Goodbye Sugar, It Was Nice Knowing You
As the sorrowful melody, Taps, is playing from my laptop, I’m going through my entire kitchen, divesting my refrigerator and pantry of anything that has sugar. Recently, my seven-year-old son was diagnosed with Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Insufficiency Disorder (CSID), a condition in which the body does not produce enough of the digestive enzymes needed to break down sucrose. We already knew that he was suffering from a pancreatic insufficiency disorder but we had no idea that his continued health issues also stemmed from eating sugar. Since we were told that our son needed to pack on the pounds and it’s hard for him to gain weight, we were basically given the okay to give him anything he wanted to eat. Poptarts, ice cream, chocolate anything, it didn’t matter; our son could pig out on cookies if he wanted. So with this new diagnosis, I realized two things. One, I would have to drastically change my son’s diet. The second, I would have to drastically change mine too.
When I went through the list of everything my son typically eats, I realized that over half of the food he puts in his mouth has some form of sugar. Whether it’s pure cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, sugar can be found in breads, cereals, sauces, juice, and crackers. Cutting out the desserts or replacing them with sugar-free ones would be just half the battle; trying to replace things like syrup, barbeque sauce and peanut butter (yes, that has sugar too!) with sugar-free substitutes would be quite daunting. But it can be done. First, I need to do something that most mothers in my situation would do, research. And tons of it. My first topic of inquiry…what’s the difference between table sugar, artificial sweeteners and natural sugars?
The “Skinny” on Sugar
Sucrose or Table Sugar
This is the sugar I grew up with; you could always find a C&H Pure Cane Sugar package somewhere in our kitchen. This sugar can come from sugarcane or beets (didn’t know about the beets, no wonder I love those things). Brown, powdered, raw and granulated are all forms of this sugar and can be found in just about anything sweet.
The good: It’s natural. I always felt slightly better consuming pure sugar rather than artificial because I’ve always been wary of chemicals or unnaturally made food products.
The bad: It’s still sugar and sugar is bad for you, at least if you consume it in mass quantities (a little is okay). My son also can’t have sucrose since he doesn’t possess enough enzymes to break it down. So table sugar is off the menu.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
I don’t exactly remember when this type of sugar became all the rage, but it replaced much of the table sugar in highly consumed foods such as cereals, sodas and yogurts. In fact, I started to find it quite difficult to find anything without high fructose corn syrup in it. This altered form of sugar uses corn syrup and fructose which is cheaper to produce and hence made it more popular in the food industry.
The good: Perhaps my food is less expensive because high fructose corn syrup is cheaper but that is the only benefit I can find here.
The bad: Like sucrose, high fructose corn syrup is not good for you, especially when it’s consumed in large quantities. Regardless, it still contains sucrose so therefore, it’s been added to the Food to Avoid list.
Many of you have heard of Splenda I’m sure, but did you know that this artificial sweetener is 600 times sweeter than sucrose? Sucralose was basically invented in a lab, but it’s sweeter and non-caloric. The body doesn’t even need to break it down. Popular amongst diabetics and dieters, sucralose has become a popular sugar substitute.
The good: It’s basically a sweetener that has no sugar but is sweet. Since you can purchase Splenda in huge bags, it’s perfect for when you want to bake or cook something with it. My son can certainly have this sweetener.
The bad: I really couldn’t find anything. Yes, it’s artificial but so far, most of the testing done on this sugar has shown there are no real side effects as long as it’s not consumed in mass quantities.
Other Artificial Sweeteners
I was a huge fan of Equal (loved it in my morning cup of joe), until I found out there was a correlation between some artificial sweeteners and migraines (which I suffer from). Sweeteners like Equal and Sweet’n Low contain ingredients such as aspartame, dextrose and saccharin. They are sweet, just like real sugar, and again are popular with diabetics and dieters but recently, I’ve steered away from these sweeteners.
The good: These sugar substitutes are low in calories and do not have sucrose.
The bad: Studies have shown that aspartame and saccharin are extremely bad for you and can cause a slew of health problems if consumed in large quantities. While the FDA still deems these food additives as safe, the jury is still out.
Fructose is fruit sugar that can be found in fruits, vegetables, plants and honey.
The good: Fruits and vegetables are good for you! Even honey has added health benefits. High in fiber, vitamins and minerals, fructose foods would be an added benefit to one’s diet.
The bad: Before I start shoving apples at my kid, there’s a huge side note to fructose foods. Some fruits and vegetables also contain sucrose as well (remember beets?). Apricots, peaches, sweet potatoes and carrots contain a high amount of sucrose. Honey contains sucrose as well. So before I start making fruit salads, I have to make sure I’m selecting fruits that are low in sucrose such as grapes and dried figs. Fortunately, my son’s favorite fruit, strawberries, do not contain sucrose at all.
This sweetener comes from the stevia plant and became quite popular in Japan as a sugar substitute back in the 70’s. Now stevia is making its presence known here in the U.S. and for good reasons.
The good: Like sucralose, there are virtually no side effects.
The bad: The only complaint I have is that I’m still trying to taste the “sweetness”. Maybe it’s just me, but when I put a stevia sugar in my coffee, it still doesn’t taste that sweet.
I first heard of agave when my sister placed a Skinny Girl martini in my hand. Apparently, this popular drink amongst the ladies (for obvious reasons) contains agave instead of real sugar. Martinis are delicious but are notorious for being fattening due to high caloric content. Containing glucose and fructose, agave nectar is sweeter than table sugar without adding to the waistline.
The good: Um, have you tried a Skinny Girl martini?
The bad: It’s a tad pricey. This mom is on a budget and although my son is worth it, I still have to be conscious of the food budget.
So what happens now? Since I’ve been better informed about all the sugars and sweeteners out there, I can begin revamping my diet as well as my son’s. Why do I need to change my diet, you may ask? For one, I’m not about to eat a doughnut in front of my child who cannot have one himself. Second, I’m an overweight forty-year-old woman who suffers from migraines, asthma and allergies. I do not need to eat sugar (at least not a lot of it). And the more I read about the downsides of sugar, the more I’m convinced, I’m better off without it. So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night sugar and it was truly nice knowing you (salutes bag of cookies and then wipes a tear from face).