Sugar is gradually replacing fat as Public Enemy Number One. The message is slowly filtering through. Sugar and its many derivatives can contribute to adrenal fatigue and a host of other conditions, and are generally bad for your health.
Many people are beginning to think twice before purchasing sugary energy drinks and convenience products, and the food industry has been quick to respond. A new category of “low sugar alternatives” are starting to grace our supermarket shelves.
You may even have tried them yourself. Agave syrup, stevia, and artificial sweeteners are all popular options to sweeten food or replace the sugar in your coffee. But are we being tricked? Are these products really a healthier alternative suitable for your adrenal fatigue diet, or are they best avoided altogether? Which is the healthiest – if any at all?
Let’s take a look at 3 popular sugar alternatives and see how they compare to the real thing:
Agave syrup is often marketed as a diabetic friendly sweetener that doesn’t spike blood sugar levels. This is because, compared to other products such as honey and molasses, it ranks lower on the glycemic index. There’s still some debate around the subject, but some nutritionists argue that agave is less likely to cause blood sugar spikes because of its fructose (fruit sugar) content.
Fructose is metabolised in a different way to refined sugars – instead of being absorbed directly into the blood stream, it’s processed by the liver. However, others maintain that despite this, sugar is sugar in whatever guise, and ultimately, it all has the same effect on your body. The liver will store that sugar (in whatever form that takes) as glucose, which over time can cause weight gain and other health issues.
Is agave syrup a good alternative to refined sugar?
When in its natural state, agave has the advantage of containing some trace nutrients. However, like many refined products, most of these beneficial properties are lost during the manufacturing process. Disregarding this fact – agave may be better for some people over others. If in addition to your adrenal fatigue you have insulin resistance or are suffering with a metabolic disorder, then this product is likely to cause just as much harm as refined white sugar.
The multi-billion dollar sweetener industry has done a great job of convincing us there’s an easy way to consume zero calories and still enjoy all of our favorite foods. But recent studies have shown that far from being a safe alternative, chemicals such as aspartame and xylitol could potentially pose numerous problems for your health.
Many people are blissfully unaware of the fact that sweeteners can actually increase your appetite. Any sweet taste increases the desire to reach for sweet things, and feeds a sugar addiction. In essence, what you think is a harmless sweetener or zero sugar soft drink could actually be causing you to crave foods that aren’t part of your adrenal fatigue eating plan.
Sugar or artificial sweeteners? Which is best?
When you consume artificial sweeteners, your body’s ability to gauge how many calories you’ve ingested begins to break down. This is because artificial sweeteners stimulate your taste receptors, sending a message to the pancreas to release insulin (the fat storing hormone.) This is bad news for a person with adrenal fatigue who’s also likely to have excess cortisol circulating around their system.
Cortisol and insulin are a very bad combo. Your body gets confused by the messages – release sugar? Store fat? Ultimately this see-saw of hormone fluctuation leads to weight gain and low energy; the very thing you want to avoid. Switching from sugar to sweeteners means your body can’t be sure if it’s received any calories. The result is you feel less full, yet still crave food. Out of all the options available, artificial sweeteners are perhaps the worst choice.
Stevia is an herb. It’s been used as a sweetener in various cultures around the world for centuries, but has only recently gained popularity in the West. It’s about 100 times sweeter than sugar, but has no calories and won’t send your blood sugar levels soaring in the same way that other sugar substitutes can. It’s recently become a popular substitute for sugar in baking, but has the disadvantage of leaving a characteristic bitter after taste in the mouth that some people find disagreeable.
Is stevia a good natural alternative to white sugar?
As with other natural products on the market, stevia is usually refined in some way to make it more palatable for the consumer. If you’re using the dried leaf or tincture form you may be getting certain health benefits, but this is probably not the case with some of the other mass produced products.
Some of the large sugar manufacturers have recently begun formulating some of their granulated sugars using stevia, meaning you still get the sugary taste but only ingest a third of the calories. The problem however is similar to the one we discussed with artificial sweeteners; consuming sweet products without the nutritional benefits of the real thing tricks your brain, leaving you hungry and dissatisfied. The result is a desire to make poor food choices in an attempt to satisfy hunger.
Look for a pure stevia, or at least one that’s blended with another low-sugar, healthy sweetener like erythritol.
There are a wide range of sugar alternatives currently available on the market. Some of these products are artificially manufactured and come with side effects, others like honey or maple syrup are natural substances that may have some potential health benefits. At the end of the day, it’s what these products do in your body that really matters.
To achieve the best results on any adrenal wellness plan, avoiding sweet tastes and processed foods is always the route to success. If you must have a treat, a little dark chocolate is probably the best option, and only eaten every now and again. And cutting down on sweet foods will gradually decrease sugar cravings. For more tips on how to eat well on your adrenal fatigue diet, check out our comprehensive adrenal recovery program.