Food has a special place in our lives. We cannot live without it, yet we always find excuses to cut as much of it out of our lives as possible. The modern take on health has so many of us dieting and skipping meals in order to appear socially acceptable. Sugar ranks high on this Food Black List. Now don’t get me wrong, I wholly accept the saying 'Excess of anything in life is poison'. Too much sugar can make us feel drowsy, cause unwanted weight gain, increase blood sugar levels and even escalate the chances of heart failures. However, I also believe that cutting Sugar entirely from my life would not do me much good. So I turned to Ayurveda and tried to understand what it had to say on the topic.
The Ayurvedic Perception of Sugar
Ayurvedic texts identify the basic taste of Sugar, Sweetness, as a flavor that is quite important in the scheme of things. Of the different tastes (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, Astringent) that make up most of our diet, the Sweet taste is considered to be the most vital of the six. Even when we look towards modern science and nutritional analysis, each of the six different tastes mentioned above satisfies a different part of our required nutritional intake. As such, a well-balanced meal must include all six components in order for it to be truly “Healthy”. At this point, we can accept that eliminating sugar from our diets is not the optimal solution that we were led to believe. But what of all the negative effects of Sugar we have heard so much of?
Ayurvedic practitioners share the belief that prolonged consumption of Artificial or Refined Sugars is harmful. Our bodies may face difficulties in digesting them causing the build-up of Ama. Moreover, they also aggravate the Doshas. The sugars create imbalances in the body which are expressed in the form of various physical ailments. Yet, Ayurveda holds the Sweet taste in high esteem. Eating Naturally Sweet foods and those containing Natural Sweeteners is actively encouraged. The Sweet taste helps to stimulate the Vata dosha. This indirectly helps calm the Doshic imbalances and brings peace to the mind and body.
Varieties of Sugar
Turns out, not all “Sugars” can be blamed for the sins of Refined Sugar. In the modern context, Sugar simply stands for Refined Cane or Beet Sugar. This white, powdered crystal finds its way into so many of our favorite desserts and is extremely prevalent. In a broader sense, there are multiple varieties of Sugars. To avoid any confusion, we are going to use the word Sweetener when referring to food condiments that lend a sweet taste to food. Sugar will be used specifically to refer to the granulated, white crystals.
On a basic level, there are Natural and Artificial Sweeteners. Natural Sweeteners are those which are produced by Nature, without any human-aid. Honey, Molasses, Coconut Sugar, Jaggery and Maple Syrup occupy this side of the spectrum. On the other hand, processing Natural Sweetenrs can yield various kinds of Artificial Sweeteners. Humanity has come up with various processes to create these Artificial Sweeteners with the help of chemicals and machines. Artificial Sweeteners are more “economic” as they are several times sweeter than natural sugars and hence require lesser amounts to induce the same sweetness.
If you are looking to switch to a healthier diet and lifestyle, cutting sugar entirely will do you more harm than good. Rather than eliminating all the sweet stuff, try to switch to Natural Sweeteners while cooking. Use Honey or Jaggery instead of Refined Sugar while cooking your favorite dessert. Even the natural sweetness of fruits and nuts are a boon to your body. Dates, Raisins and Fruits all contain compounds that induce the Sweet taste and are inherently better for your health.
Some Beneficial Natural Sweeteners
In addition to being a vital part of our diet, most Natural Sweeteners help our body in some form. While Honey, Jaggery and other Natural Sweeteners provide energy to the body and have a calming effect on the mind, they also yield various secondary benefits. For example, Honey is full of anti-oxidants that prevent cellular damage and keeps our cells alive. It also has strong anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and helps to soothe a sore throat and boost our immunity. It is interesting to note that Honey is better when consumed in the raw or unheated form. Heating Honey destroys the natural compounds present in it and this negatively affects your body. So long as one does not heat Honey before consuming it, the benefits it has are nearly endless! If you are looking for Honey to shake up your diet, check out our Madhu Panchamrut!
Similarly, Jaggery has notable digestive properties and positively impacts our metabolism. Studies have been conducted which conclude that Jaggery has compounds that actively enables it to protect DNA from oxidative stress and increases cell life. Since the process of making Jaggery require minimal processing and involves evaporation of liquid content, it can be considered as a much healthier alternative to Refined Sugar. For a more comprehensive read on Jaggery, click on the link.
Other Natural Sweeteners you can switch out Refined Sugar for are:
- Coconut Sugar
- Dates and Raisins
- Sweet Fruits
- Maple Syrup
To conclude, the Ayurvedic view of things does not encourage avoiding Sugar. Instead, try to incorporate Natural Sugars and Sweeteners into your diet. They allow us to maintain our health while enjoying the delicious Sweet taste that comes along with it!!!
Reference 1: Artificial Sweeteners Vs Natural Sweeteners