Life Without Sugar

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After slacking off and eating some cake and some lollies and ending up sick, I am back on the sugar-free wagon. It must be a month since I last had anything containing refined sugar, but I am not counting days. This is something I intend to make permanent.

There is a lot of support for sugar-free eating. And a lot of the information is misleading. Some websites promoting a sugar-free diet suggest replacing all cane sugar with some kind of highly processed alternative or chemical sweetener. Things like rice bran syrup or agave nectar, which really aren’t any better than regular cane sugar.

When it comes to sweetening, I stick to honey or maple syrup, and use them sparingly. A drizzle of syrup in my porridge or muffins made with honey and fruit. For the most part it is easy, and getting easier.

At a social outing yesterday I had only a brief moment of longing as I looked at the amazing array of home-made sweets that people had contributed. Apple crumble, baked cheesecake, jam drop cookies, chocolate slice… my knees wobbled for a moment before I picked up a sugar-free muffin and some cheese and crackers.

I have managed to avoid any ‘no thank you, I don’t eat sugar’ conversations so far, but these tend to be awkward. From ‘go on, a little bit won’t hurt you, it’s not like one biscuit will make you fat’, to ‘of course you do, there is sugar in everything, don’t be ridiculous’ these are seldom fun conversations. I don’t get much encouragement, that is for sure.

I nearly drove myself mad the other week looking for a sugar-free muffin recipe. Type ‘sugar free muffin recipe’ into a search engine and you get lots of gluten-free, egg-free, nut-free, dairy-free and alternatively sweetened recipes. I just wanted a regular muffin recipe that was edible without the use of refined or chemical sweeteners.

I found some good recipes in an older style book dedicated to muffin recipes that someone loaned to me. As a bonus, some of these recipes have minimal shortening and use yogurt to add fat and protein. Some of them also have sugar or maple syrup as a substitute for honey. They taste like actual muffins, are moist and have a good texture.

I felt very cheated when I checked the ingredients on the Steeves Maple Syrup, imported from Canada and available at considerable expense from the posh supermarkets, only to discover that it contains water and sugar in greater quantities than maple syrup. By contrast, the maple syrup I got from ALDI for about half the price is actually pure maple syrup. You honestly have to check the ingredients on everything these days.

I looked more closely at a drinking chocolate claiming to be sugar-free, only to find that it contains xylitol, which is a chemical sweetener. The fairly extensive alternative sweetener section at the big supermarket contains not one single product that I actually believe is less harmful than ordinary cane sugar, and certainly none that I would buy.

No ice-cream. No chocolate cake. No vanilla slice. Not ever. I hardly ever miss it. And if I do cave in and go for a taste, all I can taste is the sugar, and it is nauseating.

There is subtle sweetness in so many foods, and when you are bombarding your taste buds with sugar all the time you don’t notice the complexity of flavour.

Fruit is my main source of sweetness these days. It is easy to make a dessert from apples or bananas or berries. With a bit of creativity it is possible to avoid sugar without feeling deprived. Unsweetened full-fat foods are very satisfying and as it turns out also much better for you. Cheese is my favourite after-dinner treat these days.

I find that I have much more energy, much more stable mood and less of a tendency to pick up viruses when I stay off sugar. It is also a really effective way to limit high-calorie food intake.

My cheat is the odd Diet Coke when I am out, but usually I stick to drinking water or raw goat milk.

If you are a real sweet tooth then giving up sugar might be a hardship for you. I have had the notion that sugar disagrees with me since the days when I discovered that Coco Pops gave me a crook stomach. It is only in the last couple of years that I have deliberately avoided it, and only recently that I have sought to eliminate it from my diet altogether.

I believe that in the not too distant future sugar will be shown up as the villain it is, and its harmful effects on our bodies will be studied without prejudice. We will wonder why so many foods had the fat taken out and replaced with sugar, and find out to what extent many modern health problems are the result of a high-sugar diet.

The question is, will the sugar-loving population accept that information as truth?

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