I have written much on the biology behind sugars before - here, but here I want to give a different pitch, of what your options are...
For some reason, we are massively confused about sugars.
However, the truth lies in the very simple messages from our taste buds - we love them - for obvious evolutionary reasons.
Not to mention that sugars are the only fundamental nutrient for all cellular life.
Everything about the human form says the same thing about relationship with sugars.
Unfortunately, most evolutionary studies of hominids are embedded firmly within the context of trying to prove that our diets should be meat dominated.
But without that meaty agenda, the facts shine through...
- Teeth - large incisors, minimal K-9s, small molars - designed for snipping at soft things, not tearing or grinding too much, and no strong crushing muscles in jaw. Seems to be expecting soft fibres - like in FRUIT
- Eyes - can do movement and form, but colour vision is the most obvious and unusual asset - designed to spot differently coloured objects across distance. Just like ripening signals across a canopy - like on FRUIT
- Gut - Not great with large proteinous foods (uric acid build up), and is clearly used to high fibre and high frequency meals. Intestines extract all sugars from meals first - seemingly expecting lots of them. No massive fermentation chamber to deal with heavy cell structure - seems to be expecting easily digested and sweet foods - like FRUIT
- Hands - Structure of fingers & nails brings dexterity that no other family of creatures has - good for much precision handling unnecessary in arboreal primate life, except for skinning and deseeding FRUIT
- Similarities - Notably we share these traits with all monkeys, and especially apes, which are known to eat copious amounts of ...... ???
It might sound too simplistic, but it really is as complex as we wish to make it.
Desert Island Disks
Another way to say it is... If you were trapped in the same situation as all the other animals - able only to collect and eat foods - without cooking or processing or elaborating or combining...
What would you actually be attracted to, raw !
Meat ? Eeuurrghh !
Grains ? - I don't think so !
Beans ? Still in their pods perhaps
Leaves ? Some of them taste okay
Nuts & seeds ? Sure a few...
Fruit ? - Bingo !!!
So, we are built to see fruit, peel fruit, taste fruit, chew fruit, and digest fruit... Hmmm... Confusing, ehhh !
The Long View
It is always best to understand things within the mighty context of time. Evolutionary time.
Such as the 200 million year time frame of our dalliance with the flowering trees. They were the first to produce fruit - to lure the tree-dwelling mammals in and spread their seed. Along with all the other apes, we fell into their honey trap, and our bodies specialised to take advantage of these delicious free lunches. And the better we got at it, the easier life became - thus gaining all these fruit-oriented body parts.
In doing so, we became an indivisible part of the forest's evolution :
Trees competing with each other to attract us - providing ever tastiest and more nutritious foods.
And apes evolving to get there first and make use of them - a powerful feedback loop, conducive to the breeding of two inter-dependent, mutually beneficial lifestreams.
And in this, the most sugar-rich environment the planet has even seen, we find the development of the single most sugar-hungry object on the planet - the ape brain. Nowhere else have we seen this. Bigger brains do exist, in elephants and whales, etc., but not as compact, and not as complex, and not as high-octane sugar dependant.
And it is no coincidence that the ape with the biggest brain (most sugar dependence) also has the most fruit specialised gut, teeth and hands. We took the sugar high to a whole new level.
Addicts of the Highest Order
We are addicts in the highest, most sustainable, and most ethical sense. Our every cell is calling for it - as the only fuel that cells can burn - and our tastebuds have been trained over 200 million years - the best place to get it is fruit.
And in the tropical, seasonless forests, where our instincts grew up, sugars (fruits) are available constantly and effortlessly : Year-round. Courier-serviced to your door. Just reach-out-and-grab. Advertised in the brightest colours, and the most tantalising flavours.
And from those dizzying heights we fell. And now find ourselves in an enslaved new world.
For reasons of climatic shift, inevitable population explosion, subsequent economic encumberment, and historical corporate trade enslavements, we find ourselves in a sickly sweet pseudo-paradise. Endless hypermarket shelves stacked with a seeming diversity of highly refined, minerally-denuded, bleached-white sucrose products...
Now we can talk addictions properly...
We might have lost something in translation...
Not just through the nutritional lens of sugars - but on every food front have we lost.
And man, we have fallen physically because of it - big-style.
And much of our genius machinery no longer functions tip top - from the neck up, and down !
So, now we are all born in a slightly weakened state, depending on which organs our cultural lineage compromised further. For some of us it is liver function, weakened immune systems, compromised gut flora, thin arteries, frail bones, poor mineral absorption, or knackered pancreases.
And that is just at birth.
Depending on parental and cultural traits, we further weaken that organ set, or others...
To the point at which we start to need medications constantly to survive - which is the situation for much of the global community.
Sugar is an easy target to pin much of this on, as mismanagement of it will incur a plethora of symptoms. Whether the problem is tooth decay, pancreatitis, fructose intolerance, diabetes, hypoglycaemia, or whatever, its all part of bigger nutritional degradation process since steadily losing control over our farming, our health, and its remediation.
The endless call
But much of it is not so much the sugar itself, but endless nature of its need.
Even if we are successfully eating foods (fruits) that meet the body's need for sugars, there will always be more needed soon. But the real bind is when we get the sugary-foods wrong, and the cellular call for them becomes near-constant. Then things start to go wrong really fast - like within a generation ! And once they are heading in the wrong direction, a year can turn hypoglycaemia into diabetes, and if unchecked, then a single meal can turn diabetes into death.
Get your sugars in order
If you want something sweet, eat fruit. Any fruit. As much of it as you like. No matter how much of it you eat, it will never be as bad for you as the refined sugar that you might eat instead of it.
UNLESS - you have ...
- hypoglycaemia or diabetes
- pancreatitis or liver issues
- bacterial overgrowth - Candida or any dysbiosis
- major tooth decline, or acid-driven arthritis
- obesity or fructose intolerance
If you are having to level your sugar load yourself, for whatever reason, then you will have to do so with fruit too. You have an issue, and it is not fruit's fault ! It is years (generations) of eating refined sucrose...
Satisfying all your sugar needs by eating fruit instead of refined sugar often proves to be the solution to all of the above issues over years and years, but go carefully.
If you are determined to short-change your nutrition, and short-circuit your body's genius sense of taste-to-need ratio, then there are alternatives to a life sentence of endless fruits.
Honey has some traction nutritionally, as it is loaded with all the things that bees need to overwinter - and therefore an equal and opposite amount of ethical slipperiness as hives are typically robbed of their winter stores, only to have them replaced with refined white syrup - thus furthering the global decline in bee populations - use with respect.
Maple Syrup is another native American food. The sap is tapped from Maple trees, and boiled forever to reduce it down, so it is a very cooked process.
While it has more or less the same 'sugar load' as honey, the balance of sugars is more similar to refined sugar - use with caution
Coconut Flower Sugar has leapt into the ranks recently. Massive coconut plantations struggling to survive are quite keen for it to be seen as highly sustainable. The best thing to say about it (aside from its deliciousness!) is its got a slow burn - use with less caution
Agave did well for years, promoting itself from the Mexican outback harvested by millennia of natives. Then the world clocked the chemical similarity it has to corn syrup (corporate America's latest means of squeezing the death out of nature's native abundance). Yes, despite its high-fructose difficulties, it remains a much easier and slower sugar for your pancreas to cope with - use with less caution
Yacon Syrup is yet another great idea from the Americas (they had all the best toys) and is one of the top choices, as it causes almost no sugar spike.
Its made from a root in the Andes, and as long as it continues to employ the locals - use with abandon
Stevia is the final options worth mentioning. Its a little, vaguely sweet shrubby thing. Which contains a remarkable chemical that stimulates your sweet-sensitive taste receptors without there being anything sweet there. Can be useful if you are having to avoid all sugars (God forbid). especially useful if you have a diabetic story already, as it is known to have pancreas-haling components - use if you have to
The bottom line remains at the top really.
Go Ape !
Get your sweet from fruit. As much as you like. As often as you like.
Keep these pseudo-natural sweeteners above are only to be used on the holidays ;-)
And avoid anything claiming to be sweet with zero calorie content - the usual cautions apply :
Turn the package over, and if you can't pronounce any of the ingredients, bin it.
Back to the big picture
There are endless options actually, and the individual pros and cons are only really a fragment of the picture.
You remember the big picture - where a shift in climate made some of our forest home shrink, forcing us out of the trees into fields of grass seeds, where are (already) massive brains fuelled by survival instincts lead us to survive on what we found on the prairies and plains.
We managed it - surviving on grass seeds, meat and roots - hallelujah !
But that doesn't make it optimal nutrition.
Every report from the fossil record shows that it has been deleterious to our health - appalling dental records, and even 10% loss of skull (thus brain) size over the past 30,000 years.
Because these are the remains of humans that found themselves preserved in peat bogs, deserts and tundra ice - not exactly hospitable environments for this 'naked, forest ape'. - but they are the only places that form fossils, thus they are the only record to go on. Whereas the millions of hominids making their home in the forests were recycled without trace - IE: no fossil record !
So we know without doubt that the wanderers found themselves surviving on nutritionally-lacking foods - but paying the price with their health.
And if we continue the nutritional mistakes - again and again - bowl after bowl, cup upon cup, slice after slice, every day for generations, then we might expect these same changes in how the body is forced to manage itself.
Do we really expect the body to be able to build the most complex, compact, supercomputer ever seen from these sub-standard building materials, and run it on polluting fuels, and get the same consciousness than when it was built on the highest-grade materials, run on smokeless, super fuel, built for the job over 200,000,000 years of co-evolution..
Can we really expect that ?
Perhaps expecting that we can, is a consequence of running such a perfect machine on such an imperfect fuel.
Perhaps many of our conclusions about life might be a little twisted from this simple fuel-change.
Perhaps we should be re-evaluating a lot of the results it gives us - like whether that holiday to Ibiza is more important than the climate security of our grand children...
Or that the economy is more important than the environment generally...
Given that every single natural system that we are in contact with, is in major decline..
Perhaps we should...
In the meantime, the moral of this 150,000,000 story is simple...
If you want something sweet, eat fruit.