The main forms of sugar you will see in packaged foods are corn syrup and sugar (refined white). These are the two least expensive sources of sweetness, so large manufacturers use them in order to keep their expenses down. In fact, when you see the ingredient sugar, unless it clearly states that it is "cane" sugar, you are more than likely consuming beet sugar, which is less costly to produce. Recently, the FDA approved sugar beets as part of the growing list of items that they are allowing to be genetically modified. A genetically modified sugar beet is designed to be resistant to a chemical called glyphosate, or more commonly known as Roundup. Roundup is a chemical weed-control made by a company called Monsanto that is sprayed directly onto the plants and the soil. I could get into all the political insanity about Monsanto and their corruption, but let's just stick with the basics for now...the DNA of the sugar beet has been altered (genetically modified) by injecting it with the DNA of another species and it is basically grown in a bath of Roundup. The result...toxic Frankensugar...not something I personally want to eat.
While we're on the GMO (genetically modified organism) subject, let's talk corn syrup. Corn is one of the largest commodity crops grown in the USA. The majority of corn crops grown are not grown for us to eat summertime favorites like corn on the cob and creamed corn. In fact, the strand of modified corn most commonly grown in the US is not even eatable in its natural form. Hundreds of thousands of farmland acres each year are devoted to corn crops that produce nothing but corn syrup. Like sugar beets, the corn is genetically altered and sprayed with Roundup and other toxic chemicals. The chemicals really were enough for me to make a change, but if you're concerned that life may be altered without your daily dose of toxicity, you may be more swayed by the lack of research available to prove what effect mutated corn and sugar beets have on our bodies. Interestingly enough, diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes have been on the rise since the introduction of these test tube foods.
A slightly better alternative to the above sweeteners is cane sugar. Cane sugar is derived from the sugar cane plant and is most commonly found on supermarket shelves in the form of white table sugar. The liquid extracted from the cane actually has nutritional properties. After chemicals are added such as phosphoric acid & calcium hydroxide, and it's centrifuged, carbon filtered, heated, crystallized, dehydrated, milled and bleached, it's finally ready to be added to all your sweet treats. The problem being that any nutritional value the sugar had prior to all that processing is completely obliterated. Not to mention, your body does not recognize it as food at all. This is what we call empty calories...a substance that has calories and contributes absolutely nothing nutritionally to your body.
It is possible to purchase a form of cane sugar in an almost natural state. It can be found in health food stores under the label sucanat or Rapunzel (a brand name). I find it in the bulk bins of our local health food store. Sucanat is cane juice evaporated with low heat until it drys into a grain form. It has the taste of brown sugar because it is in its most natural state without the molasses having been extracted. Brown sugar is white table sugar with molasses added back into it. Unlike brown sugar, sucanat still has all of the original vitamins and minerals existing in the cane juice. I have used it in many conventional recipes, and it subs perfectly in most instances.
There are a few other cane sugars you will run across on your quest to find a better sweetener. Some of which being evaporated cane juice, raw sugar and muscavado. All of these are just a less processed version of white sugar. The less processed the better, so in a pinch, I would choose any of these (preferably organic) over white table sugar. Choose organic over conventionally grown whenever you have the opportunity. It's not only contributing to your health by eliminating pesticides, chemical fertilizers and GMO's, but this choice is also helping sustain the health of our farmland and ultimately our existence.
All of the above choices have a similar effect on your blood glucose level. If you are looking for a sweetener with a lower Glycemic Index, choose local, raw honey or agave if you prefer a milder taste. I personally use honey as my main substitute for sugar. Measured as equal parts to sugar, I even use it to sweeten my morning coffee. Honey with all it's uses is a true gift from God. When the Isrealites entered the Promise Land, God told them it would be 'flowing with milk and honey'...thank you Lord for bees! Raw honey may be a little more difficult to find, but will be well worth the hunt. Try your local farmer's market first...someone there will be able to direct you to a local beekeeper. It's raw because it hasn't been heated or "pasteurized". When we heat any food beyond 118 degrees, we kill it's natural enzymes and other vitamins/minerals. Eat as much food as possible in it's most natural state to maximize your vitamin and mineral intake.
As far as low calorie sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose my advice is to steer clear. These are all synthetically produced sweeteners. The basis of whole eating is to cut out processed foods. These types of sweeteners are some of the most highly processed. Some even stem from pure chemicals that were never a whole food to begin with.
Well, what to do next? Start sifting through your pantry. Read the labels and donate the foods you choose to remove from your repertoire of acceptable items for your family to consume. As you start making the change to a more natural sweetener, keep in mind that large doses of good things can undo their goodness, so in other words...don't over do it. Practice using less and less sweetener...you will be surprised how your palette adapts!! I'm so curious what you find in your pantry with ingredients that surprise you the most, so leave your experiences in the comment section below!