Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Cutting Down on Sugar the Budget-Friendly Way

Inspired by a friend who has pretty much wiped out sugar from her diet, I've decided to make 2014 the year I finally try and crack my sugar habit. While not the worst offender when it comes to the sweet stuff, I probably consume more sugar than I should, and have a niggling suspicion that although I consider myself healthy, if you added up my sugar consumption in any given day it would be way more than I think I'm eating. Furthermore, having been ill from some weird, viral-type illness that wiped me out for the best part of three months last year, I've been looking for ways to feel a little better and more energised for some time now. Armed with some basic insider know-how from my knowledgeable friend, I've started the year off making small, but significant steps to reducing my sugar intake and so far, so good.


Sugar-free food heroes
No doubt you'll have read the flurry of newspaper articles or watched TV documentaries about how excessive sugar consumption is responsible for a whole host of health conditions and will contribute to a crisis that could see 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children becoming obese by 2050. Scary stuff. However, initial forays to my local health food shop made me uncomfortably aware of just how much more expensive some sugar-free alternatives can be so I've had to adapt expectations to meet with my personal budget. 

The key thing to remember is that the sugar you are looking to cut out is refined sugar. There are some natural sugars you can eat. But refined sugar equals empty calories that have no nutritional benefit at all. Unfortunately it is these types of sugars that are most commonly used in mass-produced foods. Other baddies that fall into the 'do not eat' category include corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, fructose and all artificial sweeteners.

Unfortunately swapping to natural alternatives will cost you more. A commonly available healthy sugar substitute - Xylitol(which you can buy at most bigger supermarkets these days)- will set you back around £2.70 for a 225g bag. Other sugar alternatives which you'll find in specialist health food shops or online (but perhaps not at your local supermarket) include Jaggery, Valdivia and Rapadura. All cost significantly more than standard sugars, but if you'll be cooking with less sugar anyway, the cost should balance out in the end.

Given the expense involved in buying these healthier products I'm taking a more realistic approach to cutting down on sugar, and even by making quite small changes I'm noticing significant improvements to mine and the kids' health. We've swapped lunchbox cereal bars for Nakd bars which, although more costly, count towards one of their five-a-day and are cold-pressed with no added sugar or syrup. I've stopped adding sugar to my coffee and my taste-buds are finally starting to adjust to the change. It's more time consuming but I'm making more in the way of after-school snacks rather than filling the house with shop-bought biscuits and cakes. I'm making low-sugar treats like banana bread and blueberry muffins which get most of their sweetness from the fruit - I like Mary Berry's recipe which has just 3oz of sugar in a recipe that makes 12 muffins, or try Paul Hollywood's version with even less sugar here. Shop-bought soups have been replaced by easy home-made versions - I'll be sharing two particular favourites which are easy and cheap to make on the blog soon.

I'm not quite ready to completely eliminate sugar yet but I figure that by making as much stuff myself I'm going some way to cutting out unnecessary sugars and it's good to see exactly what's going into your food as you make it. We've said goodbye to fruit juice in our house and for our Sunday morning pancake breakfast ritual we've swapped sugar and maple syrup for Agave nectar, a low GI natural sweetener that is delicious and which is readily available at the supermarket, including low-cost shops such as Lidl. Jam is out, nut butter is in - almond butter is one of my favourites and I have it on crackers or Ryvita as a healthy mid-morning snack.

What's proving much more tricky in my quest to lower our sugar intake is analysing food labels as I do my weekly shop, and trying to pick the lowest sugar option wherever possible. This can be a dispiriting experience as even the most benign looking foods - things like soups, breads and table sauces - can be packed with added sugar. The NHS guidelines say that anything more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g is high, while anything of 5g of total sugars or less per 100g is low. Then you have to bear in mind the various guises sugar may hiding behind in the labelling - a good rule of thumb to remember is that anything ending in 'ose' is a sugar. It's a labourious job drilling down into the small print but when you actually stop and really look at how much sugar is added to manufactured foods, it really is quite a wake-up call.

My next step in the process is to take my friend's advice and start experimenting with sugar-free recipes. She makes her own Nutella by mixing raw cocoa with coconut oil and agave, for example, and recommends making cake icing by mixing cream cheese or quark with agave and raw cocoa. Other sweet treats she recommends for those moments when cravings get the better of you include raw truffles, using a mix of ground almonds, raw cacao, agave and dessicated coconut. I'm going to spend some time looking through her recommended recipe websites for inspiration to seek out some low-cost, healthy ideas for cakes and other treats. The website Natural Sweet Recipes looks particularly inspiring.

I'll be updating you on my quest to go sugar-free on a budget with recipes or tips I come across along the way, but in the meantime I recommend checking out the good sense, easy to understand advice from David Gillespie, author of Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Makes Us Fat, which makes a good starting point, plus checking out his website here.

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14 comments

  1. I found this a really interesting piece and as someone going into my tenth month without refined sugar, it's great to see other people are doing it too! I decided to try and live without it because I was feeling really unwell, but I didn't necessarily believe the health benefits would be as good as they have proved to be. Before I gave up, I felt nauseous, tired, emotionally up and down, had migraines, and felt bloated and sluggish. All of these things have improved hugely and I have more energy and feel better in every way.

    I must admit I hadn't considered it from a budgetary point of view, as when I started I went completely cold-turkey (after some very cheap pick and mix at the cinema made me feel ill for a whole week and I decided enough was enough) so I saved money anyway, but I must agree that the natural sugars are more expensive. However, I do think they are worth it and if you are baking things rather than buying things you are likely to save money that way.

    I am so happy my kids have also become much more open to trying foods without sugar, and my husband is really enjoying the various things I make as well. I never want to sound holier-than-thou and obviously not everyone wants to cut-down or give up, but for anyone who does, it is possible!

    I never expected to be able to give up refined sugar - I have always had a massively sweet tooth that I felt like I could never beat, and having made that change and taken control of my diet, I feel great. It is such a positive thing to do. Sugar is incredibly ageing and damaging for our bodies and something we really don't need. There are loads of websites and if you do some digging, you soon find there are people all over the world trying to ditch the sweet stuff. Good luck to anyone else who tries!

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    1. Thanks, Alison! Great to hear your story and that you're noticing such significant improvements to your health. I have a massively sweet tooth too, so it's good to hear your success story!

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  2. Somehow I've missed all of the recent news articles about the big sugar debate. Going to have to look it all up now. Thanks for sharing with #ThriftyThursday :-)

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  3. Interesting post, I am trying to cut out refined sugar for a six week plan to healthy eating. As it's my first week I have had a few cravings!!

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    1. Thanks, Vicky! Stick with it - your tastebuds soon adapt!

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  4. I do find some foods incredibly sweet and don't eat them, but I have a weakness for chocolate (albeit dark). It's the hidden sugar that gets me, once you start looking you realise just how much there is in many of our savoury foods!

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    1. Hi Christine! Yes, that darned hidden sugar is the problem - it's in everything! I spend ages examining food labels and am really shocked by just how much sugar manufacturers pack into their food. No wonder we have such a worrying obesity epidemic on our hands.

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  5. Really interesting. I'm really keen to try the nakd bars. #thriftythursday

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    1. Hi Californian Mum! Yes, the Nakd bars are good - I like the Berry Cheeky ones best, and they're readily available in most supermarkets. The kids like them too, which is a bonus!

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  6. oh my goodness i wish you lots of luck with this your a brave woman i am defo an addict #thriftythursday

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  7. Good start, Luisa, but if you are substituting Jiggery, Valdivia, Rapadura and Agave syrup for white sugar, you are still eating lots of sucrose (which is 1/2 fructose). Fructose is the problem... not the relative refinement or otherwise of the sugar product. The only safe syrupy substitute for sugar is Rice Malt Syrup which contains glucose (dextrose) which is the most basic and essential fuel for the body and is OK to eat.

    I suggest you find David Gillespie's recent UK version of his best seller 'Sweet Poison', to get the full story on which sweeteners contain fructose and which do not.

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    1. Thanks so much for your helpful advice - it truly is a minefield to navigate!

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  8. 3 Studies REVEAL How Coconut Oil Kills Waist Fat.

    This means that you actually kill fat by eating Coconut Fats (including coconut milk, coconut cream and coconut oil).

    These 3 researches from major medical journals are sure to turn the conventional nutrition world around!

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