Let’s Break it Down
Sugar is naturally found in many foods, including fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, nuts and seeds. The natural sugar found in these foods can then be extracted to produce the refined sugar that is currently so abundant in our food supply. Table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are two common examples of refined sugars. Refined sugar is known to improve the overall taste and mouthfeel of food, ultimately affecting satisfaction. For this reason, fats have gradually been replaced by added refined sugars over the past few decades.
Whether it's refined or naturally occurring, sugar is a simple carbohydrate, meaning the body breaks it down quickly and uses it as fuel. An important difference between refined and natural, however, is the nutritional value of the whole food, as well as how the body absorbs and utilizes it. Fructose, the main sugar found in fruits and vegetables, has the added benefits of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Refined sugar, on the other hand, is a carb stripped of any and all nutritional value.
Unfortunately, refined sugar has become the type of sugar that people over consume most often. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. This is well above the American Heart Association's recommended intake of 9 teaspoons a day for men and 6 teaspoons a day for women. Hence, why legislatures have gotten involved in the above example of Boulder, Colorado.
The United States does not have a nationwide ‘soda tax’, but a few of its cities have passed their own tax and the U.S. has seen a growing debate around taxing soda in various cities, states and even in Congress in recent years.(1) A few states impose excise taxes on bottled soft drinks or on wholesalers, manufacturers, or distributors of soft drinks.(2) To go along with the various state tax’s, the FDA has come out with their own set of rules. Three years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the most comprehensive reform to the Nutrition Facts label since its introduction in 1993. The changes to the label reflect the latest nutritional science available, emphasizing the information that consumers need to make better-informed decisions about their eating habits. The FDA now requires food labels to report the amount of and percent Daily Value for Added Sugars; the latter of which is based on 50 grams of added sugar per day, or about 12.5 teaspoons, for those consuming 2,000-calories a day. As a Registered Dietitian, this still seems like a lot!
Now that we have gone into what Refined Sugar is, and clearly see that we, as a nation, are eating way too much, let’s dive into some of the health ailments we are seeing due to this added ingredient.
Refined Sugar Effects on our Body
Sugars like table sugar and HFCS are added to foods, including many that you would not suspect contain much sugar if any. Thus, they may sneak into your diet, contributing to a range of detrimental health effects. For example, consuming large amounts of refined sugar, especially in the form of sugary beverages, has consistently been linked to obesity and excess belly fat, a risk factor for conditions like diabetes and heart disease. (3)
In particular, foods enriched with HFCS may cause you to become resistant to leptin, a hormone that signals your body when to eat and when to stop. This may partly explain the link between refined sugar and obesity. (4) Many studies also associate diets high in added sugars with increased heart disease risk. (5) Additionally, diets rich in refined sugar are commonly linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, depression, dementia, liver disease, and certain types of cancer. (6)
Now that we have covered the not so sweet (pun intended) effects of refined sugar, let’s dive into sweetener options that are better for your overall health and palate, coconut nectar & honey.
Coconut Nectar, or more appropriately, coconut blossom nectar, is extracted from the coconut blossoms or flowers. It is then gently heated until it thickens and is suitable for consumption.
You have also probably heard of coconut sugar. What’s the difference? Well, coconut sugar is actually derived from coconut nectar. It is what you get when the nectar is dehydrated or heated. Essentially, coconut sugar is the granulated version of coconut nectar.
Coconut nectar has a glycemic index (GI) of approximately 35. The glycemic index is a number from 0 to 100 assigned to a food. Pure glucose is arbitrarily given the value of 100, which represents the relative rise in the blood glucose level two hours after consuming that food. Foods with a GI that is lower than 55, fall under the category of low glycemic index. Therefore, coconut nectar can be considered a low GI food. Sugars that are released slowly into the bloodstream are low glycemic in nature and the most beneficial to consume on a regular basis. Raw coconut nectar is one of these sweeteners. It contains mostly sucrose with smaller amounts of glucose and fructose. It is likewise high inulin, a prebiotic fiber that has been shown to also help slow absorption rate.
Coconut nectar contains B vitamins, vitamin C, in addition to minerals such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and some sodium content. As we mentioned above, it is also made up of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that may assist in slowing sugar uptake.
Coconut Nectar Benefits:
- Lower glycemic index
- Source of certain minerals
- Not chemically treated or processed
- No additives or preservatives
Unless you are under 12 months of age, my guess is that you have tried this lovely golden nature-made concoction! Bees create honey using nectar that they obtain from different flowers. The color of honey ranges from being a bright golden color to a darker brown. Honey with lighter tones typically will have a much milder taste. The darker colored honey will have a flavor that is a bit more pungent and tangy. Both processed and unprocessed honey is readily available. Typically, raw or unprocessed honey provides the most benefits.
Honey has a naturally rich sugar content. Also, it contains properties that can help fight off bacteria and other germs. The antibacterial properties of honey make it an excellent choice to consume if you are fighting off any type of bacterial infection. Honey has long been used as a form of medicine for many kinds of ailments. In addition to the antibacterial agents, honey also has antiseptic properties.
People who have high levels of triglycerides are at a higher risk of developing heart disease. Trading out refined table sugar for honey is a good way to help lower triglycerides, and thus reducing your risk of further developing heart disease. If you are overweight, are diagnosed with pre-diabetes, or if you are suffering from diabetes or heart disease, swapping honey for your refined sugar sweetener can go a long way to help you overcome these diseases. Again, it is important to keep servings within reason, but absolutely a better option of the two.
Honey is full of antioxidants. Antioxidants help to fight off free radicals in the body. When free radicals are left unchecked, they can wreak havoc and cause all sorts of health issues. Adding some honey to your diet each day for the added antioxidant punch, can help boost your immune system, thus decreasing your risk of oxidative stress which has been shown to lead to certain diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Here at Supernola, we have partnered with The Bee Conservancy. Bees pollinate one-third of the foods we eat and are dying at unprecedented rates. Their hard work is not only essential to healthy ecosystems, but to sustaining animal and human life as well. Without bees, 100% of our almonds and honey would be gone as well as 90% of our apples, onions, blueberries, and cucumbers. Who wants a world without almonds, honey and apples?! Not us! Which is why we have partnered with such an important organization.
- Antibacterial and Antiseptic properties
- Natural Sweetener
- Rich in Antioxidants
Reading between the lines: sugar is natural and found in many foods. It’s what manufacturers do with it that can make it good or not as good for you, your family and friends down the road. As refined sugar continues to rise in total consumption, we will likely see more and more cities, states, and countries working to curb that intake with various taxes and the like.
Sugars found in nature and left in their unrefined state are ones to look for including coconut nectar and honey. With benefits such as added minerals, antioxidants, and antibacterial properties to name a few, why wouldn’t you make this your top choice when reading food labels and looking for your best snack options! At Supernola, we strive to make the healthy choice the easy choice, providing no refined sugar snacks made with a sense of care for our communities and environment.
- Urban Institute. "Soda Taxes." https://www.urban.org/policy-centers/cross-center-initiatives/state-and-local-finance-initiative/state-and-local-backgrounders/soda-taxes
- American Journal of Public Health. "Impact of the Berkeley Excise Tax on Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption. https://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/abs/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303362
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Oct;98(4):1084-102. “Sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain in children and adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis”
- Adv Nutr. 2013 Mar. 1;4(2):164-75. “Dietary components in the development of leptin resistance”
- BMJ Open. 2017; 7(8). “Health and economic benefits of reducing sugar intake in the USA, including effects via non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a microsimulation model”
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Aug;102(2):454-63. “High glycemic index diet as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women's Health Initiative”