Stumped about sugar?

Sugar. White and ‘processed’, dark brown, golden syrup, maple syrup, sweets, honey, toffee, caramel, fruit, dried fruit, coconut sugar, Stevia, molasses. Whatever your mind conjures up when I mention this buzzword, we have all been paying particular attention the past year or two to this meddling carbohydrate.

The word refined-sugar has been thrown around by health bloggers, newspapers and the media, a term supposedly describing types of sugar that have gone through a form of processing and had all ‘goodness’ removed. Countless recipes stream down your Pinterest feed that are labelled refined sugar free. Millionaire shortbread bars, brownies, cakes, cookies, all our favourite sweet treats made allegedly healthier. So eating the whole batch in one go is fine, because its not made with sugar right??

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Along with clean eating, gluten free, dairy free, low carb, all these diets which are becoming the norm, refined sugar free is another which has been added to the extensively long list. We are told day after day that sugar is the devil, no longer fat as we used to believe. That it causes cancer, diabetes, obesity, the main ailments that are  putting such a strain on our NHS and healthcare services. Of course sugar is a main ingredient in things such as fizzy drinks, sweets, cakes and biscuits, but does everyone think to look on the back of packets of sauces, ready meals, condiments, flavoured nuts and crisps? Take a flick through your cupboards and I’m sure you will be surprised at how thinly sugar manages to spread itself.

First things first, sugar isn’t all too great for us, just to put it straight. It’s found naturally in most foods like fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, its very high in energy which in turn gives us energy to move, breathe and basically live. The thing we need to watch out for is added sugars or free sugars as you may often see it written. This term defines products where sugar has been added and isn’t found there naturally. Think of syrups, fizzy drinks, the sugar in your tea or coffee and even in fruit juices. When it comes to free sugars we have the choice of whether to add them or not, unlike total sugars such as lactose in milk and ones found in fruits and vegetables. For adults it’s recommended in the UK that we consume no more than 30g of added sugar every day. That 30g is quite difficult to picture in your head, so think about it like this, 7 tsp/sugar cubes MAX, and for children this number is obviously lower.

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In 2016, Jamie Oliver started the Childhood Obesity Strategy, in a ploy to crack down on increasing obesity rates in the UK. Some of many things he was campaigning for, a sugar tax, a ban on junk food advertising pre-watershed, clearer labelling including a visual sugar content, and reduction in manufacture for excessive sugar. If you watched Jamie’s Sugar Rush you will have seen the impacts that it is having on us all across the world, especially those consuming a typically ‘western diet’. After his petition going to debate in the commons, the government failed to accept the majority of his pleas, only compromising with the sugar tax with no given amount as of yet.

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We are all more aware now of the sugar content in things. I think we’re heading in a good direction, eating more consciously and lower sugar the majority of the time and eating the odd brownie if you fancy it, HELL why not! Of course it’s not going to do you any damage. That REAL brownie is surely going to satisfy that craving more than a sweet potato one full of maple syrup or agave syrup. My main issue is the group of people calling a sin on refined sugar-white caster sugar or soft brown sugar-meanwhile pouring bottles of maple syrup on their 2 ingredient pancakes or baking cakes with coconut sugar as it contains lots of minerals so its better for us.

I’m not a nutritionist or a dietitian, but I know well enough that sugar is sugar. No matter what you want to call it, our body sees all types of sugar in the same way. Whether it’s raw honey, agave syrup or caster sugar, it gives us energy, any extra is stored as fat and doesn’t give us any health benefits. It is true that maple syrup contains potassium, magnesium, zinc and calcium. It’s also true that coconut sugar contains electrolytes and vitamin C along with loads of other minerals, and yes raw honey is antibacterial (perfect if you have a sore throat) however you would have to eat a ton of any of these to reap any benefits. The amount of sugar consumed would obviously then outweigh the ‘good for you’ label.

Another group of people are the sugar free crusaders, shoving all types of sugar containing foods aside, including fresh fruit. That means no syrups, no apples, bananas, possibly the odd portion of berries because they’re ‘lower in sugar’, no dried fruit, juice only if its green made completely from vegetables. You see, I went through this phase, thinking I was doing the right thing. In the sugar free phase, I found I was opting for lots of nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt, avocados, things quite high in fat to fill in that sugar free hole. It wasn’t a great time, and seriously what is wrong with fruit?!? NOTHING, EXACTLY. Fruit contains fibre and lots of it, and if you’ve read my blog before you’ll know all too well that we need a lot of roughage in our diets. Dried fruit too contains lots of fibre, prunes have a reputation for a reason, so sprinkle them on your breakfasts and include them in your diets.

Happily now, I’ve managed to bring myself to a middle ground, keeping my overall added sugar levels to a minimum, but not putting a big red cross over it for the rest of eternity. There is nothing wrong with a little of the sweet stuff. No matter the source of origin your body will recognise it as glucose or fructose-just organic molecules-they aren’t separated into groups whether they came from a medjool date or a sugar cube. Remember those 7 tsp of added sugar to keep an eye on daily, and if you’re a lover of a sweet cuppa perhaps its a good time to start reigning it in. Take it slowly, stretched out over a few weeks and your taste buds will soon adjust.

Changing the odd daily habit will make a huge benefit to your diet in the long run:

  • When baking reduce the quantity of sugar by a third in recipes. It’s the maximum amount of sugar to remove without it affecting the structure and texture of the bake, but the flavour is still just as good.
  • Buy natural yogurt instead of sweetened and add your toppings and mix-ins to your own taste.
  • Instead of having jam or marmalade with butter on toast every morning for breakfast, try a spread of peanut, almond or even cashew butter with some sliced banana. The combination of high protein nut butter with the sugar from the fruit and carbohydrates from the bread will keep you going until lunchtime.
  • If you’re a big fan of fizzy and soft drinks, and water just is tasteless and boring, try infusing jugs of water with fresh fruits, citrus, herbs or vegetables. Things like mint, lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, berries, melon, as good as it sounds!
  • That chocolate bar is the only thing which gets you past 4pm? Banning it is not necessary, if you can learn to love dark chocolate. Preferably 70% or above, the higher the better, as it is lower in sugar and due to the deep intensity a few squares is usually enough.
  • If dairy free milks are your jam, check on the ingredients list. On many of them, sugar will be the second or third on the list. Opt for the unsweetened varieties, or ones made with rice for some natural sweetness.

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Let’s put a stop to this term refined sugar free. It’s defunct. Its all the same stuff. Sprinkling coconut sugar on your Rice Krispies sure ain’t no better than sprinkling white sugar on. So save those extra £££s (that stuff is expensive) and stick to a bowl of porridge!

Thanks for reading my little rant, if you have anything else to add or want to join in the conversation please do comment below.

Until next time, love and sweet blessings

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You’re sweet enough as you are

We’ve ran out of mincemeat. That’s it. The official ending of Christmas.

I made a mini (silent) vow to myself in the Christmas run up that I would try to eat as many mince pies as possible to satisfy my hunger for the boozy tarts until next year.

Now post-December I believe my attempt was rather feeble. Probably only reached a grand total of 10, or maybe it’s 20…I’m not too sure. Next year I will have to step up my game.

I suppose as a blog trying to promote a healthier lifestyle you may think that I am totally contradicting myself. Mince pies containing sugar, butter, pastry, alcohol and dried fruits aren’t exactly going to help maintain your figure but for one month of the year we wear so many layers to protect from the cold, that extra bit of padding will be hardly noticeable.

That’s what I tell myself anyway.

So here’s to January, mince pie free but in desperate need for a sweet treat that really ain’t that sweet. Well, in fact it contains no added sugar at all, unrefined, refined or otherwise.

That’s more like it.

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I really do love baking, and there are so many ‘sugar free’ recipes out there. However these recipes typically replace the full amount of sugar that you would find in a normal cake with an equal amount of ‘unrefined sugar’, such as maple syrup, coconut sugar and agave nectar. If you’ve ever ventured into a health food shop you will know all too well that these substitutes will leave a large gaping hole in your pocket. Aside from the price tag, they will still cause the same addictive sugar rush we get from bog standard caster sugar.

^^This is the issue I have. A ‘so-called’ healthier cake never tastes as good as a proper one. You may be munching on your vegan, sugar free, gluten free cupcake saying how amazing it tastes, how light and airy it is…but let’s be frank, it ain’t. Now on the odd occasion give me a proper slice of Victoria sponge, some Bakewell tart and I’ll be on cloud 9 but not desperate for another piece as just the one wasn’t completely satisfying.

I’m on a mission to find baking recipes full of wholesome ingredients, which don’t pretend to be a healthified version of our favourites, taste amazing and contain as little added sugar, or none at all, as possible.

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One thing I like to do if baking a NORMAL recipe is reduce the amount of sugar by 1/3, it doesn’t affect the taste and it is the most amount of sugar you can take away without affecting the overall bake and texture. So that 200g of sugar in your sponge, try reducing it to 130g, your taste buds will gradually get used to flavours less saccharine and start to appreciate others nuances such as the toastiness of nuts, a hint of vanilla, spices like cinnamon and nutmeg or that little bit of salt on your choc chip cookie.

So this past week I’ve had a couple of bananas gradually darkening, way past an enjoyable eating stage, in my fruit bowl. There’s only one answer for that. Of course. BANANA BREAD! Perhaps one of my favourite cakes, sliced into a thick chunk, occasionally toasted but always (OK sometimes peanut butter sneaks in there instead) with a thick blanket of organic salted butter.

I suppose a lot of people assume banana bread is quite a healthy affair, considering it contains a portion of fruit right? Sorry but quite wrong. Banana bread tends to contain a hell of a lot of added sugar, even when the bananas are sweet enough as they are.

So here’s my favourite recipe which just uses the natural sweetness of the bananas with no added extras. It’s light and airy, not claggy like some banana breads can often be, spiced richly with cinnamon it sits well enough on your plate for breakfast as it does a 4pm slump snack. Try adding a handful of raisins and crushed walnuts to the batter for some more texture and an extra bit of added sweetness that feels a little more indulgent. I like it both ways.

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Banana bread

This banana bread contains no added sugar, is gluten and wheat free and can be made dairy free by substituting the butter with coconut oil. I made this one nut free using pumpkin and sunflower seeds in the batter and topping, however a handful of walnuts or pecans is always a welcome addition. Half a tablespoon of maple syrup can be added if you feel it won’t be sweet enough, but I think it is perfect without, especially if you add raisins to the batter.

Recipe adapted from Hemsley and Hemsley

Ingredients

  • 4 large very ripe bananas
  • 60g coconut flour
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 50g butter, melted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp maple syrup (optional, I feel it’s fine without)
  • A handful of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (or crushed walnuts, pecans and some raisins, or perhaps even some dark chocolate chunks)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan. Grease and line a 900g loaf tin with baking paper and set aside for later.
  2. Peel the bananas, and weigh out 350g. Reserve the leftover banana to slice up and decorate the top, or do as I did, save for later for on top of a slice of banana bread spread with peanut butter. Mash the weighed out banana until smooth.
  3. Whisk together, the coconut flour, salt, cinnamon and bicarb in a bowl.
  4. Crack the eggs into the mashed banana, whisk together and mix in the melted butter, vanilla extract, apple cider vinegar and extra maple syrup if you’re using it.
  5. Tip the dry ingredients into the banana-egg mixture and whisk until there are no lumps remaining.
  6. Add in a handful of seeds or your addins of choice and mix well.
  7. Pour into the tin, top with more seeds and bake in the oven for 50-60 minutes until a skewer comes out clean. Cover with foil if its browning too quickly.
  8. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack, then store in a Tupperware in the fridge. Or slice portions and freeze ready to stick in the toaster for a quick breakfast or snack.

NOTE: If you use sunflower seeds in the batter, as I did here, don’t be alarmed if you spy bright green flecks in your banana bread. The sunflower seeds react with the bicarbonate of soda and turn green. They’re completely harmless and taste no different, it will still be as delicious.

You stick the kettle on, I’ll bring the banana bread and butter. Deal?

With love and blissful moments

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