I am always amazed at the number of people I speak to that feel that giving up sugar means their food will taste like (insert your own 4-letter word) or leave them feeling deprived!
Does that sound like you? Well, read on and I’ll give you some background to the sugar issue, give you some ideas how you can make better choices around sugar, and share some easy, healthy recipe ideas.
There can’t be a week that goes by in which we either read or are told that we eat too much sugar! Boring though it is to keep hearing, the sad truth is that many of us do eat way too much sugar! Summarised in the rather dry Public Health England’s report; “Sugar Reduction: the Evidence for Action” (pdf), another sad truth is that it is making us fatter and sicker!
It’s particularly concerning for children and teenagers, who it’s estimated are not only consuming three times more sugar than they should, but are also getting half their sugar intake from soft drinks and unhealthy snacks! so here’s the lowdown on the sugar issue.
Forget what you think you know about sugar…
There are two main types of sugar: naturally occurring, and free sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found in whole fruit and vegetables and these are not considered harmful for health, although they still contain calories. Free sugars include sugars that we add to our hot drinks or our baking, such as honey or agave, and fruit juices, as well as the ones added by the manufacturers. Free sugars are found in all the obvious sugary food and drinks, and these can be very detrimental to health. While foods such as fruit can be a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre, foods containing free sugars often have very little or no nutritional value.
Added to that, too much of the sugar we eat is ‘hidden’ as food manufacturers have put it into a lot of the food and drinks we buy, but calling it something else! It’s very easy to be unaware that the amount of sugar you’re consuming is reaching unhealthy levels because it comes in so many forms and in so many products. Sometimes, you might not know you’re consuming sugar as such, especially when it comes to food and drink with labels such as “low fat”, “no added sugar” etc.
Here’s a list of some of the names sugar goes by:
Glucose, sucrose, maltose, honey, molasses, maple syrup, glucose syrup, hydrolysed starch (what the hell is that?), corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar syrup, agave nectar, coconut palm sugar and treacle.
Now some of these names you will recognise. Some are plant-based, like honey, agave nectar, coconut palm sugar, molasses, and so at least do some good in your body and your body knows how to process them. Often described as “unrefined” sugars, they retain much more of sugar’s natural nutrients, such as calcium, iron and magnesium.
Others, and the ones that you really need to watch out for, are often referred to as “refined sugar.” These sugars have no nutritional value and are extremely processed, in addition to possibly containing harmful chemicals! Because many of these are “new inventions” your body doesn’t know how to process them, and does what it instinctively does – stores them as fat! One of them in particular, high fructose corn syrup, is the work of the devil in my opinion and should be avoided like a bad date – but do your own research and Google the term and decide what you think!
Be careful how you shop…
You might think that you don’t need to worry about sugar in the food that you buy or eat because you don’t have a sweet tooth, but you would not believe how many savoury products are loaded with sugar! Soup, salad dressing, cook-in sauces, savoury crackers etc. are full of it, some of them even containing as much sugar as cakes and biscuits!
If you think I’m talking nonsense, then do me a favour please! The next time you go shopping, check the ingredients of your favourite savoury foods (assuming you’ve never checked it before), and check if it has added sugar. Crisps, bread, yogurt, smoothies, mayonnaise, fruit juice drinks, oh the list goes on and on…
In fairness, some food manufacturers have bowed to pressure and are lowering the amounts of sugar in their products. However, to my sadness, all too often they are replacing them with artificial sweeteners, which again are not good for our bodies. Again, Google “aspartame”, and read about it, or check out this article. Personally I find its impact on our bodies is frightening!!
Let’s Go For It!
It’d be unfair of me to just go on about "too much sugar this" and "too much sugar that" without offering you some advice and sharing what I've learnt on my healthy eating journey! Completely cutting out refined sugar is not an easy task, and if you can commit to “start on Monday” and stick to it, I take my wrap off to you! I certainly could never do it. But it turns out that wasn't such a bad thing, because that's one of the reason Abundance Foods was born!
What I did instead though was retrain my palate to reduce its craving for the refined stuff, and I did this by substituting white processed sugars with healthier alternatives. Below is a list of processed sugar alternatives, that I regularly use or have recommended for you to start with.
All these sweeteners are plant-based and lower on the glycaemic index than processed sugar. Where regular table sugar scores 100, many of these sweeteners score closer to a 50. This means they’re not going to cause your energy levels to drop or increase or spike your insulin levels, increasing your risk of diabetes.
All these white sugar alternatives are available in all the major supermarkets and in organic versions. So next time you’re out shopping you know what to pick up instead of the white stuff!
If you want to try kicking your craving for sweetness instead, I’ve been successful in doing that by doing something I call sugar swaps. Here are some of my favourite sugar swaps:
One of my favourite sugar-free recipes are these delicious superfood protein bars. They have a sweet, crunchy texture an incredible way to get a protein boost into your day in a natural and easy bite-sized way!
Superfood Power Protein Bars
Makes approx. 25 bars
Healthy Extras – Add dried fruit, cacao** nibs or powder, other nuts, a multi-seed mix, dried coconut etc. You can also add ‘good for you’ spices like cinnamon and turmeric too – go on, just experiment! And because this recipe is ‘no bake’, you keep all the benefits without them being destroyed by heat.
*If your dates don't feel sticky and moist, you can soak them in water for 10 minutes then drain them before processing. This will help them blend better and hold the bars together better.
** I’d really encourage you to add some cacao if you can. It’s so full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals, that it leaves you really satisfied and nourished – the healthy way to stave off your hunger pangs!
Everyone I know who've tried these bars loves them! But if yours don't taste amazing when you first make them - please don't give up! Get creative with your flavours and try out different protein powders, as well as the other ingredients - I promise if you keep trying you will find a combination that you love!
I hope this blog has given you some food for thought(!), and encourages you to start thinking about this highly addictive consuming we've all gotten into at some point in our lives. Even if you just try swapping toxic white sugar for something healthier, isn't that a start? I'd love to know your thoughts on this blog, or any tips you'd like to share about your love affair with sugar. Drop me a comment below.
Further reading: The Guardian - Is sugar the world's most popular drug