Sugar’s role in our health
Sugar is Will’s favorite food group.
“Maybe you can cut back on the sugary things, once in a while,” Vinny suggests.
“Sugar is in everything!” Will proclaims. “It gives us energy!”
“That’s true,” Vinny agrees. “What I don’t like, though, is when we add sugar to our food, over and above what nature puts there. Have you heard about your pancreas?”
“Pancry-Ass?” Will mimics. “Is it some kind of donkey from the island of Pancry?”
“Your Pancry-Ass, Will, is a hard-working fellow that rides up close to your stomach. He tirelessly churns out enzymes and hormones that digest your food. One of these molecules is insulin.”
“A guy in my class has a gadget that pricks his skin regularly to give him insulin,” said Will. “He has diabetes... ”
“Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas. Some people, like your friend, are born with a lazy pancreas. In these folks, diabetes shows up in childhood. But other people take in so much sugar, the pancreas can’t keep up. It just quits!
Diabetes used to be an old-folks’ disease. Today it’s turning up in teenagers. Without insulin, we have no energy. Without daily medicine, we can’t go on.”
“What does insulin have to do with energy?” Will asks. “Sugar is what gives us energy!” Will says with complete assurance.
“You’re right,” agrees Vinny. “All our food is digested into a sugar called glucose, and a bunch of other molecules. Insulin turns that glucose into energy. It deals with any glucose we don’t need for energy by storing it as fat. Eat too much added sugar on top of the natural sugar in foods, and we get so much glucose in our blood that insulin can’t handle the job.”
Eat what you love. But make sure it loves you back
Some favorite foods quickly break down into glucose in your body. Many of them have no added health benefit. We should save them for special occasions, and eat them with protein or fiber to slow their digestion and prevent sugar spikes. Eat these foods sparingly:
- Baked goods with added sugar, including cane sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup, and candy
- Baked goods with refined flour, including white bread, white pasta, cakes, pies, and cookies
- white rice
- corn (and, especially, high fructose corn syrup)
- soft drinks
- junk food, fast food and most processed foods
Other foods slow down the release of sugar into our blood. They are insulin’s little helpers. At every meal and especially when you choose something from the first list, eat some of these:
- legumes (beans etc.)
- brown rice
- chia seeds
- protein, like lean meat, lo-fat milk and cheese, and tofu
My little secret: stevia
Too much added sugar, and one day, your pancreas will go on strike!
I love sweets. To keep my pancreas happy, my sweetener is stevia, not sugar.
Stevia is a natural, plant-based no-calorie food, 300 times sweeter than refined sugar. It is so sweet, you only need a tiny bit. There’s a difference in flavor only if you use too much. Try different brands in various amounts to find the right mix for you.
Here’s Will’s cookie-candy from two posts back using stevia in place of most of the sugar.
Will’s low-sugar cookie-candy
Makes two sheets of candy cut into 20 squares each
- 3 ounces (1/2 cup) dark chocolate chips
- ½ cup butter
- ½ cup coconut oil
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg (I use omega-3)
- Stevia, equivalent to 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I use real)
- 1 cup flour (I use whole-wheat pastry flour)
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- pinch of salt
- Preheat oven to 375F
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat.
- Heat the butter gently in a glass dish in the microwave until it has just melted (about 30 seconds on power level 6). Combine with coconut oil and stir the lumps until they dissolve.
- Combine the sugar with the melted butter and stir with wooden spoon until smooth.
- Mix the egg with the vanilla in a small bowl, then stir it into the butter mixture.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl, then stir them into the butter mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips.
- Drop heaping tablespoonfuls onto the lined cookie sheets, leaving a small space between. These cookies spread, but for cookie candy it’s best when they connect into one huge baked sheet of goodness. Or pour half the batter on each sheet and spread with a spatula into a thin layer.
- Using oven gloves, put the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 8-10 minutes, until the dough turns golden brown.
- Using oven gloves, remove the sheets from the oven and let the cookie-candy cool. After a minute or two, cut the cookie-candy into squares and let cool completely. Then lift the squares off the sheets and store in an airtight container.
To sum up
You can use all butter, or all coconut oil, but I prefer half and half. Coconut oil may be healthier, but butter adds a delicious flavor.
Per serving (2 squares from 40 in total): We’ve reduced the sugar from 11 grams to an acceptable 5 grams. We also knocked 24 calories off each serving.
For best health, eat a balanced diet, adjusted to the amount of exercise your family gets, their age and health.