Addictive. Deceiving. Harmful. Making us sick – body & soul. Stalking us everywhere we go, even where we least expect it. We all know we’re better off without. Or not? And how to quit?
Meeting Sugar: Getting the Facts Straight
Sugar is not bad per se – basically, sugar is just a word to describe sweet, short-chain and soluble carbohydrates.
Scientifically speaking, there are “basic” simple sugars (monosaccharides) such as glucose/dextrose/grape sugar, fructose, galactose; there are disaccharaides like our table sugar (glucose+fructose), lactose, and maltose; there are oligosaccharides like fructo-oligosaccharide and inulin (occur naturally in sweet fruits and are used industrially as sugar substitutes) that are considered fibre and help our gut absorb calcium, or the prebiotic galacto-oligosaccharides that help grow beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
Giving up sugar doesn’t mean giving up all sugars. It means reducing and dumping its health-damaging varieties.”
Sugar: “Give Me A Chance? Please?”
There’s on-going research on the risks and benefits of sugar consumption. Different sugars (above) act differently in our bodies, leading to different results of which some are good for us and some bad.
TIP: if you want some more info on sugar metabolism and would like to understand why watermelons have a high GI and low GL (“Wut?” – Exactly) and what this means for your diet, you might want to look closer into Glycemic Index vs. Glycemic Load.
What everyone seems to agree upon though is that it’s the added refined sugar that the food industry has inflicted upon us that leads to diabetes, inflammations, premature aging, obesity, metabolic and cardiovascular dysfunction, addiction (!) and obviously and last but not least, caries – brief, that exact kind of zombie apocalypse stuff no one likes to encounter in their bathroom mirror.
Enjoying added sugar? Say ‘farewell’ to your skin, tissues, and blood vessel wall elasticity!
Say ‘hello’ to tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, generally deteriorating health and a budding diabetes.”
But what are researchers actually warning us of? We have seen how many sugar varieties exist. We know that sugar – carbohydrate, you guys – are important to gain energy.
Well, researchers advise us against so-called free sugars, meaning all monosaccharides and disaccharides (above) that are added to foods PLUS natural sugars in fruit juices (!) honey, and syrups (agave, brown rice).
Honey is also hard work for the pancreas to metabolise, so maybe leave it to the bees altogether.
Eating an apple is okay, drinking apple juice is not.
Eating a banana is great, eating coffehouse banana bread not so much.”
Sugar: “I Will Stalk You!”
Seriously, isn’t it creepy?
Added sugar is found nearly in anything processed! Apart from the obvious – sweetened yogurts, soda, fruit juice drinks, take-away vanilla lattes, pastry, desserts, jams and chocolates – you’ll find sugar in savoury and spicy sauces, ketchups and dips; in herbal and spice blends; in bread; in store-bought refrigerated pizza and convenience food; in canned foods like soups and stews; in fast food and restaurant meals…
Sugar, like salt and fat, is a beloved ingredient with the food, restaurant and fast food industries because it adds taste or, if we’re absolutely honest, also covers not-so-great-taste of not-so-fresh or not-so-good ingredients.
Dumping added sugar means cooking at home – or watching your plate Argus-eyed.”
Quitting sugar is simple for those among us who have no sweet tooth, who experience no painful chocolate, pastry, soda cravings and no withdrawal struggles. If you prefer savoury to sweet, you’re already halfway there.
Just make sure you’re not consuming more sugar than you think!
Give It A Rest: Why I Wouldn’t Binge On Sugar Alternatives Either
Like after the end of any bad, addictive relationship, don’t set your heart on the next best thing.
Yes, there are tooth-friendly sweeteners like Xylitol or amazingly beneficial coconut sugar.
Yes, there are dried fruits that you can use to sweeten meals (more in a sec, hold on).
But frankly, the sense in ditching A for bingeing on B escapes me.
Thankfully, there are sugar-free foods (and foods containing only traces of sugar) that help you satisfy, or rather outwit your sweet tooth, that you can start adding to your meals right away:
1. Cinnamon – the cinnamon aroma tricks you to believe that your food is sweeter than it is, and so does
2. Vanilla pod – notice, we’re not talking “vanilla sugar”, we’re talking the real thing with the rich, oily, dark and mellow taste. Rrroarrr!
3. Raw cacao – good cacao is mildly sweet, like many other nuts.
4. Cashew nuts, almonds, pine & cedar nuts – delicious as is, fantastic as nut butter, lovely as topping for salads and pasta dishes
5. Coconut, pumpkin seed, macadamia oils – with their sweet, ‘warm’ aromas they add a dimension of sweetness beyond sugar
TIP: If you’re a chocolate lover, you might want to check out my friend Lyss’ YouTube channel where she creates the world’s healthiest hot chocolate and the best ever chocolate espresso.
You can thank me later.
If You Are Ready For A New Beginning… – Better Added Sugar Alternatives
Bad news first.
Baking is the hardest to pull of sans refined sugar. Meringues, sponge cakes, anything where sugar is needed for texture/formula, forget it!
If you’re vegan and maybe even gluten-intolerant to make matters worse, better say farewell now to all the pastry classics (or maybe go for it and experiment FOR THE SAKE OF ALL OF US!!!)
Cooking works just fine without refined sugar. Also without agave, honey, or raw sugar.
I find that spicy food, recipes with various herbs and spices, really helps satisfy sugar cravings.
However, here are my top 5 foods that aren’t sweeteners but help sweeten stews, sauces, beverages, dough and desserts:
1. Coconut nectar / sugar. It has an incredibly low GI and GL and doesn’t rash blood sugar levels. Has a caramel-like taste, colour and flavour that it passes on to the recipe. Makes it great for BBQ herbal blends, and less ideal for custard creams and the likes.
2. Dried apricots. If you like sweetened tea, try putting 3-4 dried apricots to one cup while the tea brews. Sugar-conscious vegans like their pitted dates, but to me, dates have more aftertaste than apricots. Even though their GL is higher than their GI – still beating dates – apricots in moderation are a great sweetener and a fabulous source of beta-carotene, Vitamin E, and iron. Here’s a dessert recipe I’ve posted a few weeks ago that you might like.
3. Bananas. The go-to ingredient to sweeten smoothies, to create vegan and soy-free chocolate mousse desserts (picture below) and to bake with (egg replacer!) Another option are pineapples, melons and berries (think blackberries, strawberries, blueberries). They are quite low in sugar (pineapple has a moderate GI but a low glycemic load) but the taste, the ripe aromas help infuse your recipes with a mellow sweetness. For baking, combine fresh and dried fruit and you will hardly notice the lack of added sugar.
4. Spices like ginger and paprika powder, condiments like raw cacao powder or cacao nibs are a fantastic source of sweetness!
5. Almond, peanut, cashew butter, pure, without additives, sugar, or palm oil. They will add a nice melt to your recipes.