey – you will be surprised at how quickly you will get over the need and how fast your taste buds will change.

Post part of Monday mania return here

Part of Hearth and Soul Hop return here

Post part of Real Food Wednesday return here

Have you some comments on your use of sugars, the kinds of sugar you use or your own battle with the sweet urge? Please comment:

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10 Responses to “Death, White & Sweet”, or, “I Thought the Hippies Were Nuts”

  1. Kelli says:

    You forgot the best natural, non-refined sugar of all: fruit!

    Do you really think cane sugar isn’t much better than white sugar because thats what I usually consume when I want to fulfill a sugar craving. And your right about Americans being constantly bombarded with over-sweet food.

  2. daiaravi says:

    Unrefined “natural” cane sugar is definitely better than consuming refined cane sugar and it does have a lower GI – but GI isn’t the whole story.

    Here’s the thing – this can be argued till the cows come home – what is worse – high GI and low fructose, or high GI and high fructose, or low GI and high fructose? and on and on – every choice has different metabolic effects and every person is susceptible to said effects in a slightly different way.

    since “going mostly paleo” in the last 8-10 months – i have observed a *very* substantial change in my response to refined sugar in the basically one way i still consume it – in the form of 65% to 80% dark chocolate bars. The remaining % of those bars is mostly sugar and if i down too many pieces at once – i really do suffer – nausea and that weird feeling of an unpleasant “rush”–

    I would say that satisfying your sugar craving with too much a shot of high GI cane sugar is *probably* not too good long term for your insulin response and general health – which is why I have stopped practically everything else and when I do get those cravings, I only eat a little dark chocolate and do my best will power to wait until the sugar kicks in before i gorge myself with too much.

    aaaahhhh – the challenges of having Lindt chocolate in the house–

  3. George says:

    I’ve read that coconut sugar is NOT sustainable because a tree will not be able to produce coconuts if the sap is harvested to make sugar.

    • daiaravi says:

      Hi George – it’s tough to find definitive answer on this – it seems that if tapped judiciously – like maple trees – then it seems possible to do it sustainably. Remember too that coconut trees grow pretty quickly and so replace themselves much faster than, say, maples.

      BUT, that said – we will keep our eyes peeled as to what new and better information comes out and adjust our recommendations accordingly – thanks-
      Ravi

  4. Kira says:

    Fyi, raw honey absolutely can be clear and amber. The color depends on what flowers the bees collected the nectar from, and naturally ranges from water-clear to dark as molasses. Fresh honey, directly out of the comb, is runny. Depending on the moisure level. as it sits, it gets cloudy and then crystallized. None of this harms it.
    My sons keep bees, and they harvest their honey by slicing off chunks of comb, crushing it, and straining out the wax. It’s never heated, and you can’t get much less processed honey, but it’s all clear and runny (until about November or so, when it starts crystallizing).

    None of this really makes a difference in the main point of your post, which is one I need to hear, but don’t want to. See, I know you’re right but…um…I LIKE sugar!
    Dang it.

    • daiaravi says:

      thanks for that! – i did not know – but i will just emphasize the RAW, UNREFINED honey -whatever color the other is!

  5. This post makes me feel really glad that I’m one of the lucky people who doesn’t really have a sweet tooth. Thanks for sharing with the Hearth and Soul hop.

  6. My dad kept bees years ago when I was young so I agree completely with Kira. With that said I’ve personally learned a great deal about how Aspartame affected me…or rather how it’s affects vanished when I quit drinking diet pop.

    I love Xylitol and agree whole heartedly with you on that one.

    Thanks for sharing at the hearth and soul hop.

  7. Tommy says:

    “While living in Europe, I found myself adjusting to a much less “sweet assult” on my taste buds and I seriously reduced my American conditioned preference for that sickiningly sweet style of almost everything.”

    Humm, I lived in various places in Europe for nearly five years, and sugar was EVERYWHERE and often in everything. Ever seen the pastries in France? The desserts in Austria? The ubiquitous candy in Hungary? This comment seems more like a sanctimonious slap against the United States than a valid observation.

    • daiaravi says:

      Sorry – but i also was there for actually many more than 5 years – and – although we all can certainly have different experiences and opinions – there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the sugar use and sweetness conditioning of the US is HUGELY more ‘pushed” onto the population – i only need cite ONE example to get my point across – our grocery store isle for kid’s breakfast cereals – massive choices of the same mostly-sugar garbage – and THAT is where the sweet-indoctrination starts–

      yes – they have lots of sweetening going on in europe as well – but NOTHING like the sugar pushers in this country –

      sorry – but i am american, have traveled all over the world and lived in europe for almost 10 years –

      and OF COURSE europe has it’s sugar addiction – and it’s a fraction of the insane sugar-pushers her in the US–

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