Are There “Better Sugars”?
This past Sunday, Mother’s Day, I was relaxing and watching the Today Show, when I saw something that made me do this:
Let me explain: they had a segment on cooking Mother’s Day brunch featuring Mary J. Blige’s personal chef. She was making a bunch of delicious looking stuff and making it healthy. One item was granola, using mostly nuts, dried fruit, and palm sugar. And as she’s describing the granola she keeps talking about palm sugar as “a better sugar” and a healthier sugar. Now you see why the face palm?
I see this on a lot of Paleo blogs too; they’ll use honey instead of sucrose, and almond or coconut meal instead of flour and proclaim it a healthy item. So now seems like a good time to tackle the “better sugar” question.
The Glycemic Index
Let’s start here with a quick review. The glycemic index is a measure of how a particular food or beverage affects your blood sugar compared to 50 grams of white bread. Low glycemic foods have a glycemic index (GI) below 55, and high glycemic foods are above 70. High glycemic foods cause a larger spike in your blood sugar, resulting in more insulin production and usually followed by a drop off. This cycle occurring over and over again can lead to insulin resistance, and ultimately diabetes. Lower glycemic foods tend to hit the blood sugar more slowly, resulting in less insulin release and a more stable curve. This graph illustrates it well (hint: you want to be closer to the blue line).
Now here is where a few common sugars fall on the glycemic index:
It would stand to reason that lower glycemic sugars like palm sugar and agave would be good for you compared to sucrose, right? Not so fast. Sugar its still sugar. All forms of sugar are calorically equivalent at 4 calories per gram, and are still a source of calories that provides zero nutritional quality (no fiber, no vitamins, no minerals, no other nutrients). Agave is highly processed, and coconut palm sugar production may well be unsustainable.
It’s kind of like what I said about high fructose corn syrup and sucrose: just because one thing might be similar or slightly better than another thing, doesn’t mean both are good for you. If you’re pursuing a healthy diet, finding the healthiest type of sugar is like finding the healthiest version of Frosted Corn Cereal – one may be better than another but neither are all that great for you. If you are making something that requires sugar, think about how you can cut back on the sweetness. Maybe add a banana instead of some of the butter in cookies or bread, which will maintain consistency and add more natural sweetness. Or check out Stevia. I haven’t done any research personally (meaning I haven’t used it a bunch yet), but I’ve heard great reviews.
What are your thoughts on sugar? Do you have a go-to type of sweetener?