A Debate Over Sweetness

I would love for somebody to walk up to me and tell me it’s okay to eat tons of sugar. I don’t even care if they have a background in food science or are a doctor with a slew of patients that are somehow healthy with a diet of only candy and cookies.It could be anybody. A gas station cashier, an orthodontist, a traveling vacuum salesman (because I’m hoping that job still exists).

Tell me that sugar is good for me and I’ll just believe you. Because I love sugar (a.k.a. sweetness) in a complete and total way. I adore it. I’m obsessed with it. I’d write odes, hymns, rock ballads and maybe even rock operas about it, were I so inclined.

If possible, I’d live off of SourPatch Kids, gummy worms, Lindt chocolate, and jellybeans. I could say “see ya!” to vegetables, meat, bread, and butter if it meant I could keep sugary goods forever.

But, in the past seven years, I’ve had to battle this love on a daily basis. In 2015, I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, a really psychotic thyroid disease that causes you to rage with hormones, then crash, then freak out again; it really tests the strength of every relationship you’ve ever formed.

My physician told me that my Graves’ was likely brought on by stress and diet. I was barely 20 when first diagnosed and I can’t picture myself being that stressed out back then. But I do remember my diet consisting of Swedish Fish, Pop Tarts, and Pixi Sticks.Lame. It doesn’t take a genius (thank goodness, because I’m not one of those) to put two and two together. My diet pretty much fried my thyroid. Awesome.Even though I’ve been in remission for four years, my Graves’ could come back at any time. Currently, it is an incurable disease. Remission is pretty
much thyroid paradise. Right next door to this paradise is thyroid hell. And the doorknob’s (for me) apparently frosted in buttercream.

So, every night (because this is when my sugar love goes wildest), I battle inside my head. I know I shouldn’t be eating like this; if my Graves’ symptoms were to return, I’d go crazy. But I can’t stop. Sweetness is too good. I’m putty in its hands.

My intention is to start migrating from processed, packaged sweet treats to exclusively homemade desserts. But won’t I just be pouring cupfuls of sugar into greased cupcake pans? Will that even help?

Now, you might say: hey! there’s artificial sweeteners out there! Oh, I know. I lost forty pounds one year and I’d like to thank Splenda. Yet I’m a little wary of artificial sweeteners. Along with cigarettes, they’re right up there with things people like to tell you are bad for you. Nutrasweet?!? Stay away from that. Gives you tumors.Also, I’ve had friends and family members that cut artificial sweeteners out of their diet and have felt remarkably better for it. Doesn’t that point to their hazards more than their benefits?

I believed everyone that told me artifical sweeteners are bad for you (remember, I’d believe you if you told me sugar was really good for you). But, in doing a little research, I went from being convinced to totally confused.

For example, the negative vibe around artificial sweeteners and their link to cancer has been ousted in the last decade. The National Cancer Institute states: Questions about artificial sweeteners and cancer arose when early studies showed that cyclamate in combination with saccharin caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals. However, results from subsequent carcinogenicity studies (studies that examine whether a substance can cause cancer) of these sweeteners have not provided clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans. Similarly, studies of other FDA-approved sweeteners have not demonstrated clear evidence of an association with cancer in humans.

Oh! Well, the National Cancer Institute would know, right?

TIME magazine also chimes in:The fear-mongering and misinformation plaguing the faux-sweetener market seems to be rooted in a common misconception. No evidence indicates that sweeteners cause obesity; people with weight problems simply tend to eat more of it. While recent studies have suggested a possible link between artificial sweeteners and obesity, a direct link between additives and weight gain has yet to be found. The general consensus in the scientific community is that saccharin, aspartame and sucralose are harmless when consumed in moderation. And while cyclamate is still banned in the U.S., many other countries still allow it; it can even be found in the Canadian version of Sweet’n Low. Low-calorie additives won’t make you thinner or curb your appetite.

But they help unsweetened food taste better without harming you.It sounds to me like artificial sweeteners might not be so bad. But something still doesn’t sit right with me. Maybe I’m a purist or maybe I’m naive. I tend to strive towards simplicity and the food science behind creating artificial sweeteners seems pretty complicated to me.

Plus, if there’s so much confusion and hoopla about whether artificial sweeteners are good/bad for you, isn’t it safe to assume that it’s better to avoid them? Now, there are artificial sweeteners and…ummm…natural artifical sweeteners. You know what I mean: think Nutrasweet versus Stevia.

Even though Stevia is still artificial (considering its high level of processing), it is derived from a plant, thus making it “natural” (I have a sneaking suspicion almost everything is derived from a plant). However, even though Stevia can keep you from consuming copious amounts of refined white sugar (maybe), it actually might have some negative health effects as well (the ones that scare me are ‘contraceptive effects’ and ‘dizziness’). According to Three Fat Chicks: Stevia is a sweet little herb that’s derived from the leaves of a plant that’s related to sunflowers. It is being touted as the best solution for a sweet tooth by many health gurus. It seems like the perfect alternative to sugar–it’s 300 times as sweet, so you only need to use a tiny bit, and it doesn’t have calories or carbs, making it perfect for those who are watching their weight. But others warn that there are some pretty hefty health dangers posed by stevia and suggest it should be removed from the market. Ugh. Why can’t there just be some awesome natural sweetener that doesn’t have calories, doesn’t make me afraid of getting diabetes, and doesn’t hurt your body?

Sugar’s not good for you. Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet: might not be good for you (probably not). Stevia? Could be bad for you. Maybe.It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I want to discover the truth (in one of those moments where it seems like angels are whoopin’ it up in heraldry and sunlight spears you through a break in the clouds).My last hope is rapadura. I bought some recently, having seen it scattered throughout an Ayurvedic cookbook I’ve been skimming through. Quirky Cooking writes: Rapadura is the pure juice extracted from the sugar cane (using a press), which is then evaporated over low heats, whilst being stirred with paddles, then seive ground to produce a grainy sugar. It has not been cooked at high heats, and spun to change it into crystals, and the molasses has not been separated from the sugar.  It is produced organically, and does not contain chemicals or anti-caking agents.So, it has been processed less. Yes? Because Rapadura is dehydrated at a low heat, the vitamins and minerals have been retained…It still has the natural balance of sucrose, glucose, and fructose, and contains components essential for its’ digestion. It is metabolized more slowly than white sugar, and therefore will not affect your blood sugar levels as much as refined sugars. The more refined the sugar, the more it raises your blood sugar.Good news! Using rapadura might alleviate my concerns about eventually contracting diabetes and I can feel good about getting some nice vitamins and minerals in there, too!Yet. (Yeah, because it’s never easy…)

Rapadura, while nutritionally better for you, still contains calories. So, no slimming down to my ideal weight purely from the use of rapadura (darn. so close.).It all leaves me with my head aspin and my hands thrown up in the air.I don’t feel comfortable using artificial sweeteners in my baking, even though the studies say they’re alright. I don’t like using flat-out normal sugar because it’s high-calorie and messes with my blood sugar levels. And rapadura isn’t my knight-in-sweet-ole-armor either. It has more vitamins and minerals, but it alters the taste (from not removing the molasses in processing) and still retains its calories.I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place (or an old Skittle and an Everlasting Gobstopper).Considering that “everything in moderation” is probably my best bet, I’m going to continue using regular sugar in my baking, supplementing occasionally with rapadura if I think the taste will work out. I’ll also keep working on eliminating processed, packaged candies and treats from my diet. At least until someone walks up to me and tells me that sugar’s miraculously become really good for you.

Pray/make a wish for me. This is one sweet demon I’ve chosen to oust.So, tell me: what are your thoughts about natural sweeteners (sugar, honey, agave nectar) vs. artificial sweeteners (Nutrasweet, Splenda) vs. natural artificial sweeteners (Stevia)?

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