Almost all foods contain some carbohydrates, but only in the last century have a large percentage of refined carbohydrates been consumed. Most people groups have always eaten fruits and grains as whole unrefined foods, and in this form, carbohydrates are a healthy part of the diet. Whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables supply energy, fiber, carotenoids, many B vitamins, vitamin C complex, E complex, minerals, phytonutrients, and chlorophyll.
On the other hand, refined carbohydrates are stripped of vitamins and minerals, and deplete the body of precious reserves. For example, B vitamins are needed to help in the digestion of carbohydrates but these are removed in the refining process. When the body’s reserves are not replaced, eventually there will be problems with fluctuating blood sugar levels causing fatigue, headache, irritability, and at some point, hypoglycemia, diabetes, and all of the attendant health problems. Refined flour is usually “fortified” but this adds a handful of artificial vitamins – chemicals- to replace the many that have been stripped away.
Diseases of civilization have risen as the use of sugar and white flour has increased. The average intake of sugar in 1821 was 10 pounds per person; today it is 170 pounds, which is over ¼ the average calorie intake. “Another large portion of total calories comes from white flour and refined vegetable oils. This means that less that half the diet must provide all the nutrients to a body that is under constant stress from its intake of sugar, white flour and rancid and hydrogenated oils.”* Many researchers believe that this is the major reason for the increase in conditions like degenerative disease, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression.
The human body is designed to consume a balance of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Due to different genetic makeup, different fuel requirements, and different environments that provoke different biochemistries that balance may be different for every individual. Requirements can change with the stresses and seasons of life. No one diet can satisfy the requirements of everyone at all times. Our goal is to eat a variety of whole foods, as close to nature as we are able to do.
All sweeteners should be used in moderation. Sugar can satisfy hunger for awhile and so crowd out more nutritious foods. Vitamin and mineral imbalances can be caused because the body uses up valuable nutrients like B vitamins, magnesium and zinc in order to metabolize the sugar. Concentrated sweeteners are absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream causing a rapid rise in blood sugar. The pancreas often responds by oversupplying insulin, which in turn, causes blood sugar to fall rapidly, causing a variety of symptoms including fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration and the craving for more sugar. Over time, this process can contribute to many health challenges like diabetes, heart disease, and other degenerative illnesses. In contrast, whole foods are digested slowly and changed into sugars that the body can use.
In many ways, raw honey is possibly the best sweetener available. It possesses the enzymes and nutrients to help the body metabolize the sugar. It also contains a substance that helps in the digestion of certain starches, like you would get in bread. Be aware that most of the beneficial nutrients are destroyed when honey is pasteurized. Even so, honey is the least refined of all the natural sugars.
Molasses is produced in the refining of white sugar from sugar cane. Blackstrap molasses contains a significant amount of iron and other minerals. Barbados molasses is milder but does not have nearly as many minerals. Look for molasses that does not contain sulfur as a preservative.
Maple syrup is made by boiling sap from the sugar maple tree. It is a delicious, though somewhat expensive sweetener that gives a wonderful flavor to baked goods.
Sucanat is made from organically grown sugar cane juice that has been dehydrated. Up to 3% of its composition is vitamins and minerals. It is comparable to white sugar in sweetness and use.
Stevia is a sweet herb, recently introduced to the United
States that has been used for centuries in South America. It is many times
sweeter than ordinary sugar and is essentially non-caloric. According to some
researchers, it has immune enhancing effects and can actually aid in stabilizing
blood sugar levels. It comes as a powdered leaf, a white powder, or in liquid
form. In cooking, it tastes best combined with other natural sugars.