Monday, 2 March 2015

What You Should Know About 'Sugar Free'

We're currently living in an age where healthy living is all the rage right now. Healthy bloggers, healthy 'gurus' and their multiple lifestyle/cookbooks, celebrities are even bringing out books and claiming to be experts. People turn their heads in admiration rather than turn their noses up when they catch you having a Spirulina smoothie, and Maca power is the new Maltesers.
The biggest debate, however, is sugar. '30 days to sugar free' or 'I quit sugar' is the ultimate statement and everyone wants to know how to do it. The issue with 'sugar free' is, is it actually sugar free?

Sugar is sugar is sugar...
Ok, so 'I quit refined sugar' doesn't quite have the same ring to it. However claiming your 'sugar free chocolate cupcakes' or 'sugar free energy bars' doesn't quite sit right with me for the fact that they aren't actually sugar free. Instead they use sweeteners or 'sugar alternatives'. Fancy some sugar in that cup of tea? Have a glugg of Agave or a sprinkling of coconut sugar instead. Here's my recipe to a super healthy breakfast muffin, sugar free! Oh, except for the fact that I've used three over-ripe mashed bananas (which are seriously high in fructose) and apple sauce. They're natural though, so it totally counts as being super healthy and definitely sugar free! So there's no sugar in fruit/agave/xylitol/stevia/dates/date syrup? No, because they're natural sugars. So because they're natural they're automatically good for you?
Refined sugar and natural sugar = still sugar.

Take a closer look
It is not fair that so many healthy 'gurus' (I despise that term) or chefs or dare I say, bloggers, can claim their recipes are sugar free when they're advocating these sugar alternatives that will still be digested in your body as a sugar. Sure, some of them may be more nutritious than regular white sugar, but you cannot claim these things to be sugar free. The irony is, if you were to go to a supermarket to pick up some stevia, you would find it with the 'normal' sugar. Yet read the nutritional information on a snack bar, for example, that claims it's sugar free, and the sweetener's sugar content won't be included in the bars total sugar content, leading you to believe you're having much less sugar than you thought. So a bar of chocolate sweetened with stevia will say it's got 0g sugar per 100g perhaps, yet when you take a closer look at the ingredients list, there's stevia aka sugar and your liver will be meeting a gold rush of sugar very soon.

Agh! Agave!
Agave? Dreadful in my opinion, and almost as bad as white sugar. It has a fructose content of 70-90% which is quite frankly ridiculous. As fructose actually goes direct to your liver instead of being gradually released, it therefore has a much worse effect upon your body and being. It's in fact being processed in a very similar way to high fructose corn syrup due to the new high demand for agave, and what with it being high in fructose, it can lead to cardiovascular diseases and issues with leptin. Leptin is a hormone that tells our body when it's full - agave, therefore, affects leptin so our body is confused about how full we actually are as the hormone doesn't get released properly. This can then lead to us eating even more than we need.

Everything in moderation
Sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar should be treated in moderation. If you're baking a cake with coconut sugar, great, but try and avoid having a piece every day. Because they're natural and the fact it's not a refined sugar shouldn't encourage you to think it's therefore healthy and you can have as much of it as possible.

I'd rather have a slice of cake...
That must be reiterated for this 'sugar-free' environment we are finding ourselves in too - if you really must insist on having something sweet every day and something made with a sugar alternative, do try and only have a small amount. It's all about finding a balance. Yes, some of these alternatives provide more nutritional value than white sugar, as may the rest of the ingredients. But, the important thing is to not treat these foods as sugar free. Sometimes, to avoid any confusion or stress, it's better to just have a normal slice of cake than one that's got three different sweeteners in, or just nothing at all if it's too stressful.

What is your opinion on the whole 'sugar-free' way of living? Did you have any questions about anything mentioned?


  1. I find this hard too! I am refined sugar-free too but I still use maple syrup, banana and dates to sweeten things. But I KNOW that these things are still sugar and I try hard to moderate them - like if I put banana in a smoothie I won't also put date or maple syrup. I think the issue is that people think because something in natural, than it's ok. I love what Sarah Wilson says about natural sugar though - 'petroleum is natural too but does that mean we can eat it'?!!

    1. I totally agree with everything you mention, it seems it's the natural part that people seem to think = healthy. I haven't picked up on that quote from Sarah Wilson but she's spot on with that!

  2. Great post - sugar free has become the new fat free and its just as much of a minefield! x

    1. Argh I know, it's all just turned into something it isn't, hasn't it?! Though I have confidence that in 20 years time we'll be told that sugar is actually good for us, like what has happened with fat. Just treat everything in moderation and I'm sure you'll be fine x


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