Locked in a cycle of sugar dependence? Time for some good energy, says Anna Blewett
Have you been reading the papers lately? When news of a historical ‘sugar industry stitch-up’ hit the headlines last month it confirmed what many already suspected: that sugar lobbyists in 1960s America deliberately framed dietary fat as the big baddie, and played down the risks of refined sugar. Fifty years on, and with a truer picture of the role of sugar in obesity and heart disease emerging, many still find our reliance on the sweet stuff the hardest habit to break. Are you caught in the trap? We asked three sugar-scrapping experts to share their secrets of escape…
1 At breakfast…swap a spoonful on porridge for a deluge of cinnamon
“I personally find sweet spices really helpful,” says food writer Bee Wilson, whose book First Bite: How We Learn To Eat (£8.99, 4th Estate) is released in paperback next month. “The best thing long-term is to move your palate away from a reliance on sweetness, but I find it hard to have no sugar at all in porridge. I instead opt for cinnamon. “To me that’s really beneficial, a lot more so than something like stevia because studies show that people who swap sugar for a processed substitute continue to gain weight. I see cinnamon as nature’s own sweetener. It’s good for your gut and immunity, and definitely doesn’t have the habit-forming qualities that some sweeteners do.”
2 At tea break…swap sugar sachets for a dollop of honey
Addicted to a sugar or two in your break-time tea or coffee? “Instead of sugar I go for honey,” says Caroline Artiss, co-owner of restaurant The Gorgeous Kitchen and author of Beauty Food (£14.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out this month.
“It’s probably my favourite substitute. It’s easy to get hold of and gives you an energy boost because it still has high fructose levels, but with added benefits. “Getting a raw, organic honey will give you the most nutrients. I put it in my tea. It’s a particularly good substitute if you have lemon tea; it makes it taste delicious.” The harmful effects of sugar on the skin’s collagen, and therefore elasticity, is a driving factor for Caroline, whose recipes focus on supporting beauty from within.
3 At lunch…swap a blueberry muffin for unadulterated fruit
From sweetened banana chips to syrupy berry cordials and vine fruit cakes, so many of the fruits we eat have been pimped with added fructose. The best alternative is a complete change of habit, says Vickie De Beer, co-author of The Low Carb Solution for Diabetics and mother to a teen with type 1 diabetes. “Once you break the addictive cycle that sugar creates in your body, you will need (crave, actually) less sugar. Your palate changes and things like fruits become sweet on their own without the need of extra additions. “You have to break the addiction; if you replace it with substitutes your brain keeps on craving the sugar kick! A bowl of berries with full fat yoghurt should satisfy your sweet tooth.”
4 In baking…swap granulated for teaspoons of xylitol
“Xylitol and erythritol work well in baking,” says Vickie. “Erythritol is a sugar alcohol – a naturally-derived sugar substitute that looks and tastes very much like sugar but unlike most other sugar alcohols it doesn’t cause stomach upsets when consumed in larger amounts because the molecules are smaller. Erythritol and xylitol both have a clean, sweet flavour with no bitter aftertaste, although huge quantities of sweeteners, like sugar, can also be harmful and the main drive is to wean yourself off sugar to break the addiction!”
5 After exercise…swap energy bars for yoghurt with manuka
“Snacking can be very problematic,” says Vickie. “People don’t realise that it’s not only sugary snacks like chocolate bars and sweets that elevate your blood sugar but also carbohydrate-rich snacks like energy bars, granola bars, biscuits or a packet of crisps. Imagine eating two or three of those snacks throughout the day on a daily basis.” Vicki recommends a high-protein alternative – cubes of cheese, a few nuts or cream cheese on sliced ham – but what if you still crave a little sweetness? “Manuka is the best honey but very expensive so I use it on top of yoghurt rather than in baking,” says Caroline.
6 At dinner ...swap a jar of pasta sauce for homemade tomato sauce
The most dangerous sugar trap? “Personally I think it’s anything that comes packaged,” says Caroline. “If it comes in a packet it’s generally got a bit of sugar in. It’s used like salt, as a cheap flavour enhancer, and now our tastebuds are so used to having it. We don’t notice it anymore. I’m a great advocate of cooking from scratch – homemade is always best.” Fresh herbs are a great way to pack flavour into sauces without reaching for the sugar bowl.
7 For dessert…swap a sprinkle on pancakes for a dip of maple syrup
“When you’re making pancakes or waffles of course you want to sweeten them – that’s a big part of the pleasure – but what I do is serve them with a tiny dipping bowl with a teaspoon of maple syrup,” says Bee. “The body metabolises all sugars the same, whether that’s refined sugar or alternatives like honey or maple syrup, but when the flavour is delicious, sweetening can be thought of as more like a condiment or seasoning. “After all don’t we all want to change our palate and become less reliant on sugar? I say this as someone who used to drink two litres of Diet Coke a day. I drank the fizzy drinks; I ate the cake. If you’re coating your mouth in sweeteners every day it’s really hard to kick the habit of real sugar because you’re used to a certain level of sweetness. But every study suggests we are capable of developing new tastes and it only takes a few weeks away from sugar for our physical responses to change.” Sugar can, says Bee, change from being the drug we desperately crave to ‘something that brings joy’.