In response to my recent article on sugar, a reader, Neli, posed some very good questions. Here they are, together with my answers.
Neli: Is the problem only sucrose or even refined fructose or glucose can have the same devastating effects?
Sarah: Sucrose is made up of half fructose and half glucose. People often mistakenly think that as fructose is fruit sugar it must be a natural and ideal choice.
But refined fructose – the stuff that you can buy in a box – is very different from the natural sugar in fruit and has been scientifically linked with a number of negative health effects.
When you need a concentrated sweetener for use in a recipe, the best choices are brown rice syrup or barley malt syrup. Maple syrup is sweeter so not quite as good a choice, but still a lot better for you than sucrose, as it retains more food-like properties and has fewer drug-like ones.
Neli: Another thing, you never mention honey, both as one of the sweets known to man in the ancient world for centuries (or millennia) and as a valid alternative to the partially refined syrups.
Sarah: Honey is another good option as long as you are okay with it ethically. Honey is a natural whole food and as you correctly state, it’s one that humans have a long evolutionary relationship with. However, it is still very high in sugar meaning it’s something to consume in small quantities.
I recommend buying from a small, local producer – one you can trust to treat the bees well. Some of the mass-market honeys are not only very processed but are also produced with the same lack of consciousness and respect for sentient beings that we see elsewhere in the food industry.
Neli: For my one-year-old I also buy cookies and oat bars sweetened with concentrated grape or apple juice. Are these valid in your view?
Sarah: Absolutely. These are again much more natural and less adulterated than refined sugar, which – and if you’ve read the article I may by now sound like a broken record, but I feel I can’t stress this enough! – is not really a food at all but a dangerous mind-altering, body-harming drug.
Thanks for the questions, Neli!