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Sugar Free May

I’ve been harping on about cutting sugar out of your diet for the past few years and at last people are sitting and taking notice.  Two years ago, while I was writing my recipe book, 500 Superfood Dishes I reduced my family’s sugar intake without their knowledge.  I was rumbled when my son, then 12 years old, realised I’d included fresh peas in the mint choc chip ice cream ‘for the colour’.   When quizzed about what I’d used to make the ice cream green I had to tell the truth.

What do I mean by sugar?
Let’s just get this straight – produce of sugar beet or sugar cane, so caster sugar, granulated sugar, muscovado sugar, Demerara sugar, etc, golden syrup and molasses too.  They are all what I refer to as ‘sugar’ rather than sweet things.  This is becoming known as ‘the great white evil’.  Sugar and sugar products are highly addictive.  Have you tried just having one biscuit with a cup of tea?  Do you find it really difficult not having a second and then you just want more and more?  There you go, that’s the sugar getting to you.  It’s a little like having a small white imp on your shoulder taunting you ” you know you want to, you really, really want to, go on just have another biscuit or cake, you can work it off tomorrow, it won’t do you any harm’.  Oh yes it will.

Sugar alternatives?
If you cut all processed food and prepare everything yourself from scratch then you should be polishing your halo and have every right to feel downright smug.  If, like most normal people, you try your best and cook from scratch most of the time but you buy flavoured yoghurts (yep they’re processed) then you’ll need to check labels.

The danger here is that sweet alternatives such as agave and rice syrup have lower GI ratings so they’re accepted as great alternatives to sugar. They’re not going to give you the sugar rush like the evil white stuff but they are still PROCESSED.  Agave nectar or syrup is the sap of the same cactus that tequila comes from, so if you ate the sap straight from the cactus it would be fine and in it’s raw state.  However, when you buy a tube of agave it isn’t attached the cactus, it’s been processed like mad on its way from the cactus to the supermarket shelves, so has rice syrup.

Stevia is another one.  This white powder is processed from a green leaf.  If you were living in South America and grew stevia plants you’d be fine if you chewed the leaf to get the sweetness but you don’t. You live far away and someone has picked the leaves and processed them through a factory to extract the sweetness resulting in sweet white powder.  Same with fructose – extracted from fruit, just eat the fruit.

If you want to be really good and very smug then your best option is maple syrup, this is the least processed of the lot, it’s low GI and not as additive as sugar.  Honey is natural, not mucked about by too much but it’s higher on the GI scale and can still give you a sugar rush.  You should never give honey to babies under 1 year as their digestive system is too underdeveloped to cope with the botulinum bacteria.

Another alternative are sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, erythritol, xylitol and others generally classed a polyols. These are sugar or plant based derivatives that are sweet but without the carbohydrates and calories so they don’t affect insulin levels.  They are also great for your teeth and do not lead to cavities and tooth decay like sugar does. However, if they are consumed in large quantities they can lead to bloating and diarrhoea. I tend to use a brand called Sukrin, this combines stevia and polyols, tastes sweet and doesn’t have the slightly bitter aftertaste of pure stevia.  Consume in moderation.

If you have dogs avoid Xylitol found in chewing gum and mints as this is highly toxic to dogs.  As little as 2 pieces of chewing gum contains sufficient xylitol to kill a 30kg labrador, you have 1 hour to get them to the vets before potential organ damage is irreversible.  We know about this, also about the £600 vet fee and have a complete ban on xylitol in the house.

How much sugar?
By law all processed food (ie anything food that has been mucked about with by another human being or machine before it reaches you and isn’t in it’s original state) must be labelled with allergens, carbs, protein, other stuff and SUGAR.  The WHO daily recommended intake of a healthy adult is 10% of body weight, ideally no more than 25g sugar per day.

This is straight sugar in processed food and drinks, this doesn’t refer to natural sugars that we eat in fruit, root vegetables, milk, etc.  If you check out the food labels you’ll find that a low fat fruit yoghurt from a certain high end High St supermarket has 15g of sugar in it, almost your daily intake. There are 35g sugar in each 330ml can of coke – more than the recommended daily intake for an adult.

What happens when you reduce your sugar intake?
Your taste buds start working properly!  It will take around 2 weeks to get over the sugar cravings, it’s not easy so come off sugar gradually.  Also you’ll probably lose weight, depending on how much sugar you usually consume.

I refuse to buy biscuits or cakes, if you want them you make them.  Instead I’ve stocked up on breadsticks, homemade flatbreads, homemade pitta crisps (fraction of the price of tortilla chips, lower in salt and healthier if you use wholemeal pitta bread) for the kids.  I banned all cereal except porridge, Weetabix, Shreddies and Rice Krispies.

My 14 year old son used to have Cheerios and Muller Corner yoghurts.  After a few weeks of the ‘sugar reducing’ regime he had a muller corner the other night and after the first mouthful declared that ‘it was too sweet’ and didn’t eat the rest.  The same thing happened with a bowl of Cheerios, one mouthful and the ‘urgh these are off, they taste funny, really sweet’, they were thrown away and he had a number of Weetabix instead without sugar.  I’m seeing a bit of a breakthrough here….my son is going off sugar, amazing.

What can you eat instead?
You don’t have to give up sweet things, just make them differently.  the key here is that you MAKE them rather than buy them! I made chocolate banana muffins by adapting my original recipe to include wholemeal flour, omitting the sugar making sure that the bananas were very ripe.  I added a tablespoon of maple syrup too.  My children didn’t notice, at all, *punches the air*, unless they read this of course.  I’m now on a mission to find low sugar recipes that they’ll eat.

I’ve spent a lot of years avoiding fat and buying low fat stuff but now I’m switching it round and buying full fat ingredients but cutting out the sugar and it’s a revelation.  Fat fills you up so you don’t want to eat more, sugar gives you cravings so you really want to eat more.  Ditch the sugar eat the fat.  Not too much though.

Pizza – homemade pizza base doesn’t require any sugar. So why does Marks and Spencer margherita pizza have 20g of sugar in the base? That’s 1 heaped tablespoon of the stuff, in a bread base, completely unnecessary. I bought this before checking the sugar labels and both my younger children had one mouthful, declared that it tasted sweet and refused to eat it.  For a low carb version here’s my cauliflower based pizza recipe

Yoghurt – my favourite yoghurts used to be Marks and Spencer low fat blackcurrant and blackberry ones, these were my staple breakfast food.  May be low fat, but yep, shedloads of sugar, so much that if I eat one of these I blow my entire carb allowance for a whole day, around 15g of sugar, why?

Low sugar fruit yoghurt – easy peasy, take some plain yoghurt, low fat, full fat, Greek, whatever you fancy, whizz it with a stick blender with 100g blackcurrants and 100g blueberries and 2 tsp maple syrup, ta da – low carb, no sugar fruit yoghurt. Sufficient for two days or transfer to a lolly mould and freeze it for delicious low sugar ice lollies.

Curry pastes – I’m going to be self righteous here, Saturday nights usually involve me making curry from scratch.  It’s not rocket science, it involves making a ginger and garlic paste, chopping some onions and adding some spices. However, for a cheat I thought I’d buy some curry paste as a standby for a quick ’emergency’ curry.  Off to Marks and Spencer (sorry M&S I love you and I don’t mean to specifically name and shame you but omg you have a lot of sugar in your food and you are the closest supermarket to me, so live with it) to buy some curry paste.  Guess what? Yep, they all had loads of sugar in them.

I don’t add any sugar to any of my curries when I make them so why is it in curry paste.  M&S Madras curry paste had sugar and molasses, Patak’s Madras curry paste has no sugar whatsoever.  M&S get your act together, this is really poor but well done Patak’s.

I bought Patak’s the next day but went home on Saturday and made my own curry it was delicious.

Sugar is hugely addictive, your body stores the excess energy as fat and sugar destroys your skin, so reduce it. Try to remember that your body is a mechanism for you to live our life through, if your body breaks you don’t get another one so respect it, your body works hard for you. Your body is amazing, it has this awesome digestive system that converts stuff you put into it (food and drink, through your mouth) into energy and nutrients to keep your body going. It’s the living version of putting fuel into a car, if you put unleaded fuel into a diesel car the car will break. If you put the bad fuel into your body it will break too, by becoming diseased. You only get one body, use it wisely and it will last you a long time.