I recently sat down with my big sister, Tenley Mirza, founder of South Shore Nutrition, to ask her about SUGAR. Tenley is a nutritionist with a background in biology and biochemistry. She's also a gourmet cook and someone who truly lives by the motto, "let food be thy medicine."
As you all know, I've committed to 30 days refined-sugar free as part of my 300 day challenge this year. I'm more than halfway there and so far, it's going well. Bringing awareness to my daily/weekly sugar consumption is a good reminder, especially because so many gluten-free packaged and processed foods find ways to sneak in all sorts of sugars. Even seemingly "healthy" snacks contain sugar in disguise: brown rice syrup, agave nectar, Stevia, fruit juice concentrate, the list goes on and on... Bottom line: all that sugar adds up.
So what are refined sugars? And should we avoid them? These are just a few of the questions I asked my big sis. Her answers are below...
The term “refined sugar” is used to identify sugars which have undergone some form of refinement process whereby the raw sugar is ‘purified’. White table sugar, for example, is derived from sugar beets or sugar cane which undergo processing to remove the dark molasses component of the original raw sugar.
Rather than the term “refined,” I prefer using the term “processed” in my practice. “Processed” pertains to any food product that results after manipulation or processing of the original food. Most sugars available today are processed. Even maple syrup is produced from the condensation of maple sap.
In my practice, I try to encourage people to eat whole foods, in their whole form, limiting the intake of processed foods, including sugars. The reasoning is that whole foods contain a number of important nutrients which work together synergistically in our body.
Let’s take the example of eating an orange versus drinking the juice. The whole orange contains other food components, namely fiber, which can help to slow the release of the natural sugars and can help to keep us feeling fuller for longer. It is much easier to over consume calories drinking the juice versus eating the whole fruit. The same pertains to sugars! Who has ever heard of eating too many beets!?
2.) Do you think they should be avoided?
Yes, I recommend that refined and processed sugars be kept to a minimum. I hesitate to use the word “avoided” because when we impose hard and fast rules on ourselves, many of us have the instinct to break them! Instead, think of these as foods that you want to limit and keep for special occasions. Challenge yourself to come up with healthy, satisfying alternatives to use for every day.
3.) Do you have a recommended amount of "sugar intake "per day?
Rather than give a number of grams per day, I stress the importance of choosing whole foods over processed ones. If we give a number, sometimes we feel like we have to stick to it. Some people might end up eating more sugar than they would otherwise because they can, and others might have the instinct to overeat because there is a set limit.
4.) What are you feelings on agave and Stevia?
I consider these to be processed foods. Agave is produced after a fair amount of processing of the nectar of the agave plant. It has recently become popular because it is a vegan alternative to honey. I, personally, think honey is a more natural product.
Stevia has become a popular sugar substitute. I am not a fan of sugar substitutes, in general, because they end up making us crave sweet things and studies have shown that they don’t actually help us lose weight. If anything they perpetuate our need for sweet!
5.) What's your favorite sweetener?
I like making a paste from dried dates. It is very sweet and full of fiber. Prune paste also works nicely in some recipes. I also like honey, in moderation.