Vegan MoFo 2015 | Off-Topic | Let’s Talk About Sugar

Today’s Vegan MoFo prompt was to share a strange food combination I like. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single one. Instead of posting something half-arsed, I’ve decided to use the opportunity to go off-topic and talk about something that has been on my mind in the past few months: sugar.

The whole sugar-free/sugar alternative/low sugar industry is booming at the moment, and if you live in the UK and are among the many people who watched Jamie’s Sugar Rush last night, you’ll know why. The excessive consumption of sugar has become an everyday reality for many people around the world, and the health risks it brings are serious. I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, so I don’t want to write much about how terrible eating sugar is for you – I think we all know it isn’t the best source of nutrition. But I do want to address a couple of things that I’ve been noticing recently.

Sugar is Everywhere

Since getting pregnant, I’ve been trying to reduce my overall sugar intake to below 90g a day in total. This number might seem high, but it includes added sugars and natural sugars, meaning that I’m also monitoring the amount of sugar I’m taking in from sources such as fruit. I find it really frustrating that there is little to no guidance on how much total sugar the average adult should or should not consume a day, as it means I have to guess, for instance, how much fruit I’m allowed to eat in a day. Another thing that has been annoying me is that there is added sugar in almost everything you buy. It’s next to impossible to find a jarred pasta sauce that doesn’t have sugar listed within the first five ingredients, and many staple items such as bread and yoghurt also have the stuff added – why!? 

The ‘Sugar-Free’ Myth

As people become more aware of their sugar consumption and aim to reduce it (which is great), sugar alternatives are becoming more and more popular. Even the Great British Bake Off had a challenge dedicated to sugar-free baking! Here’s the thing though: many of the bakers, any many people in their everyday lives, are replacing refined white sugar with maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, dates…. anything that’s sweet and sticky, and then passing the finished product off as ‘sugar-free’. These sweeteners all contain high amounts of sugar. Many of them have a lower GI than conventional white sugar, and many of them are far less processed, meaning that they are certainly a better choice of sweetener. But they’re still sugar. The agave I routinely use has 66g of sugar per 100g of product, and maple syrup has around 64g. Both are made up of nearly 2/3 sugar. Yes, it isn’t processed, white sugar and yes, you can often use less than you would use conventional sugar, but your finished cake will certainly not be ‘sugar-free’, which is something many people don’t realise and something that we need to be educating people about. I was very disappointed that the BBC didn’t clarify this during the GBBO episode. And while we’re on the subject – who else felt cheated when they saw that the ‘dairy-free’ ice-cream roll was full of eggs? Sad times. But anyway.

I personally probably won’t ever give up sugar. I like sweets as much as the next person! But I do feel that we need far more awareness about the omnipresence of refined sugar in our bought foods and of the sugar content of so-called ‘sugar substitutes’, which are often just sugar in another form. Are they a better option? Most of the time, yes! I also don’t think that having refined sugar in a slice of cake is the biggest problem – when you eat something sweet, you’re usually aware that you’re consuming a fair amount of sugar, and that’s okay. Sweet treats certainly have their place, and I’m no advocate of making ‘healthified’ versions of absolutely everything. But I do feel increasingly frustrated by the amount of hidden sugars in my foods. While I try to make better choices and read labels when I’m grocery shopping, I’ve often found that there simply isn’t a better alternative available. 

What’s your opinion on sugar? Do you watch how much you consume, or are you mostly not bothered?

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Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or nutritionist, and the statements in this post merely reflect my personal opinions on this subject.