Sugar’s back in the news again and apparently it’s even worse for us than we initially thought. We’ve known for ages that it’s probably the devil’s nectar and as addictive as cocaine, but good grief, it sure makes everything taste nice. So what to do? Obviously we should obliterate it from our existence along with salt, gluten, dairy and god knows what, but most of us simply don’t have the time or energy, nor the inclination to do so. The key, I’ve decided, is reasonable compromise.
I wished my parents had thought so too when I was a kid. I was raised in a ridiculously healthy household where I feared the endless supply of dark rye bread, grilled fish and steamed veg would never end. The weekly supermarket shop was a torturous, long-winded affair: my dear old dad, clutching his ‘E for Additives’ book, assessing which E numbers were the worst offenders, and then vetoing just about everything tasty. My big brother and I would trail behind, begging for crap cereal, banana Nesquik and fizzy cola bottles. Instead we got museli, raisins and fresh fruit. Rubbish. Little did we know our folks were already wise to the evils of sugar and were patrolling the family intake. The bastards.
Funny thing is that all these years later, my parents’ pretty progressive attitude to healthy, low-sugar eating, makes perfect sense and has worked its way into my own home and way of life without me really noticing. Now, save the odd naughty treat, I seek out mostly good stuff and actually find it doable to maintain a vaguely healthy diet.
If you were to wade through some of the current research, most of the sensible guidance suggests reducing, rather than attempting to eliminate, sugar from our diets. Good luck to those of you who manage to cut it out completely, but in truth, that’s not for me. Instead I aim for moderation and here are the rules I try to live by:
- An extra 5-10 minutes in a supermarket is well worth it – just enough time to read ingredients if you’re buying pre-prepared food. You’ll be blown away by how much hidden sugar there is. It’s easy to avoid.
- Keep a bottle or two of pure syrup in your cupboard - it’s a great sugar substitute and much healthier than the refined stuff. You can use it for making flapjacks with nuts and oats, chewy almond or ginger biscuits or even reducing the amount of sugar you need for cakes by cooking with half and half. The best types are brown rice, agave or maple syrup. Make sure it’s the pure stuff because the cheaper fakes have added sugar. I like these ones or these.
- I’m not suggesting that occasional sweetie binges aren’t essential in life – they definitely are – but once in a while make yourself go for fresh fruit instead. Blueberries, raspberries, grapefruit, honeydew melon and kiwis have the lowest fructose and will give you a healthier sugar hit.
- For those eager to make major changes and need help with what to avoid and what to go for, there’s an app called Food Switch UK, which will help you determine what’s in the food you’re buying and can advise on healthier options.
- There’s lots of controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners and many experts have determined that they’re arguably worse than refined sugar. If you can’t live without a bit of a hit in your tea or coffee try the plant-based sweetener Stevia. It’s seriously sweet so you’ll only need a tiny sprinkle. I like this one.
- Reserve drinking pure fruit juice for weekend brunches only and try to resist it during the week. While we used to think juice is pretty healthy because it’s pure, it’s basically concentrated sugar. Sad, but true.
- If you fancy experimenting with some surprisingly tasty sugar-free recipes, try Australian journalist, Sarah Wilson’s I Quit Sugar For Life. Crucially the book is not too judgey, while her website hosts regular 8-week programmes to help people who want to give up properly. Davina McCall has waded in with her book, Davina’s 5 Weeks to Sugar-Free, which is refreshingly accessible. Published earlier this year is Get the Glow, by Madeleine Shaw, who’s created 100 simple recipes made with ingredients you’ll find easily in your local supermarket.
Anyway, lecture over, you get the picture, sugar is bad and we all need to cut down, so let’s give it a go. Please note: all bets are off if you have scorching PMT when only a load of full fat chocolate with extra sugar, caffeine and dirty additives will do. Sorry dad.