Healthful sweeteners: Satisfying your sweet tooth without undermining your wellness

Health & Wellness

Having a sweet tooth isn’t necessarily bad unto itself.

In fact, our palettes evolved so that we would crave the foods we need. Our differentiated taste buds helped us to survive during the eons without consistent and constant food sources. Umami/savory taste buds cause us to crave proteins and fats.

Ever had an urge for something salty? This underscores a need for minerals. Sour and bitter have become rather neglected in the American diet, but both motivate us to get vitamins from plant sources (and also protect us from poisons). Meanwhile, a yearning for sweetness comes from the body’s need to use carbohydrates for energy.

Each flavor category has a distinct function in the human diet, so none of these impulses are unhealthful at their core.

Cause For Concernsweet tooth diet

The problems arise when we experience imbalances in our cravings. We adapted over millions of years to be extraordinarily adept at surviving famines, which happened with startling frequency over the millennium. In modern, industrialized societies hunger is largely obsolete; however, our metabolisms don’t know that. We crave calorically dense foods, because our bodies are always alert for opportunities to store fat as a buffer against the next extended fast.

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In the last few decades, there has been a mistaken notion that all fats should be eliminated from the diet and replaced with any type of carbohydrate at hand.

Isolating sugars from their whole plant sources triggered a staggering uptick in diabetes, heart disease and various other ailments that never existed in broad numbers in the past. Now these diseases are at epidemic proportions. Enter artificial sweeteners. These zero-calorie substances were supposed to help people lose weight and avoid metabolic diseases. They have, however, made the problem even worse.

When the brain detects sweetness, it tells the pancreas to excrete insulin. Insulin is what causes the body to store fat. When insulin is floating around in the blood, the body must store energy. That is the purpose of insulin. Artificial sweeteners trigger this insulin response much stronger than natural carbohydrates, so even more food is stored than might otherwise be.

Artificial Sweeteners No Answer

To make matters worse, artificial sweeteners are connected to kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, obesity, suicidal bouts of depression and a host of other health problems. Clearly, these substances should be avoided as much as possible.

What to do then? First, gradually retrain your palette away from sweetness. High fructose corn syrup and other processed sugars are practically impossible to avoid, if you eat a diet high in processed ingredients. Reduce your intake of these pre-packaged “foods.”

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Begin implementing whole carbohydrates, like fresh fruits and vegetables, into your meals. Whole grain breads, pastas and crackers can work too. What is helpful about these sources of carbohydrates is that they come with fiber and fiber slows down the digestive process. This allows your body time to gradually absorb the starches and sugars, mitigates the insulin response and keeps the bowels functioning properly.

Healthful Sweetener Alternatives 

Stevia is better than other sugar-free sweeterners, but is still not a fully healthy choice for wellness. Photo Credit: Daniele Depascale via Dollar Photo Club.

Stevia is better than other sugar-free sweeteners, but is still not a fully healthy choice for wellness.
Photo Credit: Daniele Depascale via Dollar Photo Club.

Stevia products are better than chemistry projects gone awry; however, it is highly processed and, therefore, suspect. What’s left?

Raw honey is an excellent alternative to practically any other sweetener. It is not a low calorie food, so use it intelligently. It is sweeter than sugar, so you shouldn’t need much.

Raw honey does not cause insulin spikes; it provides a host of enzymes, minerals and nutrients; if locally produced, it can reduce inflammation and springtime allergies; and it has antimicrobial properties. Be certain that your honey is raw, otherwise you will be consuming what is tantamount to artificial pancake syrup. : :

info: Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and integre8twellness.com. He is also a former staff writer for qnotes.

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