Living the Sweet Life – without Sugar

by Max Sucquit Jr.   (Published in the Philippine Star, December, 2014)

Charlie, a successful businessman at 40, has been diagnosed with Diabetes II. His doctor therefore put him on a diet practically devoid of sugar or anything sweet.

Knowing his illness could be for life, Charlie resigned himself to a sugarless regimen thereafter. “I’ve been made to believe anything sweet could kill me,” he laments. “But how can I afford to live a life that’s literally without sweetness?”

Charlie was known to be crazy about chocolate, mint candies, and honey-flavored doughnuts.

Menchu, struggling with Stage II breast cancer, was likewise told to avoid sugar. She realized that cancer cells gorge on sugar, so depriving them of sugar would be one sure way of starving them to death – and keeping her alive.

Turning a health buff at mid-30s, Alice has taken to watching her diet daily, getting sure she would never again tip the scales above 120 lbs. She also had to keep sweet foods at bay. All three are typical cases of health conditions where sugar must be kept in check or completely eliminated in one’s diet.

For most diabetics, though, abstinence from sugar looms as a tall order. According to Dr. Nelson Abelardo, noted cardiologist and medical authority at Manila Doctors’ Hospital and Philippine General Hospital, diabetes could predispose one to sugar addiction. “It’s rather ironic that a diabetic usually develops a craving for sugar -- the very thing he should abstain from for his health’s sake,” says Dr. Abelardo. “That’s why weaning a diabetic from sugar would be like curing a drug addict’s dependence on narcotics.” “The problem is, totally depriving a diabetic of sugar would also be unhealthy for him,” Abelardo notes. “When a diabetes sufferer runs low on sugar in his blood, he could go into hypoglycemia, the abnormal lack of blood sugar, He could collapse.”

But is there no more ‘sweet’ life after diabetes, cancer and obesity? Not necessarily so, says a growing number of medics, most of whom have been treating such ailments for years. These doctors have discovered a safe, organic alternative to ordinary sugar – stevia.

Also called ‘green sugar’, stevia is extracted from Stevia rebaudian bertoni, a plant native to South and Central America and whose leaves are said to taste 300 times sweeter than ordinary sugar. It has been used by natives of those lands for some 400 years.

“A friend asked me to chew a leaf from his stevia plant. It tasted sweet. Even a dried leaf could still be sweet,” related Nel, a middle-aged diabetic housewife who said she was seeking a safe alternative sweetener

Stevia is now being used in many countries to sweeten beverages like coffee, tea, and fruit juices. It can also enhance the flavors of salads, breads, pastries and cakes. A one-gram sachet of Green Stevia, the most widely distributed brand in the local market, is found to be equivalent to three teaspoons of sugar. It is an organic product free from harmful chemical additives.

Diabetics may find stevia the ideal sugar substitute. Its glycemic index (GI), the measure of substance’s effect on blood sugar level, is the lowest ever compared to sweet foods such as refined sugar, brown sugar, coco sugar honey, chocolate, ice cream, strawberry jam, and mango. While white sugar has a high glycemic index of 65, honey has 61, and coco sugar boasts of a low 35, stevia registers a zero GI!

“I myself have come to appreciate the value of stevia as a safe and therefore fitting substitute for sugar, especially for diabetics,” says Dr. Abelardo. “In my own research I found that because of the almost microscopic molecular structure of stevia, the substance, when ingested, easily passes through the liver and excreted by the kidneys without leaving any residue in the blood. So, it has practically zero effect on the blood sugar levels. Unlike sugar, stevia won’t ever raise the blood sugar.”

Some manufacturers of herbal products that include tea and fruit drinks have begun turning to stevia for organic sweetening. It is rather good news to diet watchers that stevia-sweetened products are now getting more spaces in grocery shelves. Health food shops and leading drugstores have also added stevia to their growing list of organic items. <