By Haley Parrent
Gone are the days when sugar only went by one name and was easily recognizable in the foods that we eat. When reading labels of our food now, sugar can be listed under as many as 57 different aliases. Yes, it is hiding in the obvious offenders, like sugary cereals, candy, chocolate and baked treats, but it is also in many places that one would not expect. Foods that you do not consider to be sweet treats can have more than your daily recommended intake of sugar in them. These foods include: vegetable juice, deli meats, breads, salad dressing, ketchup, tomato sauce, low-fat dairy, alternative milks like almond and soy, yogurt, granolas, and “health” drinks.
It is crucial to become proficient in speaking the language of labelling. Reading the fine print on the packaging of your favourite foods can help you spot where the sugar is hiding and help you choose some healthier options. Some of the more commonly spotted sugars in our foods include: Agave syrup/nectar, beet sugar, blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, cane juice, coconut sugar, corn syrup, demarara sugar, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, galactose, lactose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, maltose, maltodextrin, maple syrup, molasses, sorghum, rice syrup, and turbinado sugar.
But the list doesn’t end there. We mustn’t forget about the favourites of many calorie counting, health-conscious folk: the artificial sweeteners. Zero or low calorie sweeteners that many perceive to be the answer to their low-cal diet prayers. The question is, are they really better for us or are they worse?
Research is suggesting that low calorie sweeteners can lead to overeating and weight gain as they fail to fully satiate our hunger. This is said to be due to a mismatch between the perceived sweetness and the actual caloric content. We think we are getting something truly sweet and satisfying, but our bodies know better. This leaves us reaching for more sweets shortly as our desire for sweetness hasn’t truly been fulfilled. For many they are addictive, just as regular sugars are.
These sneaky artificial sweeteners go by the names of Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, and Sweet n’ Low among others. Their ingredients include sucralose, aspartame, neotame, advantame, acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) and saccharin. They can be found in foods labeled “diet”, or “sugar-free” such as diet sodas, juices, snack bars, popcorn, yogurt, coffee flavourings, syrups, chewing gum, candy among other common packaged foods.
There are also natural sugar substitutes, meaning they coming from naturally occurring substances. These include sorbitol, xylitol and stevia. Just because they are “natural” however does not mean that they are necessarily good for us. While they can be useful when you are first trying to decrease your overall sugar intake, for many people they can become a crutch. While they are “natural”, we know that not all naturally occurring things are good for us, especially when not taken in moderation. It may sound cliche but moderation really is key. Eliminating the refined and artificial sweeteners from your diet will lead to better sleep, more consistent energy levels, hormonal balance, better skin, and a healthy body weight amongst SO many more benefits.
In general, when you are going to use a sweetener, go for the most natural unprocessed form. Unpasteurized or raw honey or real maple syrup (and we’re not talking Aunt Jemima) are the best options; however, the best thing you can do however is to reduce our intake of sugar of any kind where possible. Below are some strategies to help you say a sweet goodbye to sugar:
1. Read the labels: Look for the many different names that sugar goes by on the ingredients list and look at how many grams of sugar are in each serving on the nutrition data chart.
2. Eat healthy fats and protein with each meal: These two components help to keep you full longer, which will keep you from reaching for those sugary snacks in between meals!
3. Switch up your baking: Apple sauce and mashed bananas can be substituted for refined sugars to naturally add sweetness to recipes. The sweetness from fruit is better than from refined sugar and it will add fibre, vitamins and minerals to your food.
4. Go homemade: By making things at home you can almost always cut back on the sugar content. There are many simple sugar-free salad dressings, granola and baked goods recipes online for example.
5. Stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store: The healthiest foods are located on the outside of most grocery stores. The middle isles tend to have the processed, sugar-laden foods while the whole foods are on the outside such as produce, dairy, meats and fresh grain products.
6. Unsweetened varieties: If you consume an alternative milk such as soy, almond or coconut, purchase the unsweetened variety or try making it yourself! (it’s easier than you think!)
7. Put down the pop (and juice!): Often times juices bought in stores contain more sugar than soda! If choosing juice, opt for a fresh pressed juice that contains ONLY juice (no concentrates, sugar, or big words you can’t pronounce)
8. Don’t grocery shop when you are hungry: when you shop hungry you are more likely to grab the quick-fix convenience snacks that are loaded with sugars. Eat a satisfying meal before you shop and skip the sugar in your cart.
9. Avoid foods marketed as “low-fat”: As a rule of thumb, the more processed a food is, or the more it has been altered from it’s natural original form, the more likely it is to have added sugar in it. Also, generally foods that are labelled as low-fat, likely means more-sugar. And generally fat (if a healthy source) is better than sugar since it is vital for so many of our bodies functions.
10. Plan ahead: have some low-sugar indulgences prepared to kick the craving without the sugar. Some of my favorites include chocolate avocado pudding, energy balls (see recipes below) (or some organic fair trade 70-90% dark chocolate!)
Sugar-Free Chocolate Avocado Pudding
makes 3 servings
- 3 medium bananas, peeled (see note)
- 1/2 medium avocado, pitted (see note)
- 1/4 cup smooth raw almond butter
- 4-5 tablespoons raw cacao powder, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- pinch of pink Himalayan salt or fine sea salt
- Add all pudding ingredients into a food processor and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. I like to let the machine run for a couple minutes to get it super smooth.
- Portion the pudding into a container and chill in the fridge for an hour or so. Or you can serve it right away with the recommended toppings. Best enjoyed within 12-24 hours or so.
Date Energy Balls
makes about 2 dozen
- 2 cups walnuts, or other nut/seed of choice
- 1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
- 2 cups soft Medjool dates, pitted
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a large food processor fitted with an "S" blade, process the walnuts and coconut until crumbly. Add in the dates, coconut oil, vanilla and sea salt and process again until a sticky, uniform batter is formed.
- Scoop the dough by heaping tablespoons, then roll between your hands to form balls. Arrange them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then place in the freezer to set for at least an hour before serving. Store the balls in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week, or in the freezer for an even longer shelf life. (I prefer them frozen, myself!)
- For a gourmet-looking truffle, you could also roll them in shredded coconut or cocoa powder before chilling!