Monday, August 15, 2011

Sweeteners and Sugar-free Living

A Twitter friend thinking about going sugar-free (not for Candida-related reasons) recently asked for some advice on dealing with sugar-cravings. I thought it might be useful to reproduce what I told her here.

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Okay - if you were being really serious about this sugar-free thing you would go cold turkey. After about two weeks you'd stop craving sweet things and start to be able to better appreciate the natural sweetness in fruits and even some vegetables, like carrots and beetroot. But that would be absolutely no fun at all! So here's my advice:

#1 Avoid aspartame like the plague. Anecdotally it has been linked to all sorts of nasty complaints including neurological disorders. Also, it kids the body into thinking that you're consuming sugar, raises your insulin levels accordingly (I think?) and makes you feel shaky and more hungry. Not good.

#2 Also avoid maltodextrin, sorbotol, sucrose, glucose = all refined sugars.

#3 Fructose is concentrated fruit sugar and is okay in emergencies. It can be used in place of caster sugar in baking (though you only need 1/3 as much) and can be picked up in most supermarkets and health food shops.

#4 Cakes, biscuits, sweets and chocolate sweetened with maltitol (a natural sweetener derived from wheat - body doesn't recognise it as sugar) are a-ok from a 'no sugar' perspective. This is the sweetener most commonly used in products aimed at diabetics. It can sometimes have a strange after-taste - though in the time I've been sugar-free, products have massively improved in terms of taste and quality. It can also cause flatulence and diarrhoea (if you scoff too much of it at one sitting!). However, in my experience your body gets used to it after a while and the side-effects are less explosive. ;) It also helps to keep other people out of your chocolate stash if you tell them it will give them the runs!

#5 Agave syrup is becoming increasing available as a baking ingredient and as a sweetener in 'healthy' processed foods. It's derived from cactus and has been used as a sweetener for centuries. It has no side-effects, as far as I'm aware. It is certainly VERY sweet and is good in hot chocolate. You can get it in many larger supermarkets now (baking/sugar aisle). Booja-Booja chocs and ice-cream are sweetened with it. The choc ice cream is AMAZING. But you can only get it in small health food shops and fancy delis. Waitrose stocks a similar type of ice cream - though I think that's sweetened with fruit juice instead.

#6 Xylitol - the God among sweeteners as far as I'm concerned. It's derived from beech trees and has been used in the frozen north for centuries. It has no side-effects, as far as I'm aware. However it isn't commonly used in products at the moment, except in mints - because it also, rather miraculously stops and even repairs tooth damage! You can use it in baking, in the same quantities as castor sugar. I have managed to make fudge with it, though in that quantity it had a rather odd cooling taste. It can be bought in health food shops like Holland & Barrett. I've rarely seen it in supermarkets.

Some individual products you might enjoy: chocolate sweetened with fructose or maltitol. Many varieties. Available in health food shops like Holland & Barrett and Healthy Living. I have no one favourite brand. Belgian manufacturers are worth looking out for. Most expensive doesn't always equal the best.

Nak:d bars. Available from most large supermarkets as well as health food stores. These are sweetened by their high fruit content.

Village Bakery nut bars. Again, can be found in supermarkets and health food shops.

Bear Nibbles - fairly new, can be found at some supermarkets (Asda, Waitrose) and Holland & Barrett.

Dried mango. Delicious.

Good Earth fizzy drinks (Cola, Cranberry, Lemonade) - sweetened with agave. Available at Holland and Barrett. They also do decent ketchup and baked beans.

Some Boots diabetic confectionery and biscuits. Some is sweetened with sorbitol and aspartame (BAD!); some has maltitol (GOOD, but farty!).

A word about Stevia. If you decide to do some baking, many North American sites suggest Stevia as a good sugar substitute. Do not try to find it on the high street; it's banned in the EU (linked with male infertility!!!).

That covers nearly everything. One thing you do need to consider: many of these products are really quite expensive. It's worth experimenting with things like fruit purées and honey if you intend to do a lot of baking.

4 comments:

Ricki said...

Great advice. Unfortunate about the stevia ban--it's been the major sweetener in Japan for decades with no adverse effects. And I do love combining it with other low-glycemic sweeteners.

Have you got coconut sugar (jaggery) or yacon syrup over there? Both also great low GI sweeteners. Would love to know your take on them as well. :)

polishpolkadot said...

i have had the same problem. constant cravings for sweets. ive been off white sugar for a year now with few special occasion exceptions. but i still constantly crave it. i have baked with honey, agave, coconut sugar, stevia, splenda, fruit juice, brown rice syrup and maple syrup. so there are plenty of options out there for sure. also, these ive recently discovered. amazing amazing stuff. http://www.larabar.com/

they have this chocolate brownie one with agave and date sugar. gluten free too!

Djinn said...

Ricki - we can get jaggery in specialist food shops but I've never used it. I'll give it a try sometime.

Polish Polkadot - haven't seen Larabars on sale here recently but I remember them to be similar to Nak:d bars, which are widely available in the UK (and very delicious!).

lc x said...

I buy stevia fround leaf powder in my local health food shop.

The only sweeteners allowed on most anti-candida diets are stevia and xylitol.

All the others including dried fruit, agave and all sugar alcohols (apart from xylitol) will feed candida.