All sugars are equal, but some sugars are more equal than others
Natural sugars vs added sugar
Added sugars include baking sugar (caster sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar) as well as maple syrup and jams. When baking, it is sometimes inevitable to add some sugar to the mixing bowl. The most important thing is to cut down wherever you can and replace the added sugars with natural sweeteners.
Sweeten your batch naturally with dried fruits such as sultanas, chopped dried figs and dates – these have natural sugars derived from the fruit that have been concentrated during the drying process. The dried fruits will also come along with fibre and antioxidants – nutrients that plain caster sugar can not boast about! For the chocolate-lovers among us, add roughly chopped dark chocolate (70% cococa or higher) instead of the white or milky chocolates varieties. All of that said, remember that sugar is sugar, regardless of the form, so it is important to be mindful of portions. Many of us will be familiar with how easy it is to overeat chocolate; a square or two per serve and you can enjoy the rich flavour, bonus antioxidants and health benefits of the cocoa without overdoing the fats, sugars and overall kilojoules.
International recommendations for free sugars
The WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends children and adults to limit free sugars to less than 10% of their total daily energy intake. Let’s say 8700kJ per day is the daily energy needs for an average healthy adult who has a desk-job and is physically active sometimes. That daily 10% limit for this person would be around 51g of free sugars, which is around 13 teaspoons of sugar.
This 10% limit recommendation is based on population-wide research evidence. The evidence showed that having more sugars in our diet is linked to a greater likelihood of gaining excess weight and getting tooth decays. This is especially true for kids and sugar-sweetened drinks (think Coke, Pepsi, Lemonade, Fanta…) and you can slash your chances of getting tooth decay even further if you limit free sugars to 5% of your total daily energy intake. Learn more from the WHO website here.
Unsweeten your expectations
In terms of kilojoules, artificial sweeteners will make up for sweetness without the energy – it will pass through your digestive system without getting absorbed by your body. That said, they won’t let you train your tastebuds to get used to less-sweet flavours. These taste training can take a couple of weeks. Start slow and tone down your sweet tooth by adding naturally sweet foods to your snacks and desserts. Try:
- Baked apples
- Frozen berries with yoghurt (poach the berries in a pot over low heat for a quick berry compote)
- Transition from flavoured yoghurt to low-sugar options (e.g. Yoplait Forme Zero) then try mixing with half Greek yoghurt, then try adding more and more Greek yoghurt