Why is Sugar So Bad for You? + Vegan and Sugarless Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy summer everyone! While I have to say (again) that it has been awhile since I have posted, I wanted to let you all know that the Kale Me Maybe Instagram is really starting to take off. I will be posting there about once a day with all my culinary creations, and I am going to REALLY, REALLY put in the effort to post on here about once a week so you can get the full recipes as well as learn some nutritional tidbits.

When it comes to nutrition, we have heard the common enemies: fat, preservatives, salt, pesticides.
But one of the worst things you can consume is sugar.

Even if you are avoiding desserts, sugar is probably finding its way into your diet through fruit drinks, coffees, packaged foods and maybe even unsuspecting meals like salads. Just because your label is free of the word "sugar" doesn't mean you are in the clear, either. Sugar likes to disguise itself as "sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, dextrose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, barley malt, brown rice syrup, cane juice..." the list goes on.

It still surprises me that people ask "Why is sugar so bad?" but then I think about how most of us were raised on sugary breakfast cereals and artificial fruit snacks and that the current food industry pushes these products onto us through the mass media. For some people, sugar is just a normal part of their diet-- no one has ever told them the harm it causes. Sugar damages us beyond just our weight, putting us at risk for diabetes, cancer, heart disease and addiction. It also can be harmful to our mental states, with studies showing that it can cause depression (and you know how big I am on the food and mood correlation).

Here are some of the most important reasons that sugar is our nutritional nemesis:

  • It contains no essential nutrients: Did anyone say empty calories? The things you eat should benefit you in some way, and sugar does not.
  • Sugar makes you fat: Sugar is a leading contributor to obesity, not just in children, but in adults too. People who consume the most sugar are most likely to be obese, especially because of the way sugar affects the brain and causes us to not feel satiated. 
  • It can cause cancer: Constantly elevated insulin levels and chronic inflammation-- both an effect of sugar-- can contribute to cancer risks
  • It's highly addictive: Many nutritionists and scientists liken the effect of sugar on the brain to that of drugs-- and take it from a former [sugar] addict-- they're right! Sugar causes a massive release of dopamine in the brain, activating our reward centers and causing a strong addiction to the sweetener. I can definitely attest to this: at one point in my life, I was constantly eating candy and craving dessert after every meal. Once I ditched sugar completely, I stopped craving it. Simple as that. But the same as a drug relapse, if I start to get in the habit of eating it again, I need it constantly and slip back into addiction. This just goes to show how powerful the effect of sugar really is, even if you are not aware of it.
  • It puts you at risk for heart disease: Sugar raises your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and it also affects the pumping mechanism of your heart. 
  • It can make you depressed: The ups and downs from glucose absorption disturb the brain and exacerbate anxiety and depression. Not only that, but sugar also uses up the mood-enhancing B vitamins. 
That being said, "sugar-free" isn't always the answer, as many substitutes have similar effects, especially ones that contain aspartame like Equal, as aspartame is carcinogenic and can cause emotional disorders, tumors and various diseases. Even agave nectar, which was once considered a good alternative, is considered harmful, as it is still a processed sugar and the amount of syrup needed to sweeten things is very high in sugar content.

So what's the best sugar alternative? If you need to sweeten something, it's best to use Stevia, honey or maple syrup, as they are all natural and contain various other health benefits. Of course, use these in moderation too, as sugar in excess is never good for you, even if it's from a natural source.

To go along with the sweet theme of this post, I thought I would share a dessert recipe, which is rare for me since I am not much of a baker. I just came up with this new Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, which, of course, has no sugar and instead uses a small amount of maple syrup as a sweetener. These came out SO tasty, and it will be easy for you to recreate them, as I actually accurately measured everything this time.

These cookies are vegan, have no added sugar, no butter and no eggs, and they can be gluten free if you take out the oats and use another flour instead. There are no bad ingredients, so these can even be used as breakfast cookies.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup almond flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup maple syrup (Grade B)
1/4 Unrefined Virgin coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp cocoa powder
6  small squares of 70% or higher dark chocolate, with no sugar or dairy added, chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Grease a baking sheet with some coconut oil. Place spoon sized chunks of the batter onto the baking sheet, leaving a little bit of room for the cookies to expand (they don't get much bigger).
4. Bake for about 15-20 minutes. If you like your cookies softer, bake for 15 minutes, and if you like them harder, bake for a little over 20.
5. Let cookies cool. If you want a little extra sweetness, drizzle maple syrup on top of the cookies when they are done baking.

(Makes about 10 cookies)

What are your favorite no sugar added recipes? Share in the comments! And be sure to follow @kalememaybe on Instagram!