New Years Series (5/5): Choose Smarter Sweeteners

There’s a saying that you can pour the purest golden nectar into a chalice, but if the cup is dirty on the inside, then the quality of the nectar is irrelevant.

When it comes to food and your body, the same is true. You can eat the freshet, high-quality whole foods but if your digestive system is not in good shape, then your ability to process and assimilate the nutrients from your food is severely compromised. This is a key reason why Ayurveda and most other healing systems place such a strong focus on creating and maintaining a healthy gut.

This week, as many people focus on making changes to what they are eating, I am offering a five-part series on simple ways to boost your digestive capacity so that you can more optimally process the healthy foods you are consuming.


Part 5: Choose Smarter Sweeteners

Most of us know there are plenty of reasons to stay away from refined sugars, yet their addictive nature keep many people hooked. If you’re hoping to have a healthier gut, kicking the sugar habit is essential because “bad bacteria” in your gut (e.g., candida) thrive on sugar. When you consume a lot of sugar regularly, these bacteria can begin to swell to a point where they outnumber “good” gut flora that assist in the digestive process.

If you’re a fan of diet sodas or artificial sweeteners, you’re still at risk. Numerous studies in recent years have found that Splenda and other sweeteners still cause an upset in the balance of delicate gut bacteria. Over time, both refined sugars and artificial sweeteners can diminish healthy bacteria to a point where the body becomes glucose intolerant, increasing the risk of diabetes.

When you decide to eliminate refined sugars, you automatically say good-bye to the majority of processed foods, and in doing so also give up a host of other ingredients that can cause havoc in the gut.

If you do consume light to moderate amounts of refined sugars, there is some evidence that probiotic supplements can help mitigate the effects of sugar on the gut. But, given the host of other health threats refined sugars pose, I suggest steering clear of them as much as possible.

If you are heavily reliant on sugar in your diet, know that it can be difficult to quit sugar completely overnight. Go slow, making incremental changes. Familiarize yourself with unrefined sweeteners, and use them in moderation. My personal favorite sweeteners are maple syrup and honey, and I enjoy using coconut sugar in baking in place of white sugar.