Raw cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, beet sugar, dates, coconut sugar, concentrated fruit juice, Xylitol, Stevia?
Let me start out by clearly stating, Health-Bent believes that sugar, of any form, should be consumed in extreme moderation. Our desserts are not overwhelmingly sweet and are not intended to duplicate “traditional” recipes. We’re on a mission to change what dessert means, not to try to squeeze our recipes into the conventional definition of dessert.
Why do we write recipes that use table sugar (sucrose) as the sweetener instead of any of the “healthy”sweeteners listed above?
Sucrose (white, table sugar), evaporated cane juice, beet, raw and date sugar, maple syrup, honey and even HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP contain roughly the same number of carbohydrates–4 grams per teaspoon. That equates to 12 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. There are 16 tablespoons in a cup. Add up the amount of sweetener you’re using in your treats, along with the starch (almond flour, coconut flour, gluten-free whatever) and it piles up realllllly quickly.
|Sucrose (white sugar)||64|
|Barley malt syrup||42|
|Brown rice syrup||25|
|High fructose corn syrup||62|
|Stevia||less than 1|
|Sugar cane juice||43|
|Evaporated cane juice||55|
|Black strap molasses||55|
Glucose is your blood sugar. Fructose is bound to glucose in a 50/50 relationship to make sucrose and in a 55/45 relationship to make HIGH fructose corn syrup. Now you get what the high part of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) means? So when those commercials come on and tell you corn sugar/HFCS is the same as sugar, they’re pretty much right.
Everything else should be pretty self-explanatory. So, looks cool that Agave Nectar is low on the G.I. list. We should totally shove it into our faces? Wrong…
The “sugar is sugar” axiom works to help us understand that any starch (though not sugar as we think of it when we eat it) will eventually be broken down into sugar in our bodies…and will raise our blood sugar (blood glucose).
Starch is a chain of bound glucose that will become glucose in your bloodstream by digestion. This saying also serves to get us to take a harder look at fruit as something that conventional wisdom will tell you needs no moderation. But the saying does fall flat and is too simplistic in conveying a fundamental difference with sugar molecules that definitely needs attention. Most of the sweeteners (table sugar, maple syrup, honey, fruit juices, etc.) and sugary foods (fruits) that we eat contain different compositions of the molecules glucose and fructose. We know that regulating our blood glucose is important…but where does fructose fit in this equation?
Fructose is not metabolised in the same way as glucose (starches are chains of glucose). It’s metabolised almost solely by your liver. High levels of fructose consumption can put a real burden on your liver and lead to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). Fructose molecules can also glycate (bind with other molecules) to produce free radicals and promote inflammation. So any sweetener or fruit with high fructose content is worth being very mindful of. The so called “low glycemic” sweeteners are such because they contain less glucose and more fructose. That’s how they raise your blood sugar less…but they’re even nastier.
Agave nectar is made in a similar fashion as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The starch inside the agave plant is transformed into free synthetic fructose. Agave nectar has MORE synthetic fructose than HFCS. So what does that mean? Your body can’t use it and so it ends up stored as fat in your body, is inflammatory and can wreck your metabolism. No thanks.
Trace minerals, etc.
The minerals and vitamins found in honey, maple syrup and unrefined, raw sugars really aren’t beneficial enough in the small quantities we consume them in. Besides, a diet like ours, high in animal protein & fats, seafood, vegetables and natural sea salt will give you a much higher dose of all of these things. It makes less sense to worry about what “IS paleo” than to just try and be aware of your fructose consumption. If you’re going to eat sugar, you’re fooling yourself if you think honey or concentrated fruit juice or dates will be much better for you than white sugar. Your body can barely tell the difference.
Taste and Budget
Taste reigns supreme in our house. Stevia has been known to leave some funky, licorice-y aftertastes in your mouth–and it can be a budget buster. So we don’t bother with it.
Along with Stevia, other natural sweeteners out there can run upwards of $10 a pound. That’s absolutely ludicrous! If you buy this stuff, don’t tell me you can’t afford to eat “Paleo”. Buy the cheap, white stuff and use it like a condiment.
Splenda, Equal, NurtiSweet, etc. Oh it’s fabulous right? It’s calorie free! Think about this for a minute…why in the hell is it calorie free? What exactly does that mean? It means that our bodies CANNOT digest these foreign chemical substances and they pass directly through us.
Sorbitol, Xylitol and other sugar alcohols (look for sweeteners ending in -tol) are not calorie free, but can still cause discomfort in some people. Anyone have I.B.S. that can’t be attributed to lactose or gluten? Cut out the diet drinks, conventional toothpaste, mouthwash and gum. Apples, pears, peaches and plums contain Sorbitol too, so don’t mass consume them or their juices! See if your tum-tum (and your bum-bum) doesn’t thank you.
Like I said from the get-go, any sweetener you use should be used in extreme moderation. Plain and simple, I don’t like to waste food or money and I am more familiar with how sucrose works in baked goods. I know it creates fluffy textured goodies by way of air bubble creation during the creaming method, it’s hygroscopic; making treats soft and tender. In frozen concoctions, it keeps large water crystals (a.k.a. ice) from forming– this keeps the texture soft and smooth.
All that being said, if you want to experiment with different sweeteners, DO IT! If you find success, please share! We are open-minded (and hell-bent on health!) here and are always interested in hearing your opinions.
Eric S. - CrossFit West Santa CruzDecember 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm
Thank you for this short and informative essay. Well stated and easy to follow. I would be willing to bet Mr. RW likes this too! (I gave you a Like on FB, great work!)
megan keatleyDecember 8, 2010 at 11:15 am
thank you so much eric. the article still needs a bit of tweaking, but i’m glad it makes sense.
TrixieJanuary 4, 2011 at 1:58 pm
Okay, so now that I’m staying away from artificial sweeteners..which do you think are the best choices (used in moderation) in primal/paleo diet?
megan keatleyJanuary 5, 2011 at 2:59 pm
we typically use table sugar. like it says in the article, sugar is sugar. so why pay a ton of money for something that boasts its healthy sugar, when it’s just the same as table sugar?
TrixieJanuary 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm
Thanks for getting back to me Megan, love your site:)
BridgetJanuary 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm
I had a question about coconut/palm crystals. I got some to make your cheesecake brownies. Since you usually just use table sugar, I figured it was to conform to food renegade ideals. I would have just used sugar but didn’t know if they were equal in sweetness or if I would have to change amts, etc. I also didn’t know if it would affect flavor. It was just easier to buy it.
So, short story long, how does the sweetness compare? The GI is 35 according to the can I got, but I was wondering if it does anything bad like stevia or agave nectar.
Brandon KeatleyJanuary 5, 2011 at 10:42 pm
you hit the nail on the head as for why we used it there. some folks like it because you can get it raw with enzymes alive and for it’s trace minerals and vitamins. and it does have a lower GI but from what i’ve seen it’s not because it’s almost exclusively fructose like agave. it appears to be mostly sucrose so how it has a lower GI i’m not positive as there is no fiber. we are more concerned with the total glycemic load which will be the same once you take out the factor of absorption rate. anyway, if you’re looking for a less adulterated product it’s a good option. but we try to use such little sugar anyway i doubt it would make much difference. as for the sweetness i’ll have to let meg answer that part as i haven’t cooked with it yet.
BridgetJanuary 6, 2011 at 12:57 am
Thanks, Brandon, I appreciate the reply. Good to know that it isn’t all fructose, I wonder how the GI is so low… Oh well. But now that I have a can of expensive tree sap, I would like to use it 🙂 Mostly I was wondering if it’s an even exchange for sugar. It cost too much for me to want to experiment on my own. Thanks for your help! You two have really helped my intro to paleo!
megan keatleyJanuary 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm
the coconut sugar is definitely less sweet than regular table sugar…so just remember, you can always add more, but can never take away.
BridgetJanuary 6, 2011 at 9:53 pm
ok, sorry to be a pain, but I have another question for you. I really don’t want to eat agave nectar after reading your post, but if I come across recipes with it, is it a 1:1 conversion with regular sugar, honey or maple syrup? Sorry, I’m just really confused at this point.
megan keatleyJanuary 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm
you’re not a pain! i’m not really sure, to be honest–as i’ve never developed a recipe with agave. i would say, though, that any dessert you find with a liquid sweetener can use any of liquid sweetener w/ a 1:1 ratio w/ little to no problems.
MichelleApril 23, 2012 at 12:13 am
I’m really bummed about the agave nectar. According to the bottle it is 1 1/2 times as sweet as sugar.
brandon keatleyJanuary 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm
i’d use less sweetener anyway…agave probably tastes more sweet with less. but if you use less you may find that you still actually like it and the less the better probably. ice cream does come to mind though, where if you toy with sugar content in a recipe conversion you may just end up with ice.
Sara RDecember 30, 2011 at 11:46 pm
I agree with your basic point, except for Stevia. It is not a sugar, it is an extract of an herb and is used in such small quantities because it is so exceedingly sweet that it does not affect blood sugar. It can be used in combination with a small amount of regular sugar to achieve a lower glycemic content of a particular recipe.
I do agree with you on all of the rest of it and it is very clearly presented. I will be sharing this. 🙂
megan keatleyJanuary 3, 2012 at 10:40 am
we just stick stevia in there b/c it’s a sweetener, and thus, an option. glad you find the article useful sara.
PatrickJanuary 1, 2012 at 2:28 pm
Doesn’t the fiber and water in things like dates help to mollify the affects of it’s sugar in your body, unlike table sugar which has no fiber or water?
Also, I have read so much on how honey (especially raw, local honey) has so many healthy properties in it – are you still saying table sugar is just as good? Or that you just don’t think the value is worth what you spend on it?
brandon keatleyJanuary 1, 2012 at 10:20 pm
yeah, it’s not that hard to make the case that fresh fruit is a healthier source of sugar than refined. but, you’re referring to glycemic indexes with the absorption rate thing…and there are a few gotchas to that. first of all…one of the serious dangers of sugar in the first place is fructose. and since the glycemic index is only measuring blood sugar (glucose)…it means that sugary foods with low GI could be worse for you. a perfect example is agave nectar…low GI because it’s almost entirely fructose…and is to be avoided for exactly that reason.
some fresh fruits are higher in fructose than table sugar…same with dried fruits. that’s one of the reasons we don’t get too wrapped up in “paleo” (available to hunter gatherers) always being healthier than something newer. think: honey vs. butter.
the other gotcha….is that we believe the total glycemic load (how much of that sugar will reach your bloodstream once all is said and done) your body will have to deal with is more of the issue vs. the rate it enters your blood in the first place.
dried fruit and honey are fine…we use both from time to time. our argument is simply that if you’re using it to make a treat don’t fool yourself into thinking that your body can 1) tell the difference between how “natural” the sugar molecule is 2) benefit more from any micronutrient in the sweetener in something that should be moderated and only used in small amounts anyway.
the “sugar is sugar” thing works to teach people that starch (non sugary carbs) are going to be broken down into sugar too. but it really falls short beyond that to look at glucose vs. fructose. those are handled entirely differently by your body. (see our about page).
the bottom line is this…it’s our belief that any “paleo” sweetener is at best, very marginally better than table sugar. so if you’re using it sparingly anyway…being wrapped up in what is or isn’t paleo can simply be dogma at that point.
suzanneOctober 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm
this is so informative! thank you! and did I miss it, or how does maple syrup rate into all of this? i’m not a non-sugar freak, but I do love some high quality maple syrup for pancakes, puddings, and pumpkin baked goods….but is it fructose heavy, like agave? thank you!
ChrisJanuary 8, 2012 at 4:32 pm
First off I’d like to say I love your site and this article. However, in regard to artificial sweetners you wrote “our bodies CANNOT digest these foreign chemical substances and they pass directly through us.”
I think you let these fake sugars off the hook to easily.
Due purely to laziness I’ve not posted the articles here (use google), but studies suggest that the chemicals can get stored into body tissues from the GI system and throughout. Posibly worse yet is that these artificial sweetners still trigger an insulin response which can create hypoglycemia, increased insulin resistance and chronic inflammation.
I assume most readers of your blog do not consume these fake sugars and potential carcinogens anyways, but I can’t help but wonder what sort of pollutants and evironmental damage the production of these chemically synthesized non-nutrients cause.
brandon keatleyJanuary 9, 2012 at 10:34 am
thanks chris. we did kind of glaze over it here as stating they are toxic would likely require us to then back that up and make an unreadably long post. but…for those interested…try this – it is scary stuff:
ChrisJanuary 9, 2012 at 11:45 am
Thats a pretty good article, Thank you. However not sold on “better options” portion… Anyways it is unfortunate that negative claims against artificial sweetners can lead to unwarranted backlash from large companies, media and the uninformed public alike.
Health WizardJuly 13, 2012 at 4:27 pm
As part of my studies in nutrition science and dietetics, I’ve never encountered one shred of proof that the major artificial sweeteners are in any way dangerous or detrimental.
As far as causing an insulin response, this is also something highly disputed and certainly not universal. Some people may have issues with an insulin response from artificial sweeteners, some may not. It may also be the bulking agent (usually maltodextrin) causing the response, since it is, itself, a carbohydrate. When used in liquid form, this is not a problem.
Which leads me to the final issue: These sweeteners are incredibly sweet in their undiluted concentrations. They’re hundreds, even thousands of times sweeter than sugar. Because of this, you’re getting very, very little of them in each serving. So little as to be all-but residual. In short, even if they’re absorbed by the body (which is a big “if,”) there is simply not enough of them to make a difference.
There is no food product that has been more exhaustively scrutinized than Aspartame, and the other artificial sweeteners aren’t far behind, either. They aren’t carcinogens, they aren’t poisons, and they aren’t some secret mind-controlling concoction developed by time-travelling commie surf-nazis.
It’s not likely they make us any healthier on their own, and your caution is commendable, but until anything is emperically proven, it’s best to hold off on judgement and condemnation.
Natasha KayOctober 30, 2012 at 6:08 pm
I glazed over as soon as I read your opening sentence…”As part of my studies in nutrition science and dietetics.”
It’s “educated” people like you, saying that something as dangerous as Aspartame is totally healthy, who make our obesity and health epidemic even worse.
Next your going to tell us that saturated fats are evil!! Right??
Studies aside, I have had dozens of clients, readers, and friends experience a life-changing breakthrough when they cut out artificial sweeteners. Middle-aged women have finally been able to leave the house without an adult diaper (since incontinence is one of the most common side effects of daily aspartame) and most people have finally been able to function without the “brain fog” that they were suffering from every day.
One day we will all realize that our health professionals are receiving a bias education that’s largely dictated by half-baked studies funded by big corporations who stand to benefit from their misinformed results.
AJanuary 21, 2012 at 11:43 pm
Stumbled across your site while looking at recipes on Pinterest. Everything looks amazing, but this article really hooked me. I have this discussion with people all the time. Especially about juice. If I hear the phrase “but it’s natural sugar.” one more time my head might explode. It’s really hard to convince people that they might as well just take a vitamin and drink a coke. I’m in school to be a registered dietitian, and while a lot of what I have learned about eating in school is not in line with what I practice/learn about in my day-to-day life, sugars are sugars.
megan keatleyJanuary 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm
word! thanks a!
SallyJanuary 30, 2012 at 3:24 pm
I’ve read recent studies that show if you buy raw organic agave nectar, it is process below 118 degrees F and does not break down the enzymes thus yielding a lower fructose concentration and being low on the glycemic index. Have you done any research lately? Here is once article I found…would be interested in your thoughts? I agree, everything in moderation though.
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DeborahMarch 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm
Love this post! I am tired of all the recipes and products out there that try to recreate desserts with tons of fake sugars. I was just thinking to myself “why can’t we just make dessert with less sugar?” most desserts are too sweet for my taste anyway. I am just starting out on my low-sugar life, and I am glad I found your website. Paleo seems to be similar to what I am doing which is focusing on whole foods. Thanks again for the interesting post.
ShannonMarch 29, 2012 at 11:23 pm
I LOVE your site and your outlook on things! Several years ago I found out that I was gluten and dairy intolerant and have been on a crazy journey ever since! I have more recently found that it is all grains that I cannot tolerate plus dairy. I have been confused about sugars but knew that artifical chemicals are always a NO! I have been suckered into the agave hype but not anymore! What you say makes total sense. I think we inherently look for something that tastes just as good (as what we used to eat) and want someone to tell us it’s okay. I am just beginning my “paleo” journey & look forward to visiting your blog many times!
djApril 3, 2012 at 11:22 pm
So, first off I love the website and content. I follow Paleo and have made many of your recipes. However, I one question I have relates to my wife who has been diagnosed Hypoglycemia. I understand your point that “sugar is sugar”; however, even small amounts of table sugar it wrecks her GI. However, she is able to use other lower GI sweeteners, sometimes even larger amounts, without issue.
Diabetes and hypoglycemia are in fact different and react different with different foods, therefore, I have a hard time buying the “sugar is sugar” statement. As you state, sweeteners in moderation but it seems one would still be better off with something lower on the GI. Especially since your are limiting the negative impacts on your metabolism by the reduced consumption.
Am I incorrect or do you have any additional advice?
Thank you and keep up the great work!
brandon keatleyApril 4, 2012 at 11:09 am
well…”sugar is sugar” is a tool to try and get across the idea that our body basically “sees” sugar whether it’s from fruit or from table sugar in a similar way – as far as molecules go…our body can’t tell the difference in the end whether the glucose/fructose is from table sugar or an apple. it helps to get people to understand that all starches or any nutritive sweetner will become sugar in your body eventually…and that 50 apples isn’t necessarily better than a snickers bar. most people don’t think about this when they think about potatoes for example. but to your point…yes…there is nothing in this nutrition deal simple enough to be explained with 3 words…it’s just meant to be an eye opener for some people.
as you point out…what’s not explained with “sugar is sugar” (besides the glucose/fructose deal we describe in the article) is how long it takes to be converted to blood sugar.
unfortunately i really think GI and glycemic load are useless. GI gives you an idea how fast the spike could be…but with no regard to how much you actually take in. 2 grains of sugar and a cup of sugar have the same GI…would they do the same thing to your blood sugar?
so glycemic load tries to account for the amount of carbohydrate in the food as well as the index. but in doing so most GL numbers assume a “serving size” for that food and give you the GL only as it relates to the arbitrary serving size they choose. double the serving size and you double the GL. what makes it so confusing is that you might be comparing the 28 GL of raisins for 60 grams to the 10 GL of white bread for 30 grams (off a Harvard Med School chart). is that how much of each i would eat? i have no idea. how can you use this to determine which is better for you from a blood sugar standpoint? i think the concept has potential but i’d want to see a comparison of equal amounts of every food so i can determine which has a higher impact on blood sugar if i ate the same amount of either.
so all that being said…what do you do? i think you do exactly as you say and learn what doesn’t work for you and avoid it. i see huge problems with GI and GL and I’d bet different individuals will react differently to foods with the same GI/GLs anyway. or in different people different ones wouldn’t work for them and others would.
if it were me i would still stay away from the high fructose sweeteners like agave that don’t impact blood sugar (glucose) since they are mostly fructose for other reasons as mentioned above.
i would experiment with stevia. and possibly do some reasearch on whether or not there are other foods you can eat before starch/sugar that would help mitigate the release/digestion of the sugars so as to slow down the absorbtion and subsequent blood sugar crash. typically this would be fat i believe.
sounds like this is reactive hypoglycemia (blood sugar spikes and then crashes). so she could even do some self experimentation with a glucose meter after different types of carbs to see what kinds of spikes she gets and what leads to the crashes – and then test those carbs in combination with fat…etc. – i think those are the only #s that really will matter to her personally. not some arbitrary GI/GLs. that could be incredibly inconvenient but might be worth it in the long run? chris kresser wrote a cool post about how to use glucometers (not specifically for low blood sugar though) and what they can tell you a while back. check it out here – http://chriskresser.com/how-to-prevent-diabetes-and-heart-disease-for-16.
chris also did a piece about fasting or only eating 3 meals a day not typically working for his patients with hypoglycemia. http://chriskresser.com/intermittent-fasting-cortisol-and-blood-sugar . we do generally recommend 3 meals a day and IF but this looks like one place that it might make things worse.
hope this helps. thanks so much for kind words.
FeliciaOctober 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm
As a woman with reactive hypoglycemia myself, I can second that experimentation with foods and combinations of foods is a better guide to what works for you than just about anyone else.
For me personally, two things have worked to keep my blood-sugar on an even keel. I stay as close to natural as is reasonable with my foods, such as whole fruit over juice, whole grains over processed, and over all, keep the sugars to a minimum. But sometimes you just want to eat a cookie, so every once in a while, I eat the darn cookie, and if I’ve been staying away from sugar, the cookie doesn’t wreak havoc on my blood sugar, I don’t have a spike, I don’t have a crash and I’m not so hungry I can’t see straight 10 min later.
The other thing that has helped a great deal is eating the sugar I do consume, like fruit or tea or that super bad cookie, with a fat protein. Raw milk, raw cheese, an egg, heck some bacon or a salad with meat on it. That slows it down nicely too. And I also am far more sensitive to white sugar than I am to raw, or maple syrup. No idea why, maybe overuse of it or something. who knows. Hope that’s a help to someone.
JeremyApril 27, 2012 at 9:16 pm
Hey Megan thanks for the great article! I have never heard much of the information presented and I was wondering if you could pass on your sources so I can look into it further. Thanks a ton!
AndreaMay 16, 2012 at 8:30 am
I would like to know more about yacon. Is it high in fructose? From what I’ve read it is high in oligofructose which can not be absorbed by the body. It also shows benefits similar to probiotics by creating a prebiotic effect. I got some info from here
Please let me know what you think 🙂
brandon keatleyMay 16, 2012 at 9:34 am
so from what i have read…it’s true that there is only half the amount of sugar per Tablespoon compared to table sugar…but it is all fructose (similar to agave). that’s why it will not raise blood sugars (blood glucose).
i am even more wary of free fructose than when it’s more balanced with glucose.
so if you used the same amount of yacon vs. table sugar…essentially you’d get the same amount of fructose either way (albeit less total sugar (glucose) from the yacon).
also…whenever i see “inulin” or “fructooliggosaccharides”…the prebiotics you mention…i immediately think FODMAP intolerances. suffice it to say that this stuff could potentially cause real discomfort for people who have FODMAP malabsorption.
i could see that if you were diabetic and tolerated it well maybe it’s a decent option for the occasional treat. but i think personally i’d be just as keen on moderating it as i would with any other sugar.
and if you’re not diabetic…with good glucose tolerance i just don’t see anything that would lead me to believe it will be any better than simply using table sugar or whatever and keeping it low. and in the case that it didn’t sweeten as well per equal amount as other sugars…any benefits would start looking even less promising.
that’s my two cents at least. thanks so much for the comment.
AndreaMay 16, 2012 at 11:34 am
So I am understanding that you are saying sugar is sugar, and that all sugars will react the same in your body. However, I can not justify that a more natural sugar would be the same to your body as white table sugar. There has to be a choice as to one that is better. If we are (for the sack of this discussion) staying away from inulin sugars, what would be thee best choice? I have seen studies that say date sugar has the most nutrients and minerals compared to other similar choices such as honey, maple syrup, and white table sugar.
do you have advice on this? You seem to be well informed on the subject and it seems your opinion on the matter is taken seriously by many of your subscribers.
brandon keatleyMay 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm
to my mind this goes two ways.
1. just because your dried fruit is sweetened with apple juice concentrate doesn’t mean it’s perfectly healthy…it’s still going to net results very similar to eating refined sugar.
2. well if dried fruit sweetened with apple juice concentrate isn’t neccessarily healthy…then wouldn’t regular table sugar then be “not necessarily healthy” either but also “pretty much just as healthy as dried fruit with apple juice concentrate”.
i think both of these are true. the conclusion we draw from it is…all sugar should probably be kept to a minimum/moderated.
we don’t have anything against less refined sugars (we use them)…but it just goes back and forth like the example above. we believe that if you are wise and mindful about sugar essentially being sugar either way (since our body “sees” the molecules)…and if you keep all types of sugar intake low…you’ll likely be fine whether the sugar you do consume is in the form of table sugar or honey or dates or whatever.
we have said that honey is sugar with bee spit in it…meaning its just sugar that contains trace nutrients. and i have to admit…that i have seen recent evidence that is a bit enigmatic to me as it seems that maybe honey is more than the sum of its parts. maybe our body can “see” the molecules differently in a different context and treat them differently. mark sisson wrote about honey and it admittedly defies this logic to a degree. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/is-honey-a-safer-sweetener/#axzz1v3Dqw8DH
if you’re drawing from this that it’s complicated and goes both ways…then i think i’ve gotten across why we are really just arguing against the concept that natural/less refined sugars are “right” and refined sugars are “wrong”.
i think we’re mostly just saying it’s more nuanced than that and all of them are probably only very marginally different. so while honey might be on the better end…it’s hard for me to justify that table sugar wouldn’t be only a very few degrees different. neither are “right or wrong”. it would be very hard to know if you’d be much more healthy choosing one over the other if either was kept to a minimum in the first place.
but that being said…honey does seem to be a little bit “magical” and stevia might be a decent option too if you like the way it tastes (i don’t know of any huge negatives to it). i’m really not trying to persuade you one way or the other. this is just the way we think about it. we tell people all the time…all you can do is take in all the evidence you can find and make your choice based on that. if you find evidence convincing you that one is superior…i am all for it (someday i might decide one is supreme). it’s kind of a…do we think replacing any table sugar with fill-in-the-blank sugar will add years to and quality to our lives if any of it is kept minimum? do we think that eliminating sugar completely is neccessary to add years to or quality to our lives vs. keeping sugar at a minimum? for us…right now…the answer to both of those is no.
i hope that makes sense…i even confuse myself when i write these.
Ted BurkeOctober 13, 2012 at 8:49 am
The greatest of sweetener of all is abstinence from sweetening. It makes everything taste sweeter.
mercedesOctober 19, 2012 at 4:48 am
I appreciate this article! I had two questions for you if you would be so kind as to answer:
1. I did not see coconut or palm sugar listed on the glycemic index. Did I miss something? I would love to know the numbers.
2. I went to a Paleo diner in Germany where they advertised the use of no sugar. But they still had yummy jams and muffins, which were sweet. What do you suppose they used in their cooking? I thought they had used fruit sugar, because I assumed any other form of sugar (not from a fruit) was not Paleo.
Health-BentOctober 19, 2012 at 9:10 am
Coconut sugar wasn’t as in vogue as it is now when this was written. The GI is 35 and it’s advertised as a “low glycemic” sugar. We do use it and it contains some vitamins and minerals which is a nice bonus. A lower glycemic index indicates that the sugar is broken down and enters the blood stream more slowly reducing spikes somewhat, but we also concern ourselves with the total glycemic load…which is how much sugar your body will have to process and will enter the blood strem in total. And for that…it’s really about how many total grams of sugar you’ve consumed of any type will eventually enter the bloodstream…and most sugars will be similar…natural and refined. So that’s why we try to moderate any type of sugar.
Your #2 question is exactly why we wrote this. It’s misleading and quite frankly BS to say “no sugar added” or something like that and then use things that are made out of sugar which is what they would have had to do. Even sweet potatoes and tomatoes and things like that contain fair amounts of sugar…yet we are led to believe that we can eat 500 sweet potatoes but 1 tsp of added sugar is horrible. Honestly, this is dogma that comes from people promoting “paleo reenactment”. Nothing makes me madder than having someone say “you should eat zero added sugar”…and then “here is our recommendation for dried cranberries sweetened with apple juice concentrate”. It’s like saying…you should never ride in a car but a limousines are perfectly fine. How is it really that different??? I think there is something to be said for sticking with less refined stuff, sure, not stripping the sugar from the context of the food it belongs to is nice, but what they do is a bunch of crap…and that’s what we’re trying to say here. Your body sees sugar as “fructose and/or glucose”…not “honey” or “fruit juice” or anything else. If you’re going to eat them it’s nice if they come with a little more bang for the buck in the form of vitamins and minerals like the coconut sugar or fruit…but have the understanding that regular table sugar isn’t that distant of a cousin.
Natasha KayOctober 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm
Great article and one I will share with clients and readers! Thanks!
MarmeeOctober 30, 2012 at 11:52 pm
You nailed it!! I’m living proof that your body has to “deal” with ANY sugar anyway. I vowed 2 years ago to never have HFCS in my house in any product. I have succeeded in that. However, I’ve fooled myself into thinking that ” healthier” sugars exist. I’ve used everything off the health food store shelves making my “good for you” treats and I’m up a good twenty ponds. Good hell, I could have been enjoying my Nutterbutters and Oreos and gotten the same result!! Sugar IS sugar.
I’m also very concerned since both my parents are diabetic ( my mom is type 2 and my dad is ID and has been for nearly 40 years). I understand sugar and how the body deals with carbs. My dad only EVER counts carbs as he dials in to his insulin pump. It doesn’t matter if it’s agave, coconut sugar, honey, or white table sugar. Carbs are what insulin fights to keep your blood sugar level. I would rather give up a few things to feel better, live longer, and avoid diabetes (if possible).
This is why I’m researching PALEO. I need a lifestyle that makes me feel better, regulates my blood sugar, and keeps me in check with a healthy weight. No grains, processed foods, and minimal sugar seems logical.
Thank you for this amazing article and the “laymans” terms. This has been very helpful 🙂
malitaDecember 27, 2012 at 10:25 pm
I use dates a lot – whether chopped or soaked in hot water and pureed, they make a good natural sweeter. Looking forward to some of your recipes!!
MDJanuary 16, 2013 at 9:23 pm
I just read this article and all the comments. The one thing I am taking away is this quote from Health-Bent
“being wrapped up in what is or isn’t paleo can simply be dogma at that point.”
Thanks for that statement. There’s definitely a smug, “cavemen-don’t-eat-nightshades” attitude out there, and me & my S.O. almost went off the diet for that very reason – it’s so off-putting! I found your site at just the right time (when we were sort of getting tired of Paleo & looking for new recipes). This site’s honesty, lack of pretentiousness, & recipes keep us going. Thanks for helping us feel like we can stick to the diet, and that we’re not slovenly cheap @$$holes for eating a tablespoon of white sugar once every two months. 😉
EmilyApril 4, 2013 at 11:15 am
I know this is an older post, but it looks like it’s still getting comments and responses…I was wondering if you had any thoughts on dextrose. From what I understand, it’s pure glucose. I’ve seen some sites recommending it as a sweetener to avoid ramifications from fructose. It seems too good to be true, so I wanted to see if you have an opinion about it. Thanks!!
Health-BentApril 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm
it is just glucose and from what we know is typically made from corn. we know people who will add it to protein shakes post workout for recovery (glycogen repletion). of course you have the same carbohydrate load and you’ll have the blood glucose spikes/insulin deal going on…which in moderate amounts (if you tolerate it well)…can be fine. so if you’re dead set on avoiding fructose as much as possible it can be an option. we haven’t tried to use it in any recipes because our motto usually is to just keep sugar low in general and to use honey/maple/coconut (less refined sugars) in the first place. mat lelonde has mentioned fructose consumption over 50 g/day is where problems are seen in studies…and most conscientious primal people not gorging on treats will be well below that. i’d be curious if dr. lustig has any recommendations as to how much fructose is too much (he is on a crusade against fructose but still i’ve heard him say it’s about the amount). might have to pick up his new book.
EmilyApril 4, 2013 at 1:07 pm
Cool, thank you so much for taking the time to let me know your thoughts! I might experiment with it.
greggMay 29, 2013 at 7:38 pm
I don’t see any references to studies showing our body doesn’t know how to use the “synthetic” fructose in agave nectar and so it just turns to fat. Where did you get that information? Also, I’d like to see studies to back up the claim on this site that low glycemic fructose sweeteners are “nastier” than high glycemic sweeteners with less fructose. Thanks!
Health-Bent | Paleo Recipes | Paleo Egg NogJune 18, 2013 at 4:55 pm
[…] 1/4 – 1/3 c sugar […]
JoBJune 21, 2013 at 12:39 am
Any love for blackstrap molasses? I know it’s too overpowering for many recipes, but I find it delicious for some. It has loads of iron and other nutrients. I even like it in my coffee, and I’m still searching for a grain-free alternative to the killer ginger molasses cookies I used to make..,
JenJuly 5, 2013 at 9:44 pm
I am just curious if you could elaborate on the recurring phrase of “in moderation”. This just seems too open-ended and the possibility of still reaking havoc on your body is pretty high. I am trying to switch my family over to paleo, but still trying to “figure it all out”. LOL! Just curious how often you advise people to eat some sort of sweet treat with out doing a tremendous amount of damage. TIA
Health-BentJuly 6, 2013 at 6:50 pm
Mat Lelonde (Harvard biochemist) once recommended staying below 50g of fructose a day, citing studies showing blood sugar control problems in populations consuming more than that. That would indicate an intake of roughly 100 grams of sugar per day (based on most kinds of sugar close to 50/50 fructose/glucose). And that number actually sounds quite a bit higher than I think most people eating a primal/paleo diet with a treat or two occasionally would be. This varies some by person and activity level of course but we agree with Mark Sisson that 150 g of carbs a day is a good goal for most (600 calories). Of that…a lot of it would be starch from vegetables (including root) and sugar from fruit…and some added sugar would probably be in the neighborhood of 50-60g/day which is about 4 Tablespoons. That seems pretty appropriate to us, but then again, I can’t show you any studies that prove you’ll be healthy forever doing that (and probably wouldn’t ever be able to). Wouldn’t know of any showing 0 sugar or 10 g (or whatever) is better either though. I think treat frequency depends on the person but with people without huge weight loss goals or any specific issues I don’t see why they can’t be enjoyed daily, in amounts keeping them within this context. Hope that helps!
Suzie WalkerJuly 12, 2013 at 3:37 am
FABULOUS well written piece, thanks very much
Suzie WalkerJuly 12, 2013 at 3:41 am
Shame our British Dietetics Association have got is so wrong http://www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Sugar.pdf
HollySeptember 8, 2013 at 3:35 am
I wanted to say THANK YOU for this article. We have been gluten free for about 2 years now and are new to eating primal (anxiously awaiting our copy of “Primal Cravings” to arrive on Monday). Our daughter was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, severe insulin resistance and elevated liver enzymes. We always ate “healthy” and were very active, so it was mind-boggling to hear the news. We switched to gluten free recipes and used Agave Nectar in everything (I love to bake)…I have to wonder if the fructose in the Agave is responsible for the elevation in liver enzymes. Your site is the first one that convinced me we could actually stick to eating primal….your recipes are “normal” and taste SOOOO good! I cannot thank you enough, as after all these years of our daughters’ struggles, I feel there is hope to help her regain her health. I also feel that I can enjoy cooking & baking again. Your article on sugar makes so much sense and is just what we needed.
SteveNovember 23, 2013 at 4:26 pm
For better use, it would be nice to add the level of fructose by the glycemic level on your chart.
ALSO, I recommend ONLY coconut sugar to my group as it has the lowest percentage of fructose at 3-5% depending on the source. Itt also has a low GI 35-38 due to a built-in pre-biotic called inulin. You can make it even lower by adding a few grams more inulin.
It also the ONLY sugar recommended by both Drs Oz and Mercola.
LisaDecember 4, 2013 at 11:45 am
PaleoOMG sent me your way to check out your eggnog recipe, which led me here. An excellent discussion of sugar options! I want to add a few notes about honey, because it’s not one thing.
Commercially produced honey is a largely unregulated product, and it can be impossible to know what you’re actually getting. Aside from that, it pretty much all tastes the same. So I’m totally on board with using table sugar over the big honey bear from the supermarket.
On the other hand, locally produced honeys have an amazing array of flavors depending on what nectars are available to the bees because those trace elements and bee spit (or whatever) can really affect the final outcome. Colors ranging from clear to blackstrap dark. Flavors that may be simply sweet, extremely floral, salty, bitter, vegetal. Cooking with local honeys can be really interesting if you think about how you’re pairing the honey flavor with the food you’re making.
Of course, FODMAPS suggests that honey is high in fructose (counter to the SCD claim that it’s all monosaccharides), so you have to use it with caution. But it’s way more interesting than any of the other sweeteners. Maple syrup has some diversity of flavor, too, but not nearly as much in my experience.
BessieMay 25, 2015 at 12:21 pm
really good article. I gave up any form of sugar, ose a year ago. My body is still thanking me. One equal packet w coffee is all I use. I’ve been watching my body shrink, my health improve. Medical proof! Sweet craving, fresh fruit daily! I’m still reaping the benefits!