Sugar, Fat, & Heart Disease: Leftovers from February

Note: I am posting this under Health Flashes/Special Reports even though I could also put it under Leftovers, because I started this is in February intending to link it with Healthy Heart Month. By putting it under Health Flashes, I hope more people will Google the information who are not subscribers…yet!

Some people jokingly consider sugar and fat as two of their four major food groups! But too much sugar and the wrong fats are nothing to joke about. Here are some health facts that might help you make better food choices in the sweets and oils departments.

How Sweet is It?

Sugar by any other name is still sugar. However, there are some sweeteners that don’t impact on your body quite as quickly as the pure white stuff we pour into our coffee, add to our cakes, and gulp down with our soft drinks. (I won’t even touch artificial sweeteners here, because that’s another flash by itself! Ditto for high fructose corn syrup, which is also taboo in my kitchen.)

My favorite source of basic information is, which is where I obtained this primer on sugars. Remember, no matter what sugar you use, don’t overdue it. My brother, who has a PhD in biophysics, told me that bacteria love sugar, so using as little as possible is my goal. And I have found ways to make desserts sweeter with some alternatives.

First, natural sweeteners include Sucanat, barley malt syrup, stevia, fructose, honey, brown rice syrup, and agave syrup (from the cactus plant). My suggestion is that you check each of these out in the store to see the level of carbs and sugars in each serving.  Also, the package may tell you how much of their product substitutes for white sugar. For example, the Freshlife article notes that barley malt and brown rice syrup (milder than barley malt) can be substituted cup for cup for white or brown sugar. But stevia is sweeter than white sugar, so follow the directions given on the package. The best advice is to buy a natural foods cookbook that already uses these alternative so you need not make substitutions.

What I have been doing over the years is to reduce the amount of sweetener in my baked goods gradually, so my desserts are not quite so sweet and now I like them better that way.  Also, I use bananas and raisins in my baking, which allows me to reduce the other sweetener called for, such as honey or maple syrup.  When water is called for, I often use juice, even concentrated frozen juice and cut back on the other sweetener. Another tip I learned from a dessert cookbook is to roast the flour slightly before mixing it into the recipe. The roasting sweetens the grain. Finally, I often soak dried fruit for a fruit salad and save the soaking water for baking.

While  sugar does not cause diabetes directly, (So far, a diet high in calories, being overweight, and an inactive lifestyle are the main risk factors for Type 2 diabetes., we do know that eating too many sweet foods can increase our waists and that obesity and diabetes are linked and given a new name: diabesity. And obesity is also linked to heart disease, so cutting back on sweets that lead to weight gain makes sense.

Finally, another trick I learned is to substitute naturally sweetened jams or apple or pear butter for the sweetener. If the recipe calls for a granulated sweetener, I may have to cut back on some of the liquid, but for pies, just add the jam/fruit butter to the pie fruit to your liking. I also buy only organic jams or jellies, since fruit is often heavily sprayed. (I plan to post my favorite brand in the Product Information Corner.)

As Barbara Cody, chef at Freshlife, notes in her series on sweeteners: “Remember, the closer a sweetener is to the whole food it was derived from, the more slowly it will be absorbed into the blood stream.” Ms. Cody also recommends looking for organic sweeteners and avoid those that have been genetically modified (GMOs). I agree heartily! 

P.S. Since I did articles other articles on sugar and chocolate in earlier postings, I won’t feature them here. (See my review of Naked Chocolate by David Wolfe and Shazzie in the Saturday, October 21st, 2006 posting. Go to the search box and type in the title or go to the archives for 2006 and scroll down to October.) If you do buy chocolate for your baking, look for organic chocolate that is 70% or more cacao so that the benefits of chocolate are not overshadowed by the high sugar content. The taste of dark, bitter sweet chocolate is definitely worth acquiring!

Fat Facts: Avocado, coconut oil vs. margarines, transfats

Most of us are now familiar with the terms good fats/bad fats.  For example, the formerly maligned avocado is now the darling of the kitchen, because it contains good fats. Ditto with coconut oil. (See excerpts below.)

Perhaps the best booklet I can recommend on this topic is Understanding Fats & Oils by Michael T. Murray, N.D. (Naturapathic doctor) and Jade Beutler, .R.T., R.C.P. (I don’t know what these letters stand for!) I met Michael Murray when I lived in Seattle. I believe he teaches at Bastry University, which is one of the best place I know for degrees in natural healing. Here are some highlights about fats & oils from this 74 page booklet published by Apple Publishing:

1. Essential fatty acids (EFA) are fats that we must obtain through our diets, since our body can’t manufacture them.  Since EFAs play a big role in healing people with chronic degenerative diseases (heart disease, cancer, stroke, for es.)

2. EFAs in flax oil and  other polyunsaturated oils are suggested as additions to our diets.

3. Mass commercial refinement of foods that contain fats and oils (to extend shelf life) has basically eliminated the EFAs from our food chain.

4. The authors provide some practical advice for obtaining EFAs that our bodies need:
a. Reduce the amount of saturated fats and total fat in the diet; b. Eliminate  the intake of margarine and other foods containing trans fatty acids & partially hydrogenated oils. (See Glossary); c. Take one to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil daily. (Keep in freezer or refrigerator.); d. Limit total dietary fat intake to nomore than 30% of calories consumed.

5. Flaxseed oil is recommended because it contains both EFAs (Omega 3s & Omega 6s), with flax having the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids. (Most of us eat foods too high in Omega-6s, so glax oil helps balance this out.)

Coconut oil has been on the chopping block a lot, also, but in the last few years a great deal of research has debunked the myth that coconut oil (non-hydrogenated) is bad for you. Below is an excerpt from my good friend Barb Jarmoska, owner of FreshLife. (

Coconut Oil Falsely Slandered  from Freshlife’s FreshMail

For many years, coconut oil has been the target of a successful smear campaign by vegetable oil manufacturers, particularly the soy industry. In truth, the type of fatty acids found in this tropical oil have many health benefits – chief among them weight loss, energy enhancement and cardiovascular health.

Coconut oil…does not increase blood cholesterol level,does not promote platelet stickiness or blood clot formulation, does not contribute to atherosclerosis or heart disease,does not contribute to weight problems. It reduces your risk of atherosclerosis and related illnesses. It reduces your risk of cancer and other degenerative conditions, helps prevent bacterial, viral, and fungal (including yeast) infections. Coconut oil also supports immune function, helps control diabetes, promotes weight loss, provides an immediate source of energy, supplies fewer calories than other fats, supplies important nutrients necessary for good health, and improves digestion and nutrient absorption.

In another article from, entitled Coconut Oil & Heart Disease By Bruce Fife, N.D. I read this important information, quoted directly from the website:

Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It is classified as a “functional food” because it provides many health benefits beyond its nutritional content. Coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil and is extensively used in traditional medicine among Asian and Pacific populations. Pacific Islanders consider coconut oil to be the cure for all illness. The coconut palm is so highly valued by them as both a source of food and medicine that it is called “The Tree of Life.” Only recently has modern medical science unlocked the secrets to coconut’s amazing healing powers.

Please go to the website for the complete article. It’s worth reading, if only to erase the myth that coconut oil is a “bad fat.”

All the articles I have read indicate that people who traditionally consume large quantities of coconut oil as part of their ordinary diet have a very low incidence of heart disease and have normal blood cholesterol levels. Numerous population studies and research show that people who consume large quantities of  (pure, not hydrogenated) coconut oil have remarkably good cardiovascular health.

My nutritionist friend, Barb Schiltz, who I profiled last fall when she helped write a book, The Ultimate Metabolism Diet by Scott Ridgen, MD. worked for Metagenics in the Seattle area. She wrote a wonderful position paper on coconut oil that I recommend you at least scan for more information on this “healthy fat”. The link is Click on position papers and when the list appears, click on coconut oil.

Also, I have two or three book son the topic of fats, oils, and coconut oil, which I hope to review in the future in one article. Understanding Fats & Oils, mentioned above, is one of them, but the other two are also worthy of review. Stay tuned….because women and heart disease is a “hot topic,” and coconut oil seems to be a good choice for keeping our hearts healthy.

P.S. I also use coconut oil on my skin as well as in my kitchen. ellensue

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