Sugar comes in many, many forms — so many that it can be dizzying and overwhelming to try to control your consumption just by reading labels. There's agave, brown rice syrup, cane juice, molasses, honey, maple syrup, stevia, sucanat and fruit juice concentrate, to name a few. No wonder why it's so hard to figure out what we're "supposed" to eat; we've created a panoply of options that our great-grandparents couldn't possibly have even dreamed of. But when it comes down to it, a sugar's a sugar. Your intake should be limited, as difficult as it may sound now that we know how many forms it comes in! I recommend the following, if it helps:
- Honey is one of your best options, as it is made in nature (although some argue that it's the bees who are doing the "processing," rather than human factory workers) — compared to man-made substances like Splenda and Equal, I'd take honey hands down, any day. Use it to sweeten tea (hot or iced), and it can even be used in baking. Start experimenting with your recipes by swapping liquid sweetener for solid (ie, white table sugar) — it's fun, more natural and just as delicious.
- Maple syrup is my second favorite. It's not found in many pre-packaged foods, which is a good indicator that it's a more natural ingredient (actually made by nature, just like honey!). Do yourself a favor and get rid of Aunt Jemima, Mrs Butterworth & Eggo and replace your pancake/waffle syrup with the real deal. It can also be used in my fave delicious coffee drink, recipe here.
- Fruit juice concentrate is often used as a natural sweetener in jams and jellies, which in my book is better than sugar even if it's "organic." I know we tend to think of the whole fruit as better than the fruit juice, but that's typically just because of the fiber content — here, in reality, you're still taking something directly from nature — the whole, untouched fruit — and concentrating its juice down to magnify the flavor and sweetness. Some yogurts now also use this instead of sugar. If you're a yogurt addict, try amande and let me know if you find any others that don't use sugar!
And, my friends, that's it. I don't use barley malt, cane juice, glucose, invert sugar or turbinado sugar. If I'm baking I try to use honey or maple syrup, or occasionally I'll use sugar so as to avoid buying a processed food — at least I know that my pregnancy craving will be satisfied by something homemade, not store bought — but sugary foods should really be reserved for special occasions, not after every meal. Trust me, I know that's difficult if you have a sweet tooth like I do. But I like the saying "No snacks, sweets or seconds on days that don't begin with 'S'" — and that's even a stretch because we all know every Saturday and Sunday shouldn't be treated like a holiday. You can ruin any diet with whole "cheat days" instead of cheat meals, and if people are going to cave it's most likely to happen on the weekends when our schedules are unpredictable and even the best-laid plans can be thrown out the window at a dinner party or the movie theater.
Anything sweet should be consumed in moderation; the less, the better. Sugar suppresses the immune system, encourages inflammation (which is a key indicator of many chronic diseases) and can cause anxiety, cancer and hypoglycemia, to name a few. The bottom line is it's bad, which we all know, and if you've ever tried weaning yourself off of it you know it also seems rather addictive — you may rationalize "just one cookie" here and a piece of cake there because it's Friday or because it's mom's birthday...you may sneak sweets, just as one would sneak a cigarette...you may feel guilty and regretful after consuming something overly sugary, just as you would the morning after a few too many cocktails. Sounds kind of like the use of a controlled substance, doesn't it! You don't have to quit it cold turkey, but slowly reduce your consumption. I like the apple test, personally (and it helps that I've had apple cravings throughout this pregnancy) — if you're not hungry enough to eat the most perfect, shiny, delicious-looking apple, like a nice Honeycrisp, Pink Lady or whatever your favorite may be (pick another fruit if this doesn't apply to you) when what you really want is a donut, scone or other food you maybe shouldn't be eating, then you're probably not hungry. I've used this test several times since I first heard about it on a radio program, and maybe it's just the hormones but I did find I was actually hungry and (1) at the apple, once, and (2) had a bowl of cereal another day, because that's what I was really trying to decide if I needed or not, not just wanted. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, believe it or not, just because I absolutely know I'm hungry! Eating because of stress or the clock or simple circumstances is never good, and yet I know that's what I find myself doing throughout the day. So use the apple test to gauge your need for food in general, sweets in particular — and if you want a cookie but have an apple, EAT THE APPLE!
Next up: Summer = Sunscreen — What You Can Do To Protect Yourself This Year