Welcome to another Lifestyle post! Today’s topic is all about why I don’t cook with sugar. Now, you may be thinking “But wait… you create recipes all the time that have fruit in them! That’s sugar, right?!” It’s true that natural sugars appear in the plant kingdom in abundance, but that’s not the kind of sugar I’m talking about here! Fruit is incredibly good for you, health-promoting, and you should never avoid eating them because you fear their sugar content. I’ll expand on this later in the post.
For now I’ll be talking about the sugar I don’t eat, which is any kind of processed/refined sugar. Some examples are:
- White sugar
- Cane sugar
- Coconut sugar
- Brown sugar
- Beet sugar
- Brown rice syrup
- Malt Syrup
- Evaporated cane juice
- Corn syrup
- And many, many more…
Let’s dive into a few reasons why I avoid things on the list above.
The Effects Of Sugar On Health
Sugars are carbohydrates, which serve as the main energy source for the body. When you eat sugars from natural sources, you’re not only getting that calorie/energy source, but also many other nutrients. For example, when you eat an orange you’re getting fiber, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and all sorts of other great minerals.
But when you eat refined sugar, you’re eating something that’s been processed to the point that all of the nutrients of that plant have been extracted out until all you’re left with is the sugar. Basically all you’re left with are empty calories with no nutritional value.
Unfortunately, study after study has proven that sugar is highly addictive. The more we have, the more we crave, and it can lead to a whole suite of health issues, such as tooth decay, high blood pressure, inflammation, and weight gain; which can lead to obesity and increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and many other chronic diseases.
You may be thinking right now, “Surely sugar in moderation is ok, right?” Well, that might not necessarily be true.
How Much Sugar Is Too Much?
According to the American Heart Association, Americans should be consuming no more than 100 calories a day from added sugar for women, and 150 calories for men. That’s about 9 teaspoons worth.
But how many are we actually consuming? According to studies done by the AHA, the average American adult consumes 22 teaspoons per day, and the average American child consumes 32 teaspoons per day.
In 1812 Americans consumed about 45 grams of sugar every 5 days. Today, Americans consume 765 grams of sugar every 5 days. And remember that “consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day” stat I listed above? Want to guess how many teaspoons are in a single can of Coke? 10 teaspoons. And how many people do you know that drink at least one can of soda a day?
When I first heard some of these stats, I thought to myself, “What?!…” I knew that the Standard American Diet was bad, but sometimes seeing the numbers in black and white really puts it into perspective just how bad things have gotten.
I won’t get into the details today about how the sugar industry lobbies massively to keep the general public confused and misinformed about the health consequences of sugar… But just know that there are very powerful (and rich) groups out there that want to keep you and I eating as much sugar as possible: our health be damned.
So, What About Fruit?
So if added sugars are to be avoided, what about natural sugars? As it turns out, when we get sugar from fruit it has virtually zero negative effects to our health. Why? As I have written about it before, the difference is in the fiber.
When we eat a whole piece of fruit the fiber is maintained, along with all of the other nutrients that piece of fruit has to offer. Because of fruit’s fiber content, our bodies release the sugars (fructose) in them slowly over a long period of time. This helps to maintain steady blood sugar levels, as opposed to the spike in blood sugar we get from processed sugar. After we eat food it’s natural for our bodies to release insulin, so that our bodies can make use of the nutrients we just ate. When our blood sugar levels spike rapidly (like it does from processed sugar) our body releases larger amounts of insulin, which signals the body to store more of what we just ate as fat. When our blood sugar levels stay steady, our body releases less insulin (see graph above), and therefore signals our body to store less of what we just ate as fat. To summarize, sugar + no-fiber = bad. Sugar + fiber = good!
This video below, “How much fruit is too much?” gives a great overview on the topic as well.
I think one of the highlights from the video is the study that was done, to see if scientists could find the upper limit of “how much fruit is too much?” They told study participants to eat a minimum of 20 servings of whole fruit a day. That’s almost 200 grams worth of sugar a day! The results? Participants saw no adverse effects on their weight, blood pressure, insulin levels, or lipid levels. In fact, many of the participants improved their scores in these categories.
Clearly fruit is excellent for us. I think it’s well known at this point that fruit contains many beneficial nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, etc. But I still feel like there’s a general public “fear” of the sugar in fruit. I always get slightly frustrated when I hear people say they are trying to avoid fruit because of “all that sugar.” I wish more people knew how the body processes the nutrients in fruit (including the sugar), and would realize that it’s extremely healthy for us.
At this point, I hope I’ve been able to explain why it is I avoid processed sugar. The American Health Association may have stated that 9 teaspoons of added sugar a day is acceptable, but for my own diet, I’ve decided that zero added sugars will be my goal. As for fruit, I have NO LIMITS on my fruit intake. I eat as much as I want, when I want, and know that my body is getting tons of great nutrients for it.
When it comes to creating dessert recipes, it’s for all the reasons above that I stick to whole fruit as the main way I sweeten my dishes. Dates are my go-to, but I use many other fruits (and vegetables!) as well. On rare occasions I’ll use molasses or maple syrup, but not nearly as often as I use whole fruit.
Why do maple syrup and molasses occasionally make the cut? It’s true they have no fiber, but they are one of the rare examples of a liquid sweetener that is rich in other nutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals. So while they aren’t as nutritious as whole fruit, they do offer some nutritional value.
For a good run-down of the healthiest sweeteners to use, I recommend watching Dr. Michael Gregor’s video on the healthiest sweeteners below:
How Do I Bake Without Sugar?
After reading this far, you may be thinking that you want to start reducing or eliminating processed sugar from your diet as well. If you’re at all intimidated about this thought – don’t be! Cooking and baking can be just as flavorful and delicious without using processed sugar. Through experimentation, I’ve found ways to use fruits and vegetables to sweeten my dishes naturally – which I’m happy to share on this blog! In my recipes I use bananas, dates, oranges, raisins, sweet potatoes, roasted squash, strawberries, apples, and all sorts of other fruits to add natural (and healthy) sweetness to my dessert recipes.
Some of my favorite dessert recipes include my chocolate chip banana bread, lemon-blueberry muffin recipe, peach crisp recipe, and super fudgy brownies recipe. If you’re used to tasting SUPER sweet desserts, it may take a bit of an adjustment period for your taste-buds to get used to eating less. But over time, I think you’ll find that you feel much better in the long run. Note: all of my dressing and sauce recipes are sugar free too!
As a personal anecdote, I know for certain that once I eliminated processed sugars from my diet I felt SO MUCH BETTER. My skin cleared up, I got colds less often (to this day, I know that if I eat something too sugary I’m likely to get sick), I got less headaches, etc. Some of these symptoms I didn’t even know I had until I started eliminating so much processed, sugary, and unhealthy things from my diet. I talk more about this in my “why I decided to embrace a whole foods plant based diet” post. But in summary, I can personally say that I feel a lot better when I sweeten things naturally with fruit.
Final Thoughts On Sugar
I really don’t think that healthy eating should be seen as a sacrifice. I certainly don’t think I sacrifice anything in my diet, and that’s because I’ve found a way to make sweets healthy and delicious. I enjoy desserts all the time, whenever I feel like it, all guilt-free!
That being said, do I ever eat processed sugar these days? Of course I do. When I eat out at restaurants I don’t worry about it. Sure, there’s probably added sugar in the stir-fry dish I may order. Or sugar in the pasta sauce on top of the spaghetti dish I ordered. It’s extremely common for restaurants to use generous amounts of oil, sugar, and salt in their dishes to make things “extra tasty.” But I rarely eat out at restaurants. When I do it’s a treat, and so I don’t think about the health-factor of what I’m ordering – I’m there to enjoy myself!
Similarly, if I go to a party and a friend makes some (vegan) cookies for me, I’ll help myself without a second thought. If ever I cook a treat/cheat meal at home, you KNOW I’ll be helping myself to my favorite pint of SO Delicious cashew-milk ice cream!
Again, these treat-moments don’t make up the majority of my eating, but the minority. When you eat healthy 90% of the time, it makes that unhealthy 10%-time extra special, and something to indulge in without worry.
Spartan Life & Sugar Free Recipes
All of my recipes are sugar free, and will continue to be sugar free now and in the future. I love eating healthy food, I love how it makes me feel, and hope that through this blog I can inspire others to try and live healthy as well. If you’re new to sugar-free baking, and not sure where to start, try browsing some of the healthy dessert recipes I’ve created in the past to get ideas! And if you’ve been eating sugar-free for awhile, I hope my blog will be a good resource for you to look for inspiration.
As always, thanks for reading!