It’s becoming widely known that getting too much sugar is bad for your health in general and bad for your blood pressure in particular. It’s also now understood that if you lower your sugar intake this helps lower your blood pressure. So you can reduce sugar and high blood pressure together.
Obviously, the key thing to do is to adjust what you’re habitually eating and drinking (yes, there’s a lot of sugar in many drinks) to ensure you’re getting less sugar. You can read more about all this in our article here: Sugar and high blood pressure
Many of us have a bit of a sweet tooth though, so avoiding sugar completely can be a daunting prospect. The good news is you don’t have to completely cut out sugar to improve your health and blood pressure. You do have to try to cut out as much artificial forms of sugar and additives as possible as these are almost uniformly harmful for your health. But thankfully there are many natural sources of sweet goodness you can have instead.
There are many natural foods which are sweet-tasting and can be enjoyed on their own or added to other foods and drinks. Apples, bananas,and berries are some fruits that are not only delicious but good for your blood pressure. Dark chocolate is also delicious and actually helpful for reducing blood pressure: Why you should eat chocolate
However, this article is going to focus on natural and healthy ways to add sweetness to your foods and drinks. Yes, you can reduce sugar and high blood pressure without major sacrifice 🙂
Go for natural sweetness
In terms of alternatives to sugar, it’s better to use naturally sweet products rather than artificial sweeteners. We’ll discuss artificial sweeteners in more detail below. Naturally sweet products have several advantages over artificial sweeteners. Firstly, and most importantly, they are safe to use. Secondly, they have less dramatic negative effects on blood pressure. Thirdly, most of them have additional nutritional benefits which artificial sweeteners (and sugar) completely lack.
Honey, maple syrup, and blackstrap molasses are the most widely available natural sweeteners and have the most well-researched health benefits. However, there are other natural sweeteners you could try, such as coconut nectar and Stevia. Agave syrup is often touted as a healthy alternative to sugar but it’s so high in fructose that it’s probably best avoided (our sugar article discusses the negative effects of excessive fructose).
These products are still high in sugar but these are naturally occurring sugars, and are combined with other helpful nutrients. As such, consuming them doesn’t cause as big a spike in blood pressure as the equivalent amount of refined sugar would. Some even have properties which are beneficial for blood pressure. And they actually taste better than regular white sugar.
Use them all sparingly though as, since they are still sugary, they can still affect your blood pressure.
Humans have been taking honey from bees for at least 20,000 years. The Egyptians adored and revered honey, baking honey cakes to offer to their gods, and the Greeks called honey ‘ambrosia’ – the nectar of the gods.
Honey was also viewed then as a healing liquid. Today it’s known to be antibacterial, antiseptic, and full of antioxidants which can help lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels and reduce plaque build-up in the arteries.
Some honeys are better than others, however. First of all, it’s best to go for organic unpasteurised honey. In North America, most supermarket honeys are pasteurised so you’ll get ‘raw’ honey most easily in health food shops.
Dark honeys (e.g., buckwheat honey, manuka honey from New Zealand) contain more antioxidants than pale honey (e.g., clover honey, acacia honey). Dark honeys also have a stronger taste and so are a good replacement for corn or sugar cane syrups in baking or on (whole grain) pancakes. Any honey
can be used to replace sugar in baking recipes.
Honey is also perfect for flavouring herbal teas (ginger and lemon tea with honey is a great cold-buster). Honey is good in regular tea and coffee too, if you really can’t give up adding something sweet.
Maple syrup is another great natural sweetener. It’s undoubtedly sugary but is lower in calories than honey and corn syrup and is a significant source of many beneficial minerals and compounds. Maple syrup is also high in antioxidants, including a few which have only recently been discovered and which are thought to be found only in maple syrup (one was named ‘Quebecol’ after the part of Canada which produces most of the world’s maple syrup).
Make sure to buy pure maple syrup rather than ‘maple-flavoured’ syrup which is mostly refined sugar.
Use a little in sauces, to replace sugar in baking, or add to your porridge or muesli if you need a little morning sweetness.
Molasses was actually the most popular sweetener until a century ago when refined sugar became affordable, and it would have been better for us if it had stayed that way.
Blackstrap molasses is the molasses produced after the third boiling of the sugar syrup and so contains the least sugar (sucrose) and is the most nutritious. Although most of the sugar has been removed, all the other nutrients remain and molasses is rich in vitamins and minerals.
Even a couple of tablespoons of blackstrap molasses gives around a tenth of the daily recommended amount of potassium, calcium and magnesium, which are important for healthy blood pressure.
Blackstrap molasses has become well-known for its health benefits and can be found in the form of supplements in most health food shops. You can also mix a tablespoon or two in boiling water and drink it when it cools (use a straw to avoid it sticking to your teeth).
However, molasses works really well in a variety of foods. It’s a key ingredient of baked goods like gingerbread and you can add it in small quantities to give richness to stews and casseroles or use it to baste chicken or turkey.
Some molasses is blended with a sugar solution, so go for pure blackstrap molasses. Get organic and unsulphured for the best flavour, if you can.
Stevia is a plant which grows wild in South America and which has been used as a natural sweetener for centuries because it has incredibly sweet leaves – they’re many times sweeter than sugar.
Unlike regular sugar, however, Stevia contains almost no calories and has far less of an impact on blood sugar levels. Some studies have found that taking Stevia actually lowers blood sugar levels, and lowers blood pressure, but not all studies have found this so more research is needed.
Stevia is available in different forms, but the healthiest ones are minimally processed, such as dried Stevia leaf, extract of Stevia leaf, or Stevia tincture.
It’s probably best to stay away from Stevia-based sweeteners like Truvia, PureVia and Rebiana as these are based on just one or two ingredients from the plant, are heavily processed, and may not have the same health benefits as Stevia extracts derived from the whole plant. (In the US, these are the only Stevia products that have been approved for use as sweeteners. Pure Stevia has not been so approved for use as a sweetener though you can buy it as a food supplement.)
Note: A few people are allergic to Stevia. If you have an allergy to any plants in the Asteraceae/Compositae family of plants – including ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies – then be careful with Stevia.
Fresh and dried fruit and fruit products
You can also simply use fresh and dried fruits to sweeten up a dish:
- add chopped or sliced fresh fruit to oats, cereals or other foods
- add dried fruits instead of fresh for more concentrated sweetness – they’re particularly good in baked goods, or porridge or muesli
- use unsweetened apple sauce or other fruit purées to replace sugar in recipes and to replace some of the oil and butter – just make sure they’re pure and don’t contain added sugar
However, beware of ‘fruit concentrates’ which are often added to fruit products. These are extremely high in sugar.
Why ‘sugar-free’ sweeteners are not a good solution
‘Sugar-free’ artificial sweeteners might sound like a good bet but they tend to be full of chemicals which aren’t good for you, and are likely to be worse for you than the sugar they’re replacing. This is usually the case with the artificial or ‘sugar-free’ sweeteners you add to your drinks, and the sweeteners found in ‘sugar-free’ or ‘low-sugar’ foods.
They also completely lack any of the good nutrients you find in natural sources of sweetness. This is why they are officially called ‘non-nutritive’ sweeteners.
Some examples of artificial sweeteners which you should avoid:
- Mannitol and Sorbitol – they’re quickly converted by the liver into fructose
- Truvia and PureVia – these are in some of the most popular soft drinks and are derived from the Stevia plant but aren’t necessarily healthy
- Aspartame – although national bodies like the US Food and Drug Administration state that aspartame is safe, evidence is accumulating to the contrary – amongst (many) other things, aspartame has been shown to be carcinogenic and has been linked with weight gain
What if I still crave my favourite sugary things?
But what if you really crave sugary foods and drinks – your favourite soft drink for example, or that heavily processed cheesecake you love? Well, if you’re craving sugary foods or drinks, that’s part of the problem. Sugar is highly addictive so the first thing you can do to reduce cravings is to get less sugar. The more you lower your sugar intake, the less you’ll crave sugar. This can take time though.
So first of all, switch to healthier natural sources of sugar. Even if you’re still getting too much sugar, having naturally sweetened foods/drinks is better for you than eating foods and drinks laden with artificially added sugars. Then try to bring down your sugar intake overall. Although there are ways to make the process enjoyable, there’s no magic shortcut if you want to seriously to reduce sugar and high blood pressure!
More tips and tricks to reduce sugar and high blood pressure… and have a healthier life
For more advice on how to painlessly reduce the amount of sugar you’re getting, as well as more tips and tricks for healthy sweet treats, have a look at our book: Lowering Your Blood Pressure Naturally – The Complete 9 Step Guide.
It is – as the title suggests – a nine-step guide to lowering your blood pressure naturally. Each step looks at different aspects of your lifestyle: what you eat and drink, how active you are, and your habits and tendencies to do with stress and relaxation.
Step 8 looks in detail at sugar and high blood pressure. However, there are many things you can do to help lower your blood pressure without resorting to blood pressure-lowering medications.
For example, there are different ways you can exercise without ever going to a gym or aerobics class, there are different ways you can change your daily routine to make your life more relaxing and less stressed, and there are a huge variety of good, tasty foods and drinks you can indulge in for super health benefits.
Lowering your blood pressure doesn’t have to be about denial. It can be about genuinely improving your life to better suit you, and our step-by-step guide enjoyably leads you through the process.
Click here for more details (and for a free sample chapter): Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally.
Post by Alison.
Image credits: Oregon Department of Agriculture, istockimage.com, webstaurantstore.com
Reduce sugar and high blood pressure: some references
Honey and health – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2203073.stm