The Real Food series helps you eat more real food in the real world. In Part 1, we ate more whole grains. Now let's learn how to do what we know we should - eat less sugar.
What's so bad about sugar?
White sugar goes beyond being a refined food - it is an extract. All that is left from the refining process is empty calories - calories with no nutrition. Sugar tastes addictively great, but like stripped grain flours, that's a natural sign of a very rich calorie source.
Dr Michael Klaper vividly describes systemic sugar damage - the sugar spreads through your bloodstream all over your body (eyes, organs, skin), combines with proteins, and then oxidises. The effects mimic the aging process - your skin, eyes, muscles, etc, start to fail.
When I indulge in high-sugar treats, I always have a hangover the next day. I can't feel the problems in my kidneys and blood vessels, but as a contact lens wearer, I can attest to that eye thing.
How to give up sugar
Dr Klaper worked with a buddy to commit to no refined sugar. Hey vegans! Like dairy, you may not understand how sugar hurts you until you give it up.
Too hard? A sweet tooth is largely a matter of habit - you expect the sweetness you're used to. While you know if you choose cakes, cookies and candy you're choosing sugar, sugar's not just in special treats anymore.
The American Heart Association suggests no more than
- 6 tsp added sugar (women)
- 9 tsp (men) per day.
Start with these tricks to cut out everyday sugar surprises.
1. Don't drink sugar
Drinking is meant to quench your thirst, and water does the best job. When you drink calories, they go down quickly, don't satisfy your appetite, and you'll eat more.
- Soft drinks and energy drinks - e.g., Coke with its 38g (10 tsp) per can or Red Bull with 27g (7 tsp) - CSPI tells you all about liquid candy
- Juice - your mother may have told you to drink your juice, but even unsweetened apple has 23g (6 tsp) per glass. Juice has some nutrients but not enough to be worth the sugar hit. Yes, it's healthier than Coke, but if you want nutrients? Eat the fruit. Compare the fruit with the juice.
Some health experts recommend fresh juicing to get a super hit of nutrients - this will beat supermarket juice but here are Dr McDougall's pros and cons.
"Unsweetened" juice blends may contain deionised juice (juice sugar water). And someone's buying those sweetened fruit drinks!
No juice? What to do? Drink water, water with a splash (lemon, lime, orange, molasses), herbal tea...
- Coffee or tea with sugar - If you have several cups of tea with a few spoons of sugar each, it adds up. Going gradually will get you there: today, only use half the sugar or one spoon less. Or use healthier sweeteners (see below).
2. Don't wake up with sugar
Even plain old cornflakes, ricies, and weetbix are not far off 10% added sugar. They're processed products and along with the milk or milk substitute most people use, that's sweet enough. If you're spooning extra sugar on top, you need a taste bud readjustment.
Cut back, cut back again, and use healthier sweeteners (see below).
A breakfast that you sweeten yourself, like porridge or whole grain toast, is a better bet. And you can use healthier sweeteners (see below).
3. Say No to sugar on the go
We eat less food at home and more while travelling - snack food is a huge business. Too many snack foods are labelled healthy when they are anything but. This trick works best with healthy hippie food that corporate food companies have stolen. Like...
This is just one story about yoghurts which scream lowfat but have an entire day's worth of added sugar (6tsp) in one tiny pot.
Most often used in small children's lunches or for women trying to be health-conscious!
Try a plastic container, some natural yoghurt, and only a couple of tsp of fruit, jam, or even sugar. Word to the wise - vegan soy yoghurt contains no lactic acid so needs less sweetening.
Muesli (granola) bars
This review from Oz says it all:
- Cereal bars can be loaded with sugar (most more than 20%) and saturated fat (more than a packet of chips).
- Some brands contain ‘fruit’ that owes more to chemistry than agriculture.
- A piece of real fruit is a much healthier snack.
We are vegan but with careful label reading I have discovered some supermarket choices with wholegrains and an acceptable sugar and fat content (Pams and Nature Valley).
4. Cut sugar in baking
If you do home baking, you're in a great position - the hand that controls the sugar scoop.
- Almost any standard cake or cookie recipe can have 1/3 of the sugar accidentally not find its way into the mixture and you will probably not notice.
(Exceptions are recipes like meringues or marshmallows where the sugar, not flour, is the main ingredient)
- For more reductions, experiment by replacing some of the refined sugar with the healthier sweeteners (below). I often use molasses, soft bananas, and stevia extract to replace lots of the refined sugar.
5. Choose healthier sweeteners
If you can't face plain oatmeal or cornflakes, then dried, canned, or fresh fruits are your 5+ a Day option to the sugar bowl. Raisins, bananas, strawberries, apples are easy. Get as exotic as you like with other fruits.
Juice is off the beverage list, but it is a healthier choice than sugar in baking.
Unsulphured blackstrap molasses is my fave breakfast and beverage sweetener. The major byproduct of sugar refining, it has the nutrition of the sugar cane with lots less actual sugar.
Caution: Very strong flavour! To start, use only a teaspoon or so in porridge or a hot drink and 4 Tbsp in baking. Increase when acceptable.
Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the daily value of each of those nutrients. My vegan kids have been enjoying molasses since they started porridge.
Of the commonly used sugar substitutes, only stevia is naturally derived from a plant. I use both stevia leaves and extracted stevioside (the sweet chemical in stevia), with the usual assumption that the stevia leaves are a healthier choice. But you don't need much stevioside - it is so sweet that its scoop has a bowl about the size of the pupil of my eye.
I'm scared of artificial laboratory based sweeteners like aspartame, cyclamate, and saccharin: their origins, their skewed and inconclusive testing and often corrupted results. I don't use them or buy products with them. There are other choices to make your life a little sweeter.
Molasses, fruit and stevia may cost you more than refined sugar. Some healthier cereals cost more (but there's always great value porridge!) Choosing water with a splash instead of Coke and fruit juice is definitely cheaper.
In the end, decide where your best investment lies. Hint: it's your health!
What difference does it make?
Let's define an Average Person - during one Average Day she consumes some normal stuff:
- one can of Coke (10 tsp)
- two glasses of juice (12 tsp)
- two cups of coffee with 2 tsp sugar each (4 tsp)
- a bowl of average (36% sugar) cereal (3 tsp)
- one popular snack bar (4 tsp)
Total: 33 tsp of sugar from these foods alone! Remember, the AHA recommends 6 tsp.
She could have chosen some other (still normal) stuff:
- 3 glasses of water with a splash (1 tsp)
- two cups of coffee wtih 1 tsp sugar each (2 tsp)
- a bowl of cornflakes (1/2 tsp)
- a natural snack bar (1 1/2 tsp)
Total: 5 tsp - she has a real chance of being sugar healthy today.
After one year
At this rate, she could avoid 10,220 tsp of sugar - that's about 2.5 kgs!
In time, cutting sugar out altogether could seem very possible.