The sad reality is that sweet on the palette is not so sweet on our health. Refined sugar, as well as many sweeteners marketed as healthy, create inflammation and acidic conditions, have a high Glycemic index or promote other dangerous metabolic conditions. All of these can lead to serious disease such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and ultimately death.
Artificially made sweeteners and syrups, are sometimes lower in calories, but are generally even more poisonous to our body. It’s not just about cavities any more. Exacerbating an already dangerous condition, sugar is addictive; in fact 8 times more addictive than cocaine.
A brief primer on sugar: There are three naturally occurring carbohydrates, also known as simple sugars; sucrose, glucose and fructose.
They are naturally found in whole foods but are processed differently by our body.
Glucose and fructose are monosaccharides and when linked, form sucrose, a disaccharide. Our body prefers glucose, known as blood sugar, and uses it for energy.
It even manufactures it on its own to make sure it has enough. Insulin is secreted in the presence of glucose which promotes its essential use by our cells.
Fructose, found in fruits and vegetables, is less liked by our body, is only metabolized in the liver and is more fat producing than glucose.
It does not trigger insulin release and other beneficial processes. Sucrose, also found in fruits and vegetables, is broken down by the body into separate glucose and fructose which are processed individually as described above.
However when refined, sugar becomes an artificial substance devoid of the natural fiber, nutrients, minerals and enzymes contained in its host food. When this artificial element is ingested, depending on the amount and ratio of glucose and fructose various complex conditions arise, promoting the storage of fat either by the liver’s role or the triggering of big spikes in insulin. To oversimplify, most sugars yield little nutrition, lots of fat and plenty of other harmful effects.
As a matter of fact there is only a very short list of sweeteners that are reasonably healthy, and even among those, most carry some downsides.
Therefore, rule number one is to use very little sweetening. Rule number two is to only use natural sugars originating from living organisms in their raw or unprocessed form .
At HNINA we have narrowed down our search to two sweeteners in their natural, raw and unprocessed form.
When combined with our organic fair trade single origin raw cacao, sprouted nuts and seeds and pure vanilla, they yield the ultimate healthy chocolate.
Our chocolate is sweetened with raw honey and our nuts and seeds are coated in the natural strong dark brown syrup which comes from the Maple tree. Both are unprocessed. At HNINA we believe in nature when untouched and perfect. (Note: In our Vegan line, we only use Maple syrup and in our vegan spread we use dates.)
Although not considered vegan by pure vegan standards, raw honey is by far healthier that coconut sugar or agave nectar which are processed sugars. Raw honey does not cause a sugar spike and elevated insulin release like refined sugar. The honey must be raw.
It cannot be radiated or pasteurized because when you heat honey, it becomes sugar. Commercial honey is often heavily processed and may even have been chemically refined. Excessive heat destroys its natural enzymes, vitamins, and minerals.
Filtering and processing eliminates many of the beneficial phytonutrients including pollen and enzyme-rich propolis.
The honey we chose is raw and certified organic. It is extremely challenging to find such honey. We found only three places in the world where organic raw honey is available: Mexico, Canada and New Zealand.
We have a beehive in our home but cannot use our own honey because of the pollution inherent in any urban area. While we do not use any pesticides in our home farm which is 100% organic, bees forage many miles away. That is the reason why organic raw honey is so rare and there are such few places that are isolated enough that bees are not in danger of travelling into non-organic areas. Organic certification is extremely strict in order to protect us. Raw honey is so good for you.
It is actually considered a “functional food”, which means it is a food with health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Raw honey indeed contains natural antioxidants, enzymes and minerals such as phosphorus, zinc, iron, potassium, magnesium, selenium and calcium.
Vitamins found in raw honey include riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, thiamin, and niacin.
In addition, the nutraceuticals contained in honey help neutralize free radical damage. Raw honey also promotes the growth of good bacteria in the intestine and reduces homocysteine levels to maintain a healthy heart. Still despite the fact that it is so good for you, you need to not eat too much of it. T
he honey glycemic index for one tablespoon equals to 55 which is the equivalent of a cup of brown rice. Raw honey is 30. This is the reason we choose to only lightly sweeten our raw chocolate.
Our maple syrup is from Vermont and is a very intense dark brown with very strong caramel flavors.
Our maples syrup is also certified organic. Maple syrup is not raw though because it is extracted with heat. The good news is that you can heat maple syrup without losing its health benefits. Pure maple syrup is also unprocessed and pure even if not raw.
Health benefits of maple syrup comes from to the presence of various vitamins and minerals that is contains: in terms of minerals, it contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus sodium, potassium, and zinc. Vitamins include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6.
The glycemic index for maple syrup is about 54.
This means that one benefit of maple syrup nutrition is that it impacts your blood sugar levels a bit less drastically than sugar does. Maple syrup has the following health benefits: it is loaded with the antioxidants such as gallic acid, benzoic acid, cinnamic acid, and various flavanols such as catechin, epicatechin, quercetin and rutin. It is also anti-inflammatory (polyphenol antioxidants) and like honey it is amazing for the skin.
Maple syrup has a low fructose content.
We love both our choices because they are unprocessed, have tremendous natural health benefits, while also having a reasonably low glycemic index (GI). But GI can be misleading. While generally a very useful indicator, it gives a pass to some offending sweeteners.
Two popular, healthy sounding but highly processed sweeteners, coconut sugar and agave have a slightly lower glycemic index than raw honey and maple syrup.
Agave is largely made of fructose (85-90%) and fructose is not measured in on GI.
Although it has a low-glycemic index, it is s probably the most damaging form of sugar when used as a sweetener. I will explain why below. Agave, like refined sugar and corn syrup have minimal antioxidant activity as compared to the robust antioxidants in raw honey and maple syrup. C
oconut sugar also contains a lot of fructose, a sugar that doesn’t raise glucose, but is highly glycating or increases considerably free radicals and inflammation) even if it doesn’t signal insulin release.
Below is a list of commonly used sweeteners with their properties good or bad in the order of my preference:
2. Yacon syrup: Yacon syrup is a zero glycemic prebiotic (fructooligosaccharide) natural sweetener with a glycemic index of 1. It is extracted from the Yacon root (from Peru, Bolivia or Brazil) and created by extracting the juice and then concentrating it by heating or evaporation. It is half as sweet as honey or maple syrup. It contains 20 amino acids and is loaded with minerals, fiber and caffeic acid, protocatechuic and ferulic acids. The processing of Yacon syrup is critical as high temperatures can increase the glycemic index. It is an excellent, not so tasty and very expensive sweetener which is supposed to help you lose weight. It can have side effects such as diarrhea, flatulence, nausea and digestive discomfort. We were considering Yacon but it has been studied rather little, it is a processed food, and the side effects are of concern.
3. Stevia: Stevia is a genus of 240 species of herbs, it belongs to the Asteraceae family and is not a sugar. Stevia leaves contain various glycosides including stevoside. Stevoside is an herb which is a natural sweetener. It is about 100-200 times sweeter than sugar. Its glycemic index less than 1. Stevia doesn’t interfere with blood sugar/glucose levels. On the down side, it is highly processed with methanol or Ethanol although liquid Stevia or green powders seem healthier because they are less processed than the white powders. Not all brand of Stevia are created equal. While perhaps a good option there may be some side effects associated to its consumption which includes dizziness, headache, muscle weakness, bloating, nausea, muscle tenderness and kidney toxicity as its side effects or toxic effects. Some of these stevia side effects are also symptoms of hypoglycemia. Stevia also has a distinct taste.
4. Coconut sugar: Contains a small amount of free fructose, but 75-80% of it is sucrose, which is half fructose. Total fructose content of coconut sugar is somewhere around 35-45%. Processed, acidic, inflammatory but contains a fiber called Inulin and some minerals.
5. Molasses: Molasses is a viscous byproduct syrup derived from sugar (beets or cane). It is highly processed and heated but contains minerals and vitamins and nutrients. You need to get an organic and unsulfured molasses. A tablespoon or around 20 grams of this type of molasses contains 5.88 g of sucrose, 2.56 g of fructose, and 2.38 g of glucose. Its glycemic index 55.
6. Date sugar: Minimally processed, high glycemic index and higher fructose percentage, contains natural fiber, tannins, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals. It is not a good choice for chocolate as date sugar does not melt.
7. Maltitol, maltitol syrup, xylitol, lakanto, lactitol, erythritol, sorbitol… are processed sugar alcohols. They occur naturally in plants, but are usually manufactured from sugars and starches. Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugar. They can ferment in the intestines and cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. The healthiest of all might be Xylitol as long as it is made from birch.
8. Brown sugar: Brown sugar is simply white sugar mixed with molasses. May contain slightly more nutrients than white sugar because of the molasses (source of potassium), but with a glycemic index of 64, it is also extremely acidic, inflammatory and dangerous.
9. Cane Sugar: Composed of glucose and fructose, unrefined cane sugar contains some nutrients, but is still a sugar in regard to our metabolism. It is acidic and inflammatory even if raw and organic. Its glycemic index is 43.
10. Agave : The Agave plant has been used in Mexico for sweetening and to make Tequila. However, we only find the highly processed syrup made by exposing the sugary fluid to heat thereby breaking down the fructans and destroying all of the health promoting properties of the Agave plant. The high content of fructose, deranges liver function and promote obesity. Despite its glycemic index which is 15, the harmful effects of Agave have everything to do with the large amounts of fructose it contains, and Agave nectar is about 85- 90% fructose, which is much higher than sugar. As noted above, fructose is NOT measured by the GI because fructose doesn’t raise blood sugar levels in the short-term but it can contribute to insulin resistance when consumed in large amounts.
Whereas every cell in the human body can metabolize glucose, the liver is the only organ that can metabolize fructose in significant amounts. The liver gets overloaded and starts turning the fructose into fat. So while successfully marketed as a healthy alternative, Agave may be one of the unhealthiest sweeteners in the world.
11. Honey (Pasteurized – NOT Raw): Highly processed and heat pasteurized, it loses enzymes and many nutrients and is degraded almost to the level of refined sugar. It is only a little less harmful on our metabolism. Its glycemic index is 55.
12. Artificial sweeteners (aspartame): Artificially made, highly acidic and loaded with dangerous chemicals. Our bodies don’t know how to process it. They can lead to learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, weight gain, fatigue, short-term memory loss, depression, cancer, increase the craving for sweets, weight gain and worsens insulin sensitivity. They are dangerous while they may be calorie-free…
13. Glucose Syrup: Artificially made, highly processed, low in nutrition, extremely high glycemic index of 96 or 100, extremely acidic, inflammatory and dangerous.
14. High fructose Corn syrup: Artificially made, highly processed, extremely dangerous, contains mercury and no nutrients, acidic and inflammatory, high or low glycemic index (68, 58 and 31) and creates big spikes in insulin. Please do not consume under any circumstances.
Maple syrup and raw honey are nourishing and satisfying. They are by far the healthiest sweeteners we could find. We are proud to use only the best unprocessed ingredients.
Thank you Mother Nature for your gifts. During the holidays and throughout the year, we will celebrate you with your sweet best, raw honey and maple syrup.
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