Yet too much sweetness with little or none of the other tastes leads to obesity, diabetes, depression, cardiovascular disease and other health problems. There is a big difference between the sweetness in whole foods and highly refined, concentrated sugars. A well digested meal of all six tastes, properly assimilated, will nourish and gratify every cell in the body long after the initial pleasure of enjoying the meal. A candy bar or sugar laden drink promises this satiety, but the bodily tissues feel jilted when the high passes and there is no lasting contentment.
Dr. David Jenkins and colleagues at the University of Toronto developed the Glycemic Index (GI) in 1980 to rank foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels. Foods with a low GI are more likely to be more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolized with a lower and slower rise in blood glucose levels and subsequently, insulin levels.
Today there are myriad sugar substitutes and alternative sweeteners available. But are they healthy? Consulting a GI can be a good place to start in evaluating sugars and sugar substitutes. Other questions to consider: how far removed from nature is it? how do I respond? Ayurveda teaches that we are all unique and how one person may react to a substance can be different from another.
Occasional sweet treats can be enjoyed by those with a healthy digestive system. Maple syrup is boiled down sugar maple sap and contains mostly sucrose with some glucose and fructose. It has other micronutrients and high amounts of manganese and riboflavin (vitamin B2). Adapt favorite recipes, substituting maple syrup for white sugar. Usually reducing some of the liquid is all that is necessary.
Other alternatives are agave and brown rice syrup, although agave has been criticized for being highly refined and hardly different from corn syrup. In general, the more removed from the natural state, the less nutritious.
Dates, figs, grapes, coconut palm are other fruits that are used to sweeten food or make sugar substitutes.
It is a common belief that replacing sugar with non-caloric sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, stevia) leads to weight loss. There have been hundreds of studies on the effects of these sweeteners on weight management, appetite, metabolism and obesity with varying results. In fact, some of these studies have found these sweeteners to promote weight gain.
Jaggery and Stevia
Jaggery is raw, natural cane sugar from India which contains vitamins and minerals. It is similar to Sucanat and molasses and is very high in B vitamins. Molasses is made in the stages of sugar refining and is rich in B vitamins and minerals, particularly iron. Much has been written in the popular press about the dangers of corn syrup, particularly high-fructose corn syrup.
Concentrated sweetness dulls our sense of taste. We become unable to taste the sweetness in fresh strawberries, rice or carrots when our taste has become accustomed to sugary drinks, sweetened condiments, cake and candy.