REFINED SUGAR:  Did you know the average American consumes an average of 22 teaspoons of sugar a day, and the average American child consumes an average of 32 teaspoons of sugar a day? Good grief. We are an over-sweetened culture. Sugar is added to things that do not need sweetening, such as fruit juice, applesauce, and ketchup. And is hidden in foods we wouldn’t expect: bread, crackers, peanut butter, and salad dressing, just to name a few. Sugar is also hidden in pre-packaged, highly processed, convenient foods that contribute to weight gain and health risks.  Refined sugar is when sucrose is extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets and then purified at which point all of the nutrients from the plant are removed. Refined sugar is poisoning our bodies and is being linked to such things as ADD/ADHD, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, hypoglycemia, colon & pancreatic cancer, allergies, insomnia, skin breakouts, and more. Sugar is addictive, releasing an opiate-like substance that activates the brain’s reward system.

Consuming refined sugar wreaks havoc on our bodily systems. It depletes our bodies of Vitamin B which causes symptoms like heart palpitations, chronic fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, trouble focusing, restlessness and cravings for sugar. It makes our digestive systems acidic, leaching vitamins and minerals from the body, especially calcium from bones and teeth. It depletes potassium and magnesium, which are essential for cardiac health. It suppresses the immune system and causes an overproduction of digestive enzymes, impairs liver function, and inhibits blood flow. Refined sugar has zero nutritional value, everything that is beneficial is removed during the refining process. The real kicker: removing refined sugar from your diet suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, depression, headaches, and achy limbs.

NATURAL SWEETENERS – 100% PURE MAPLE SYRUP + RAW HONEY:  In our household, we use pure maple syrup and raw honey as our sweeteners of choice because they are made by nature. They are two of the least processed “sugars” available and are hard to find in highly processed foods. They contain more nutrients than highly refined sweeteners like white cane sugar. However, sugar is sugar, and it doesn’t matter what form of it you choose, it should always be consumed in moderation. When it comes to store-bought foods, I try to avoid those “that have some form of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three Ingredients” as the author Michael Pollan suggests. When given the choice, always go with a natural option like honey as opposed to the artificial stuff like Splenda.

RAW HONEY:  Raw honey is a superfood, and is the concentrated nectar of flowers that comes straight from the extractor; it is the only unheated, pure, unpasteurized, unprocessed honey. This type of honey contains ingredients similar to those found in fruits, which become alkaline in the digestive system. It doesn’t ferment in the stomach and it can be used to counteract acid indigestion. When mixed with ginger and lemon juices, it can relieve nausea and supply energy. Raw honey is the healthiest choice amongst the various forms of honey as it has the most nutritional value and contains amylase, an enzyme concentrated in flower pollen which helps pre-digest starchy foods like breads.

Most of the honey found in the supermarket is not raw honey but “commercial” regular honey, which has been pasteurized (heated at 160 degrees Fahrenheit or more, followed by rapid cooling) and filtered so that it looks cleaner and smoother, more appealing on the shelf, and easier to handle and package. According to the National Honey Board (NHB), 82% of households use processed honey, which has been heated and pasteurized, and can contain botulism and High Fructose Corn Syrup. Processed honey is not as antibacterial as raw honey and is dangerous for diabetics and infants under 12 months old. Pasteurization kills any yeast cell in the honey and prevents fermentation. It also slows down the speed of crystallization in liquid honey. When honey is heated, its delicate aromas, yeast and enzymes which are responsible for activating vitamins and minerals in the body system are partially destroyed. Raw honey is assumed to be more nutritious than honey that has undergone heat treatment.

Characterized by fine textured crystals, raw honey looks milkier and contains particles and flecks made of bee pollen, honeycomb bits, propolis, and broken bee wing fragments. Raw and unfiltered honey is relatively low in moisture content (14% to 18%) and has a high antioxidant level. It will usually granulate and crystallize to a margarine-like consistency after a month or two. We use raw honey to sweeten our oatmeal, spread on toast, drizzle on fruit and I love using it in my coffee.

100% PURE MAPLE SYRUP:  The most common maple syrup sold in local grocery stores is made of corn syrup with only 20% maple syrup sugar, artificial flavor and color, and preservatives. 100% pure Maple Syrup, however, is an excellent source of manganese, zinc and calcium. Zinc and manganese are important to the immune system. Many types of immune cells appear to depend upon zinc for optimal function. The trace mineral manganese is an essential cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. A quarter cup of maple syrup contains 100% of the Daily Value of manganese.The sweetener provides 37% of the Daily Value of riboflavin, which aids in the metabolic process. Pure maple syrup also contains 18% of the recommended Daily Value of zinc, which is essential for a healthy immune system. Other minerals found in maple syrup are magnesium, calcium and potassium, decreasing the risk of hypertension or stroke. In our house, we have been using pure maple syrup to mix cocktails with instead of a simple syrup, we use it to make our homemade ice cream, to sweeten oatmeal, and of course we love it on our pancakes!

I hope this has cleared up any confusion you may have had regarding sweeteners. I know the challenges of omitting refined white sugar from your diet and how hard it can be. Sugar addiction is real and cravings can be intense. Learning to substitute with raw honey and pure maple syrup has been really rewarding and satisfying for my sweet tooth. What are your favorite ways to use these natural sweeteners?

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