Next week is Diabetes Awareness Week and for many people it will urge us to consider how much sugar we have in our diets. But sugar can be surprisingly tricky to eliminate from our diets – mainly because it’s snuck into a variety of foods which are then marketed as healthy options.
As well as having over thirty other names it’s also hidden in savoury foods and also features highly in some products marketed as a healthy alternative to sweet treats such as cereal and energy bars.
Some of these snacks can contain 35-48% sugar with date balls and fruit bars some of the worst offenders. Sometimes the name gives it away – if your snack is labelled as a “energy” ball or bar, this is usually code for high in sugar. So make sure you check the packaging.
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We all know refined sugar is bad for us, but some of the substitutes which are used may sound more wholesome and better for us, but aren’t. Brown rice syrup sounds almost good for you, but if you want to be sensible around sweet foods it’s one to avoid. This healthy-sounding sweetener is actually a processed high glucose syrup that is used in many popular protein bars and balls. Balanced blood sugar is a key to good health so avoid high Glycaemic Index sweeteners which create a blood sugar spike then the subsequent crash which negatively affects energy, mood, concentration, and satiety.
The Glycaemic Index ranks foods using a scale of 1-100, measuring how quickly they’re broken down into sugars. Pure glucose is the fastest with a GI of 100 and table sugar has a GI of around 65. Healthy sounding brown rice syrup has a staggering GI of 98 which will send your blood sugar skyrocketing and will make you hungry again not long after eating it. Not the healthy option you perhaps expected!
A decade ago many of us would not have heard of Agave syrup but it has been touted as a healthy alternative to sugar to use on cereal and in baking. Agave is actually a high fructose syrup made from the Mexican tequila plant. Fructose is one and a half times sweeter than table sugar so less of it needs to be used to sweeten foods – which is why it’s often seen in low sugar products. But it’s not really a better choice.
Fructose is not easily metabolised by the body so it has to be processed by your liver to convert it to energy. An overloaded liver will turn fructose into fat globules. In fact, Agave is very similar in composition to High Fructose Syrup which in recent years has been removed from products for being high GI.
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One of the most common ways to sweeten foods without sugar but to add bulk is using dates. It’s true dates have a relatively low GI ranging from 42-62 depending upon the variety and contain fibre, potassium and polyphenols. But are very high in sugar – they are 66% sugar – so use them in moderation. Why not try lower sugar red dates? Or sub in some dried plums, otherwise known as prunes, into recipes instead of using all dates Dried plums are very low GI, with a rating of just 29 and contain over 40% less sugar than dates.
Whether it be coconut nectar or coconut sugar, this family of sweetners is one to include in your low sugar baking or look out for in treats. Coconut Nectar is a low GI sweetener collected from the flower of the coconut palm. Coconut nectar has a nice caramel flavour and a low GI of around 35, it also contains some nutrients such as vitamin C, some B vitamins, iron and magnesium. It’s slow release energy comes from the fact coconut sugars contain a fiber called inulin, which slows glucose absorption.
The best way to reduce your sugar consumption is to get used to a life less sweet! Gradually reduce the amount of sugar you use in recipes, choose more savory options or go cold turkey if you are a sugar addict. Very quickly you will notice your palate adapt and that very sweet things suddenly taste too sweet. As you eat less sugar you will stop craving sugar This is the best way to reduce your overall sugar consumption.