Do you know how much sugar the average American consumes each year? It is somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-170 pounds. That’s equivalent to consuming 30 or more five-pound bags of sugar annually. Although that statistic might sound outrageous, it is accurate, because sugar is added to most products eaten by Americans, even foods they do not suspect.
Due to heavy processing refined sugar undergoes, it loses its nutrients and causes the insulin level in blood to rise, which promotes fat storage. While not harmful in small doses, too much sugar over a long period of time can lead to complications and is linked to diseases such as colon cancer and diabetes.
Sugar overload can also result in obesity, which appears to be a condition more than 33% of the United States population struggles with daily. In a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers discovered that people who ate the largest amounts of sugar had the highest blood triglyceride levels and the lowest HDL (good) cholesterol levels. The study also revealed large amounts of sugar consumption tripled the odds of having low HDL cholesterol levels, which is a risk factor for heart disease. In both instances, findings are reverse for individuals who consumed the least amount of sugar, which means protection against heart disease.
While some people become extreme and eliminate sugar completely from their diets, that course of action is not possible for everyone. With several options available, there are many natural sweeteners that can be used to replace refined white sugar. Natural sugar substitutes better for the body than refined white sugars include:
Raw or unprocessed honey — Probably humankind’s first sweetener, natural honey is packed with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, carbohydrates and phytonutrients. It is the concentrated nectar of flowers that comes straight from the extractors. Interesting fact: When mixed with ginger and lemon juice, it also relieves nausea, supplies energy, and can counteract acid indigestion.
Agave Nectar – Most often produced from the blue agaves, which resemble the cactus plant, that thrive in the volcanic soils of southern Mexico, this sweetener is known by natives as aguamiel or honey water. Interesting fact: Agave nectar was used by the Aztecs to flavor food and drinks.
Maple Syrup — This popular pancake topper is made from the sap of the maple tree and is harvested each year at the first sign of spring thaw. Interesting fact: Maple syrup contains iron and phosphorus and is filled with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.
Brown Rice Syrup — This syrup is a natural sweetener produced from fermented cooked rice treated naturally with enzymes from sprouted barley. Interesting fact: Brown rice syrup has a low glycemic value, meaning it does not cause a sudden spike in blood sugar after consumption.
Barley Malt Syrup — Dried sprouted barley is cooked slowly until it forms a sweet, dark, syrupy liquid. It is then filtered to remove impurities. Interesting fact: Best combined with other natural sweeteners and also can be used to substitute molasses.
Evaporated Cane Juice — Though this is created from the sugar cane plant – the same plant that produces refined sugar – it does not undergo the extensive amount of processing that refined sugar does. This allows it to retain more nutrients. Interesting fact: For much of history, evaporated cane juice was the sweetener of choice by all cultures that had access to sugar cane.
Black Strap Molasses — A dark liquid, this is the byproduct resulting from the third boiling of sugar cane after the sugar’s sucrose has been crystallized. Interesting fact: Black strap molasses is a good source of iron.
Anyone can see there are several natural sweeteners on the market which can replace white sugar and still provide flavor and satisfaction. When grilling out this summer, try the refreshing drink recipe below, which uses agave nectar as an ingredient.
Mango-Pineapple Non-Alcoholic Sangria
1 liter caffeine free Ginger Ale
1 cup freshly pureed pineapple
1 cup freshly pureed mango
1/4-1/2 cup organic agave nectar
Zest of 2 limes
Juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup freshly chopped mint leaves
1-2 teaspoon freshly chopped ginger
1 teaspoon or more sea salt
1 cup chopped pineapple and mango
In a large pitcher, combine pureed pineapple and mango along with agave nectar. In a mortar and pestle, crush mint leaves and ginger along with salt and little bit of lime juice. Crush it really well so you get all the juices out of it. If you do not have mortar and pestle, use food processor. Add this paste to the pitcher along with rest of the lime juice and lime zest. Mix well and add ginger ale right before serving. Stir and check on salt and sweetness. Add more if needed. Or else serve over crushed ice filled glasses and enjoy! Don’t forget to garnish with chopped fruits and mint leaves.