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What's Healthier Between Sugar, Substitutes and High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

07/14/2014 12:23 EDT | Updated 09/13/2014 05:59 EDT

We all thought that fat and salt were the culprits in our diet, but watch out -- sugar in any form is on the attack. It doesn't matter if it's organic cane sugar, agave, honey, molasses or artificial or natural sweeteners, they all seem to have the same effect on our brain and cause subsequent cravings. All the leading doctors today including CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Andrew Weill refer to sugar, specifically fructose, as toxic and addictive.

All forms of sugar, including healthier alternatives or chemical substitutes, boost sugar levels and give the same signals to your brain and body. The brain's hormones get rewarded each time we eat any form of sugar, which over time causes an addiction similar to alcohol, drugs or tobacco. Remember, none of these sugars have any significant nutrients when eaten in normal amounts.

Excessive fructose causes obesity which can lead to diabetes type 2, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and certain cancers. It also can cause liver damage by converting the sugar into fat, which ends up being deposited in the blood, raising the bad cholesterol (LDL).

So, How Much Sugar Is Too Much?

There's no need to worry about the sugar found in fresh fruit. Fruits have natural sugars, so enjoy these sweet foods. I like to call them "Nature's candy!"

Did you know the average person consumes 130 lbs of sugar yearly? That's 10 lb per month! We're taking in 30 tsp of sugar a day versus the 8 tsp that are recommended. That's major sugar overload.

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So let's take a look at how our favourite foods and drinks stack up:

Beverages

• Large movie theatre cola: 35 tsp sugar

• Large vanilla shake: 31 tsp sugar

• Tim Hortons extra large double double: 9 tsp sugar

Breakfast

• Fruit-flavored yogurt: 7 ½ tsp sugar

• Fruit Loops / Frosted Flakes: 1 ½ cups = 6 tsp sugar

• Craisins: ½ cup = 9 tsp sugar

• Cinnabon: 19 tsp sugar

• Skittles: 1/3 cup = 11 tsp sugar

What about Sugar Substitutes?

Avoid healthy sounding sugars, even those that seem to have a halo over them. They all boost sugar levels and give the same signals to the body and brain. In fact, they turn off your body's appetite-control system; they don't suppress hunger and don't let you know when you're full.

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White sugar: Stripped of the nutrients and has the colour of sugar cane when processed.

Brown sugar: This is merely white sugar with added molasses making it brown. It has scarcely more nutrients than white sugar.

Evaporated cane syrup: This is sugar cane with the water removed and processed slightly less.

Agave: No longer the savior of sugars. Even though agave doesn't cause blood sugar to rise, meaning it has a lower low glycemic index, it is higher in fructose than even high fructose corn syrup and can cause liver damage and insulin resistance which can lead to diabetes type 2.

3 Safest Sugar Substitutes

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Black strap molasses: It contains iron, potassium and calcium.

Honey: It contains fructose but has antioxidants. The darker the better meaning it has more nutrients.

Stevia (truvia): This is probably the safest of all the substitutes. It is 200 - 300 times sweeter than sugar and consists of leaves of the stevia plant. It doesn't cause blood sugar spikes and tends to be best in beverages.

Maple syrup: It has more nutrients than honey.

High Fructose Corn Syrup? What's the "Raw" Deal?

• High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) seems to be the "Darth Vader" of the sugar world. It has a high glycemic index, which means it raises your blood sugar quickly which causes you to consume more sugar leading to the above mentioned health problems as well as converting the sugar to fat by your liver.

• You will find HFCS in processed and packaged food since it's cheaper to produce, acts as a preservative, has a longer shelf life and tastes better. The corn refiners association wants to change its name to "corn sugar" due to its bad press.

Other Sweeteners:

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Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that are either chemically made or derived from natural substances. Consumers love them because they are calorie-free and can aid in weight loss, but no one ever gets a "free ride."

They are usually nutrient empty and still trick your brain and body into craving more sugar. You will make up these calories in other foods. Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed and packaged foods and beverages. Many people also use them in home cooking.

While these are approved to reduce calories and promote weight loss, the problem is they also trick your body into thinking there are more calories coming which causes you to crave and eat more. The common sweeteners include the following:

• Equal (Aspartame)

• Sweet and Low (saccharin)

• Splenda (sucralose)

• Sugar Twin (cyclamate)

So what's the decision? To have sugar or sugar substitutes in your diet? If you're going to want sugar, the rule is moderation no matter what source it comes from. Remember that not one of these options is truly better than another. Sugar in any form makes you crave more sugar, which is not a good thing!

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