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9/10/09

Our loving and loved enemy: Sugar

By Lindsey Bowman

"Sugar is like crack, and food manufacturers know that if they add it to their products, you'll keep coming back for more."

It's harsh but true. Refined sugar is hidden in just about all the products that you most likely have in your pantry- cereals, breads, crackers, junk food, just about everything. We've heard about the negative effects of refined sugar, but why is sugar really so bad?

We love our sugar, but it doesn't return the favor

Sugarcane, the plant from which raw sugar is derived, was originally found in South Asia and Southeast Asia roughly 5,000 years ago, in its purest form of thick stalks which store energy as sucrose in the sap. From this juice, it was discovered that the sugar could be extracted by evaporating the water, resulting in crystallized, edible sucrose.

So, sugar comes from a plant, which is natural, therefore benign right? When ingested in moderation, in its simplest raw form, yes. However, as early as the 15th century, humans figured out how to refine the simple extracts of the plant, and chemically alter the raw product to produce "mill white" sugar for consumption. Sugarcane mills extract sugar from freshly harvested sugarcane, resulting in raw sugar (the good kind) and further process the extract creating white refined sugar (the bad and most popular kind).

During this refining process, the juice is boiled so that it will thicken and crystallize, then it is spun to remove the syrup. As a result, all enzymes, fiber, vitamins and minerals are destroyed. So, refined sugar, a simple carbohydrate, has no nutritional value, and has been linked to hypoglycemia, yeast overgrowth, a weakened immune system, hyperactivity, and attention deficit disorder, enlargement of the liver and kidneys, increase of uric acid in the blood, mental and emotional disorders, dental cavities and an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. According to studies conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, "diabetes and obesity are directly linked to eating refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup."

As most health savvy individuals know, refined sugar does cause weight gain. When we consume sugary foods, excess amounts of sugar are stored in the liver as glycogen, but when the liver gets too full, the excess amounts are returned to the bloodstream as fatty acids. Any sugar addict (except the metabolically lucky) knows very well that these fatty acids end up on the stomach, hips, thighs and butt.

In the last decade, this knowledge has lead to the mass production of low-sugar, sugar-free and low carbohydrate processed and packaged food arriving on grocery store shelves by the dozens on a daily basis. This leads to one question, if there's no sugar, what makes it sweet?

Even children know that sugar makes their favorite treats sweet, and taking away the sugar takes away the sweet taste. So, science inevitably came up with an alternative to mitigate disruption of the corporate consumer buying trend of packaged and processed food, which brings in billions to US food manufacturers every year. Every day there are a growing number of chemical cocktails being passed as acceptable sugar or other flavor substitutes.

It's no secret that aspartame has been blamed for a variety of afflictions, including arthritis, birth defects, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes, to name a few. This would clearly indicate one should stop drinking and eating products with aspartame in them (diet sodas and sugar free foods that have NutraSweet or Equal), but if these maladies don't scare you, consider that when methyl alcohol, a component of aspartame, enters your body, it turns into formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a toxic carcinogenic (cancer causing) that laboratory scientists use as a disinfectant or preservative. They don't drink it. Additionally, when aspartame is combined with carbohydrates, it causes the brain to slow down production of serotonin, which is needed to be happy and well balanced.

Although disguised with different brand names and packaging, no aspartame brandishing sweetener is better than another. The sugar substitute branded Equal, which also contains aspartame, contains the amino acid phenylalanine. Phenylalanine occurs naturally in the brain, but high levels can increase chance of seizures and in some cases lead to depression and schizophrenia. The brand Sweet 'N' Low contains saccharin, which is a coal-tar compound. You don't have to be a scientist to figure out you shouldn't put that in your body.

When aspartame was initially put before the FDA for approval in 1973, it was denied 8 times, and was deemed by neurosurgeons and researchers as significantly dangerous for such reasons mentioned earlier.

The newest sugar substitute, which I personally am a repeat offender of using, is Splenda, which is gradually becoming one of the most widely used sweeteners in "diet foods." Although we've been told that Splenda is different from its past failures (Sweet 'N' Low, NutraSweet, etc.) it is also under the microscope for toxic side effects. Splenda is made by chlorinating sugar, changing its molecular structure. The final product is called sucralose. The makers of Splenda claims that the lack of calories in Splenda is safe for diabetics, and the FDA calls sucralose 98% pure, but what about the other 2%? The remaining "un-pure" part of the substance contains small amounts of heavy metals, methanol and arsenic. Sucralose has been found to cause organ, genetic, immune system and reproductive damage, as well as liver and kidney swelling, diarrhea, and decreased fetal body weight. Dr. Joseph Mercola writes in Consumer Research magazine that "There is no clear-cut evidence that sugar substitutes are useful in weight reduction. On the contrary, there is some evidence that these substances may stimulate appetite."

Although I've effectively bashed sugar and its alter egos, there really is a light at the end of the sugar tunnel. There are many natural sweeteners that lack chemicals, pesticides and carcinogens, but not taste. These sweeteners also do not have a significant impact on blood sugar levels because they absorb slowly into the blood stream, lowering your chance of gaining weight with their use.

The sweetener touted as the best for you, is agave nectar or syrup. The sweetener can actually be beneficial to your health because of its high levels of nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and of course it's lack of processing and chemicals. Agave can be used to substitute sugar in any product or recipe.

Stevia is another substitute that is gaining accolades as a "wonder sweetener" because of its use to balance blood sugar levels, reduce cravings for sweets and aid in digestion. It is also known for its antimicrobial properties, which inhibit the growth of bacteria. The natural herbal sweetener contains no calories, has no glycemic index (it won't alter blood sugar levels) and is safe for diabetics.

Xylitol, or birch sugar, can be used for baking and sweetening beverages. Xylitol is low glycemic, and doesn't cause blood sugar imbalances or yeast overgrowth. However, don't go crazy, because eating too much can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and diarrhea.

There are other refined sugar substitutes, which may not be quite as easy to find simply by going to the grocery store, they most likely will be found at health food stores, natural grocers, or specialty stores, but are not too expensive. These include evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, beet sugar, date sugar, (organic) maple syrup, molasses and of course raw sugar. All of these sweeteners contain one or more of the following: calcium, iron, potassium, protein, magnesium, the B vitamin, chromium, fiber and folic acid, all of which will make your body and mind happy and healthy.

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Abracadabra! Stop the Curse!

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Tenafly/Bergen County, New Jersey, United States
The life of a unique and incredible woman whose fate was to be followed by drama, comedy and tragedy. She wandered under a lucky star, which protected her at all times, thus, overcoming the odds that forced her to swim against the high tides; but surprisingly, arriving onto safer and better shores by miracle or by her own strength. Character: Gentle as and orchid but solid as an oak tree. Distracted, but attentive to the best and worth things of life. Indifferent to the time that passes by, but always aware of the beauty around her. Understands and accepts pain, physical or mental, which she believes is absolutely needed in order to grow wiser and happier. She thinks that Happiness is within our reach and unhappiness is not letting go of things or people that don't belong to us any longer.

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I wrote two books that are being translated from Spanish into English but ready to be published in Spanish: "Abracadabra, Stop the Curse! (1999) and "Beyond the Eclipse" (2208) (Abracadabra! Que Pare la Maldicion! y "Mas Alla del Eclipse")

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