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How & Why to Cut Sugar Out of Your Diet

A lot of us are trying to cut down on refined sugar these days.

Unless you’re willing to just cut sweet things out of your life completely, it can be hard to know how and where to make changes.

To make those choices a little easier, it might help to understand the different kinds of sugar, how they affect your body and where they’re found.

To be clear, we won’t be talking about artificial sweeteners in this post — that’s a post for another day — but suffice it to say, that we think that keeping synthetic chemicals out of your diet is usually a wise idea.

Learn how to keep a little sweetness in your life, without compromising your health — read on!

What is sugar?

There are a few main types of sugar. They are all carbohydrates and they fall into four different categories: monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides.

Monosaccharides are also known as simple sugars. These cannot be broken down into smaller sugars. Examples of monosaccharides are fructose and glucose, as well as the less common galactose and ribose. These simple sugars are the building blocks of more complex sugars.

Disaccharides are sugar molecules that are made up of two monosaccharides. For example, sucrose is a molecule that consists of fructose and glucose linked together.

Oligosaccharides are also known as complex carbohydrates. These are made up of three to ten simple sugars. Many prebiotics are oligosaccharides. Polysaccharides are also complex carbohydrates, made up of long chains of simple sugars (e.g. starch).

Complex carbs aren’t what we normally think of when we talk about “sugar” so we’re not going to worry too much about them here. Ultimately, they wind up as simple sugars anyway once your body breaks them down but the process is much slower.

Glucose in your body

Glucose is fuel for every cell in your body. Because it’s a simple sugar, it’s absorbed by your intestines directly where it is then transported to your bloodstream causing your blood sugar levels to increase.

When your blood sugar rises, your pancreas responds by releasing insulin which carries the glucose to your cells. When it reaches your cells, glucose is oxidized and burned as energy. If energy isn’t needed at that time, the glucose is then stored as fat.

In addition to the fact that too much glucose is associated with fat storage, overindulgence can also lead to blood sugar levels that are too high, too much of the time (hyperglycemia).

When this happens, your pancreas has to work overtime to keep up with the demand for insulin and eventually it can get worn out. Beyond that, your pancreas may be damaged and unable to respond properly, so your body fails to produce insulin when you need it. This is why too much glucose is associated with diabetes.

In addition, because of the lack of necessary insulin, your cells don’t get the glucose that they need and they can become damaged over time as well.

Glucose is found in every plant, so all of your vegetables, nuts, legumes and grains contain glucose. Many things are also converted into glucose after they are digested by your body’s various enzymes. For example, some amino acids are converted into glucose. Similarly, complex carbs are often (at least in part) broken down into glucose.

Too much glucose is not likely to come from whole foods. If your diet contains too much glucose, it’s probably due to added sugars, found in processed and packaged foods, like flavored yogurt, canned soups, breakfast cereals, crackers and so on, or added to coffee, tea and baked goods in the form of refined sugar and other sweeteners.

A diet that contains too much glucose is associated with obesity, decreased immunity, kidney problems, heart issues and more.

Fructose in your body

Initially, your body responds to fructose in much the same way that it responds to glucose. Once it is picked up by insulin, however, it can’t be used by most of your body, it can only be metabolized by your liver.

Too much fructose has the same implications as too much glucose when it comes to fat storage, your blood sugar, your pancreas and your insulin response. In addition, it can cause serious damage to your liver.

Fruit is the primary natural source for fructose, but because fructose tastes very sweet (much sweeter than glucose), there doesn’t need to be much fructose in fruit for it to have a sweet taste.

In addition to the fact that the quantity of fructose is relatively low, there are also many things in fruit that are exceptionally good for you, so cutting fruit out just to cut out fructose is not a wise choice.

The fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in fruit not only benefit your body in their own right but they also minimize the impacts of the fructose on your blood sugar and your health overall.

Fiber slows down the digestion process, reducing the rate at which the fructose hits your bloodstream, and phytonutrients also seem to inhibit the body’s ability to transport sugar into the bloodstream.

Too much fructose is associated with obesity, fat around the middle, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, lower levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) and more.

Sucrose in your body

Sucrose is made up of fructose and glucose joined together in a single molecule. When it enters your body it’s broken down into those two component parts. From there, your body handles the isolated fructose and isolated glucose in the same ways as above.

Table sugar is sucrose. Sucrose also occurs naturally in many fruits and some vegetables (like sugar beets and sweet peas, for example).

Can sugar ever be healthy?

While cutting added or refined sugar from your diet (or at least reducing your intake) is a healthy choice, it’s impossible to completely cut sugar out altogether.

For one thing, your body needs glucose for energy. While you don’t necessarily require fructose from dietary sources, because it is found in many nutritious whole foods, it’s not advisable to just cut everything that contains fructose for that reason.

Interestingly, combining even unnatural or refined fructose with whole fruits can reduce the negative impacts of the added sugar.

Studies have shown that when a sugar solution is consumed in combination with whole berries, the fiber and phytonutrients in the berries seem to dampen the adverse effects of the refined sugar even though the berries also contain fructose, which means that their addition actually increases the amount of total fructose consumed.

In other words, try to stick to whole foods as much as possible and get your sweet fix from nature when you can. If you do need to indulge in something with added or refined sugar now and then, consider combining it with a high fiber food to help prevent a sudden blood sugar spike.

How to sweeten

Ok, so you’re open to cutting out processed foods and sugary bottled drinks but what to do about your morning cup of joe? A sweetened cup of coffee or tea is an essential part of the morning routine for many of us and tossing a handful of blueberries into your mug isn’t exactly going to work.

And what if you bake? It can be hard to know what to use to replace refined sugar that won’t throw off your chemical reactions.

Luckily, there are natural sweeteners out there that can be a big improvement over white sugar.

These natural sweeteners have nutritional value (which white sugar does not) so you’re not just consuming ‘empty’ sugar or calories when you use them. They also dissolve in hot liquids, which makes them useful in the kitchen.

There are less-processed versions of table sugar, for instance, sucanat, which is a whole sugar cane product that retains its natural molasses content. Molasses has lots of minerals, including calcium, iron and magnesium. You can use sucanat as a 1:1 with refined sugar and you won’t mess up the moisture in your muffin recipe.

Probably the best natural sweeteners are pure maple syrup and honey. Both of these contain lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that make them extremely nutritious and healthful.

Sure, you’re still going to be throwing simple sugars into your bloodstream so you need to watch your portions and enjoy them in moderation, but with every spoonful, you’re getting valuable health benefits as well as a sweet treat.

When it comes to your health, maple syrup is good but, honey? Honey is great.

Honey: Sweet Superfood

Honey is a truly unbelievable food. Depending on the variety, it can contain a dizzying array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Plus, if it’s unpasteurized it also contains a wealth of beneficial probiotics and enzymes that are great for your gut and your immune system.

Typically, honey tastes as sweet or sweeter than sugar, depending on the variety. The ratio of glucose to fructose in a serving of honey varies depending on the type (more fructose = sweeter honey).

For instance, forest honeys, which are made from honeydew that the bees find on trees (rather than flower nectar), have more glucose and less fructose. These honeys are typically more bitter than your standard flower honey. They also often possess superior antioxidant levels.

Interestingly, even though honey may taste sweeter than sugar, it has fewer calories than table sugar and fewer carbs. The most important thing though is that those calories have value for your health

Rather than being nutritionally void, the calories from honey come with dozens of health benefits. 

You can add honey to your coffee or tea and even to baked goods (you may need to play with your recipe quantities a little, but the substitution of honey for sugar will likely increase their shelf-life too).

We’re proud to be introducing our first ever honey! Panabee Wild Chestnut Honey is hand-harvested from one of the most pristine, biodiverse places in the world. Panabee honeys are all raw honeys from the Pindos Mountains in Greece.

They’re harvested using traditional methods that support the bee colonies and maintain the nutritional potency of the honey. These honeys are the healthiest in the world and very rare.

Panabee Wild Chestnut Honey has benefits for the respiratory, digestive and immune systems. The distinctive flavor of wild chestnut honey makes it a sought-after variety for Italian and French chefs as well. 

Get Panabee Wild Chestnut Honey now. This is truly wild, organic honey — supply is very limited and yields from year to year cannot be guaranteed.

Get your jar of Panabee Wild Chestnut Honey here.

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