Eat Your Dinner Before Dessert
A food's glycemic index is affected by what you already have in your stomach or what you eat along with it. Avoid eating high-GI foods all by themselves. If you get a box of Godiva chocolates as a gift, be sure to dip into it lightly and only after a healthy meal.
Go Easy on the Sweet Substitutes
The dangers of artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet) and sucralose (Splenda) have been splattered all over the media. To date, however, aspartame has proven safe (see sidebar, left). Scientists at the Clinical Pharmacology Group at the University of Southampton, United Kingdom, concluded in the journal Physiology and Behavior that intense sweeteners like aspartame don't increase your tendency to snack, don't affect blood sugar or insulin levels, and may even help some people lose weight by lowering sugar intake. However, many high-profile and respected members of the medical community, including alternative-health guru Andrew Weil, M.D., are passionately opposed to aspartame and urge their patients to forgo it. In the end, as with anything, the best path is moderation.
The following is a list of some common natural sugars that can be a little friendlier to your physique than refined ones. Although unrefined, many of these sugars still pack a caloric wallop and can be detrimental if consumed in excessive amounts. Some are worse than others.
Blackstrap Molasses: The liquid left behind after sucrose is removed from beet juice or sugar cane. Provides calcium and iron.
Date Sugar: Made of ground-up dates. Rich with minerals and fiber.
Fruit Juice: Absorbed into the bloodstream relatively slowly, creating only a moderate rise in insulin levels.
Honey: Will boost your energy, but contains more calories and rots teeth faster than sucrose (table sugar). Use in moderation.
Maple Syrup: A sweetener that comes from maple-tree sap. Abundant in minerals, potassium and calcium.
Sucanat: A product of squeezing juice from sugar cane. Similar to white sugar, but contains vitamins and minerals that table sugar doesn't.
Many of the following refined sugars can be found in some of your favorite foods. Keep your distance.
Corn Syrup: Found in dozens of foods-salad dressings, lunch meats, ice cream and canned fruits. Enhances viscosity, texture and color.
Dextrose: Comes from the hydrolysis of cornstarch and serves as a yeast food in breads, buns and rolls.
Brown Sugar: A refined sweetener derived from sugar cane. Contains molasses syrup and is found in many baked goods.
Granulated Sugar: Comes in many different forms. Can be found in anything from your sugar bowl at home to baked goods like doughnuts and cookies.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Produced from adding enzymes to cornstarch. Found in soft drinks, ice cream and frozen desserts.
Invert Sugar: An equal mixture of glucose and sucrose commonly found in carbonated beverages.
Aspartame: A Bad Rap?
Since being approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1981, aspartame has been repeatedly panned in the media, for different reasons. There's no agreement on which component of aspartame is toxic: First, it was aspartic acid, then methanol, then phenylalanine, and now it's the diketopiperazine (DKP). Yet phenylalanine and aspartic acid are both amino acids found naturally in dietary proteins, and most dietary methanol comes from the digestion of fresh fruits and vegetables, not from aspartame. As for DKP, a whopping hit of 12 1/2 grams of aspartame given to six volunteers bore no adverse effects, says a study published in Food Chemistry and Toxicology. As a result, aspartame is still considered safe by the FDA, the American Dietetic Association, and scientists who have tested it in humans at universities around the world. Even so, public fears persist, most likely because of reports that a large number of the population is unwittingly allergic to aspartame. However, according to the journal Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, only a small segment of the population-one out of every 16,591-actually has this condition (called phenylketonuria, or PKU), in which one cannot properly metabolize phenylalanine, one of the amino acids in aspartame.