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The Spectrum of Sweetness

We find ourselves past the resolutions of the New Year and at chocolate-laden Valentine’s Day. For some, navigating the dance of eating sugar can feel challenging and confounding. For others, there are health reasons to avoid refined sweets and make more nutrient-dense food choices. Yet, sugar is so ubiquitous in our culture, it can feel like a burden to be done with the “other white powder”.

So, what do we do?

Moving out of the heaviness of black and white options, we can discover that there are so many choices on the spectrum of sweetness.

Let’s start with what kind of sweetener to choose. The glycemic index (a measurement that tells us how food impacts your blood sugar levels) runs on a scale from 0 to 100, 100 representing pure glucose. Low glycemic index ranges under 50, medium 51-69 and high is considered anything above 70. In order to keep our mood, liver, energy levels and blood sugar optimally functioning, we want to favor lower glycemic foods.

You might be wondering if there are any delicious choices that are also considered low GI? Yes! Raw honey comes in around 30, coconut palm sugar at 35, and stevia and monk fruit (a.k.a. Lo Hahn) measure in at zero. So, we can still experience the sweetness, while not having such an impact on our blood sugar levels. Some of these substitutes are also high in trace minerals and B vitamins, allowing our body to process those natural sugars with more ease.

Making food at home allows you to choose what kind of sweetener you’re using and adjust how much you’re adding (recipes often call for a larger dose of sugar than the flavor actually requires). You can also find recipes that include nutrient-dense ingredients like avocado, sweet potato or coconut oil to round out your creation.

How we eat sugars is another important consideration. If we’re having simple carbohydrates as the main fuel of the meal, then those starches will have much more of an impact. Think a bagel for breakfast or pasta with sauce for dinner. If you pair that bagel with eggs, avocado and some arugula, you may find that you only want half the bagel and feel much more satiated. Same for adding some meat, broccoli and mushrooms to the sauce and tossing the pasta with olive oil. Or substituting pasta for spaghetti squash roasted with butter, sea salt and pepper. The protein and fat of these adjustments will slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and create a more steady-state for your biochemistry.

Lastly, let’s consider the “when”. Having a sugary snack instead of a balanced meal will provide a quick pick-me-up but will leave you crashing in an hour or two. That leads us to the cycle of over-eating, fatigue and irritability. Many enjoy dessert after dinner – but if that’s within a couple hours of bedtime, the sugar rush could impact the quality of your sleep, waking you in the night as your blood sugar crashes.

Shifting our relationship with sweets doesn’t have to be an all or nothing endeavor. Making a few adjustments (maybe choosing one at a time you can really integrate each one into your routine) can really make a difference on how energized, clear-headed and vital you feel each day.

Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.