WHY GO SUGAR FREE?
Over the past few years, sugar has become a real buzzword as more people realise its impacts on health and the modern diet. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to a range of health problems including the diabetes and obesity epidemics. This has inspired many people to consider reducing their sugar intake, or even trying to cut out sugar altogether.
Unfortunately, in one form or another, sugar is in many processed foods. While it’s no surprise sugar is in decadent treats and desserts, I was so shocked when I started to pay attention to food labels and found it hidden in foods you wouldn’t expect – things like bread, chicken stock, pre-made salads, spice mixes, pickles, and one that really blew my mind… minced garlic?!
This, along with the fact that we are often surrounded by sugary options in our kitchens, schools, and offices, means it can be hard to avoid. But, consuming less of it can be easier than you think.
What is a sugar free lifestyle?
A sugar-free lifestyle is a way of eating where packaged, processed foods are mostly avoided and clean, healthy, real foods are favoured.
When we talk about reducing sugar, you might immediately think ‘uh oh, a diet!’. I know for me, the old way of thinking of ‘a diet’ always conjures up images of portion-controlled, bland grilled chicken and steamed broccoli that you live on for weeks desperately hoping to see movement on the scales. Blergh, no thank you! The whole idea just reeks of depressing deprivation.
While some people do find it easier to avoid sweets altogether, and the benefit of a low-carb/keto diet is that gradually you tend to crave them less, if you still want to indulge from time to time, switching to sugar free alternatives can be a game-changer.
The truth is, avoiding sugar doesn’t have to mean we miss out on all the good stuff! Whilst in the past, going ‘sugar free’ may have meant sacrifice and the willpower to avoid traditional desserts and sweets, today it doesn’t have to be so extreme.
How can I make the switch to sugar free?
For some, the best strategy for going sugar-free may be to simply reduce sweet foods and break the habit of a ‘sweet fix’ entirely. But for those who still want to have the freedom to enjoy yummy treats, there are great options to replace sugar in your diet.
When I first started my sugar-free journey and realised how much better I felt, it became so easy to consciously decline the inevitable sugar-laden treats that were shared around the office. Unknowingly, my work colleagues would pity me thinking I was on a ‘diet’ and ‘wasn’t allowed’ anything sweet. How far this was from the truth!
On the contrary, once I found that there were sugar alternatives that didn’t have the same detrimental effects in the body as sugar, I was able to make a lot of my favourite decadent treats, but just in a sugar-free version!
That means it IS possible to feel great and reach your goals, while also never feeling like you have to miss out on food you love. Knowing you don’t have to deprive yourself and inevitably ‘fall off the wagon’ makes it so much easier to maintain.
Why is going sugar free important?
When we consume sugar, several things happen inside our bodies. We have the first bite, and our brain goes into a frenzy. Naturally, we want to eat more of it! We are tempted to go back for seconds and thirds… until suddenly… an empty packet! Our blood sugar has then been spiked so our body starts producing insulin.
Insulin plays the part of trying to absorb the excess glucose in the blood and stabilizing sugar levels. Consuming excessive amounts of sugar increases blood sugar levels, causing the pancreas to work harder to produce enough insulin to bring the blood sugar level down. Once the insulin has completed this job, our blood sugar levels will drop and we may then also experience a low. With prolonged consumption this can cause the body to become resistant to producing insulin, leading to diabetic conditions and a whole host of other health issues.
The constant sugar highs and lows also just don’t feel good! Who hasn’t had 3:30itis, that afternoon slump where you go looking for a sweet snack to get you through the rest of the work day?! Or the inevitable sugar rush after over-indulging that makes you feel like you need to take a nap?
Given these effects, it begs the question - if you can get the same sweet taste without them, why not opt for the better, healthier option?
WHAT ARE SUGAR FREE ALTERNATIVES?
There are some schools of thought that encourage cutting out refined white sugar and replacing it with things like honey, maple syrup, agave, rice malt syrup, or even dates. While yes, these are more natural options, they still have the same effect in the body and can still raise blood sugar levels in the same way as regular sugar.
Then there are also artificial sweeteners. These are synthetic sweeteners that are created in laboratories from chemicals and other substances. These are things like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin (found in things like Equal, diet soft drinks, and many of the first sugar-free products). While these sweeteners claim to have zero (or very low) calories, there is some ongoing controversy over whether they pose health risks.
These days, we are seeing them being pushed out in favour of more natural sweeteners, which are plant-based in origin and do not have the same effects in the body. Let's take a look at some of our favourite options:
Stevia as a sugar free alternative
Where does Stevia come from?
Stevia is extracted from the leaves of the ‘Stevia rebaudiana’ plant, which has been used for food and medicinal purposes for hundreds of years in its native Paraguay and Brazil.
What does Stevia taste and look like?
Stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar so very small amounts are needed to match the sweetness provided by sugar. Stevia is known to have an aftertaste, or a lingering sweetness in the mouth so it is often blended with other sweeteners to balance this out. Stevia is often found in liquid format, or can come in individual packets/sticks, and cubes/tablets.
What is the function of Stevia?
It is a great sugar substitute in baked goods but requires some recipe adaptation as it has a different texture and function. It can be used to replace some or all of the sugar in most recipes, you may just need to use the equivalent amount of something else to make up the volume.
Erythritol as a sugar free alternative
Where does Erythritol come from?
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, or polyol, which are water-soluble compounds that occur naturally in many fruits and vegetables. Erythritol has the lowest calorie content at 0.2 calories per gram and is low in carbs. It contains 95% less calories than sugar.
What does Erythritol taste and look like?
Erythritol comes in a granulated form so it looks much like regular sugar, and there are also variants of powdered erythritol available as a replacement for icing sugar. Erythritol is quite popular as it has no aftertaste, but does have a subtle ‘cooling’ or menthol effect in some uses depending on quantity used.
How do you use Erythritol?
We use erythritol in many of our baking mixes and recipes because it works well in baking and is well-tolerated by most people. It can be used instead of sugar in most recipes as well as in your daily coffee or tea!
Monk Fruit as a sugar free alternative
Where does Monk Fruit come from?
Monk fruit is a small, round fruit native to southern China and has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine. It is packed with antioxidant compounds called mogrosides which are said to be anti-inflammatory.
What does Monk Fruit look and taste like?
Monk fruit is often blended with erythritol (above) to give it a granulated appearance more like regular sugar.
How do I use Monk Fruit?
You will find that many monk fruit sweeteners only have a very minor percentage of the extract in it, whilst the rest is erythritol and so it performs the same in baking as mentioned above.
Xylitol as a sugar free alternative
Where does Xylitol come from?
Xylitol is a natural substance found in fruits and vegetables. It has a similar sweet taste to sugar but 40% less calories and is low carb, but not zero carb.
What does Xylitol taste and look like?
It is a popular sugar-free alternative as it has no aftertaste and has a granulated appearance which resembles real sugar. It is also known as being beneficial for dental health and is used in many dental products and chewing gums.
How do I use Xylitol?
Xylitol works well in baking and can be used in place of sugar in many recipes. It can however cause digestive upset (gas, bloating, diarrhea) if used in excess. In addition, it is highly toxic to dogs and other pets.
THE BOTTOM LINE...
Whether to use sweeteners or not is an individual choice but taking steps to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet can provide huge benefits in many areas of your life. It’s all about being aware, making better choices, opting for real foods over packaged and processed ones, and experimenting with recipes and substitutes that work for you.
Of course, if this sounds like too much, we’re here to help with our ready-to-bake mixes that have all the hard work done for you.
The good news is that there are many natural, healthy, and equally delicious foods we can enjoy in sugar’s place, with none of the harmful effects. It is heartening to see more and more companies jumping on board the sugar-free movement and creating sugar-free variations of many classic favourites. This means it is still possible to consume foods like cakes and cookies, soft drinks, ice cream, chocolate and lollies, all without sugar’s negative impacts...
So, we can have our cake and eat it too! ☺