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Ultimate Sugar Alternatives Guide

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Trying to reduce your sugar in intake? Do you eat a fair bit of fruit everyday thinking its a much better alternative to regular sugar? Not always the case! Fructose is a type of sugar that increases our risk of things like heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes, so eating too much fruit isn’t really ideal. Keep reading for more on this.

There’s a lot of popular sweeteners out there that health conscious people are using in place of regular sugar, such as coconut sugar, agave syrup, molasses, honey, and maple syrup. These sweeteners might come with some nutrient benefits but the trouble is they still contain fructose, which is the type of sugar we want to be avoiding.

 

Why do we want to avoid fructose?

Every cell in our body can metabolise glucose but fructose is metabolised (broken down) only in the liver, in the same way that alcohol is, and too much of it can put a real strain on our liver. It can make you gain weight, increase your appetite and create that all too well known fat around the middle, not to mention non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

 

How does it do this?

Because fructose doesn’t affect blood sugar levels (and so doesn’t spike insulin) it was thought of as an ideal sweetener for diabetics and given the label of having a ‘low GI’ for that very reason. Fructose interferes with your production of appetite-regulating hormones like leptin, which should send a signal to your brain that you are full and happy, if leptin gets ‘switched off’ this signal can no longer get to the brain and we are left feeling hungry pretty much most of the time. To add to that fructose can raise our levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin, which too increases our hunger!

Honey
Fructose doesn’t supply any energy at all to either your brain or your muscles, it just gets stored as fat. So it’s certainly not a sweetener anyone should want to use, diabetic or not.

 

Fructose is of course naturally found in fruit, and in fruit it comes with vitamins, minerals, fibre, and other nutrients. When we eat fruit in its whole form the fructose is combined with glucose, which is the natural sugar that we should be using for energy, and because there is also fibre contained in the whole fruit this can help to slow how quickly the glucose is released into the blood stream.

 

However it’s still beneficial to reduce the amount of higher fructose fruits you consume, just to ensure there isn’t too much fructose heading for your liver. The lowest fructose fruits include berries (e.g. blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries), apples, melon, peach, plums, lemons, grapefruit, and sour cherries. Just note that when it comes to sugar intake we should ideally stick to no more than 2 pieces of low fructose fruit per day.

Donut

 

Sucrose is your regular white table sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar and rapadura sugar. It contains 50% fructose and 50% glucose. So the fructose will hit your liver whilst the glucose will affect blood sugar levels significantly so we want sugar in general kept to a minimum.

 

 

So what are the alternatives?

Below is a list of popular alternatives with a brief description, I hope you will be able to see from this list that there isn’t really a perfect alternative to regular sugar but there are a couple that are more ideal than others. However, the key is really to reduce your need to sweetness, and when you do fancy something sweet its in moderation and uses the more ideal sugar alternatives.

 

Agave syrup: a sugar substitute made from the same Mexican succulent that tequila is made from. It is about 90% fructose. Look out for it on labels of ‘healthy’ bars, smoothies and other ‘healthy’ products and avoid!

 

Coconut sugar, nectar or syrup: This is more commonly used nowadays in a lot of healthy food products. But it is between 38% and 48% fructose so it’s not an ideal choice.

 

Honey: whether raw or organic it doesn’t matter when it comes to the fructose content. It’s about 40% fructose so best avoided.

 

Maple syrup: often used as a healthier sugar alternative, and it does contain good amounts of the minerals zinc and manganese. But it can contain up to 40% fructose so use sparingly. There are a few different grades of maple syrup so make sure you get a higher grade one.

 

Dates: a popular choice for sweetening ‘sugar-free’ recipes, but they are about 30% fructose and quite high in sugar per date compared to other fruit. Plus you will usually need to use a lot of them to properly sweeten a recipe in place of regular sugar, so your sugar intake is likely to be no better.

 

Blackstrap Molasses: a very strong flavoured sweetener made from heated raw cane sugar and sugar beet. Sugar crystals are extracted leaving a black tar-like substance. It’s rich in iron, calcium & magnesium which is great but its about 25% fructose and high in glucose so use it sparingly.

 

Xylitol: the name sounds worse than it is but it’s still not the most natural of sweeteners as it’s usually been highly processed and the end product will contain some chemical residue. It doesn’t spike blood sugar levels at all so it’s a good choice for diabetics. Just make sure you source xylitol from the bark of a birch tree as opposed to xylitol from corn. It’s best used in moderation as it’s known to have laxative effects.

 

So Breakfast bowlwhat are the most ideal choices?

  • Brown rice malt syrup: made from fermented cooked rice. It’s a blend of complex carbohydrates, maltose and glucose. It’s 100% fructose free which is great, and it would be my favourite choice, and certainly the sweetener I use when I need one.

 

  • Stevia: a plant-based sweetener that’s also completely fructose free. It’s 300 times sweeter than sugar. I’d just avoid using it in large amounts because it can leave a bitter aftertaste, but as its so sweet you don’t need to use much. Just make sure you use ‘whole leaf’ stevia (in powder form or drops) and nothing that’s been processed and made into a sweetener. You might need to source it online or somewhere like Whole Foods or Planet Organic.

 

  • Yacon Syrup: It’s natural and has a lovely flavour but its not as sweet as the others. It has a very low effect on blood sugar levels so is suitable for most diabetics without being full of fructose. Yacon is a root vegetable and the roots contain inulin, a type of fructan, the syrup contains 50% fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which is an important prebiotic that helps our gut’s beneficial bacteria to grow. Note that the root contains about 35% fructose so practice moderation.

 

  • Lucuma powder: a low sugar sweetening powder that’s made from a Peruvian fruit similar to a peach. It contains some beta-carotene, iron, zinc, vitamin B3, and calcium. The powder can be added to food or smoothies to give it a small sweet kick, some say it tastes like a cross between sweet potato and maple.

 

Chia pudding and raspberriesWhat’s the bottom line?

Obviously we want to avoid using white table sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar and rapadura sugar. We also want to avoid high fructose things like fizzy drinks, which are very high in processed fructose. Avoid processed foods and check food labels for the ‘of which sugars’ part which should be ideally less than 10g or sugar per 100g of the product. Anything over 15g is too high in my book. Know that one teaspoon of sugar is about 4g so if you see a label on a healthy bar for example that shows ‘of which sugars’ as 16g that’s about 4 teaspoons which is too high and will just raise your blood sugar level too high and spike insulin, energy crashes and fat storage. So start checking labels on foods like pasta sauces, other sauces, bread, dressings, ‘healthy’ mueslis (which are usually detailed per a 40g portion and most of us will pour a lot more than 40g into our bowls!), and ‘healthy’ bars and drinks. The other day I picked up a bottled smoothie in a health food shop and it had 38g of sugar, that’s 9 and a half teaspoons, and the World Health Organisation (in 2015) says adults should have not more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar per DAY (not including the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, or those naturally present in milk).

 

When it comes to sugar alternatives these should be used in moderation and the ones highest in fructose shouldn’t be used at all e.g. agave and even honey. The best thing to do is to reduce our need for sweetness gradually so that we soon need to use less and less of the ideal sweeteners I’ve mentioned here.

 

I hope this guide has been helpful and will help you on your quest to reduce your sugar intake and who knows one day be sugar-free!

 

A day in the life of Pret – Keeping it clean and lean when out and about

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Prepping food in advance (once or twice a week) is a great way to ensure you are on the right track at all times and prevents you from reaching for less ideal meals and snacks when you’re desperate and there isn’t much in the way of nutritious options on offer. But, for those of us who don’t enjoy prepping their own food and actually prefer buying their lunch and snacks outside there are some great options if you work in and around London or another busy City or high street with lots of choice. One of my favourites at the moment has to be Pret! I used to think of Pret as nothing more than somewhere to get a sandwich or a croissant, but it really has stepped up its health game over the last year or so.

I want to go through some of their breakfast, lunch and snack options and I hope it helps you make good choices and not feel so stumped next time you’re looking for a healthy and balanced lunch option.

For those of you who don’t work near a Pret or just don’t like it, most of these options will be available in a similar form in other eateries so can just help to give you a good idea of the kinds of things to look out for.

 

Breakfast

I only found one decent breakfast option in Pret but you could also go for a protein snack pots I’ve listed in the snack section, who says breakfast has to be typical breakfast food? No one!!

 

Avoid:

  • Granolas
  • Porridge with honey or other sweeteners, remember these places want you to keep coming back so they wont be shy on the amount of sugar they include
  • Croissants, brioches, muffins, cereal bars, other so-called ‘healthy’ bars.
  • White bread and baguettes
  • Honey and compotes

 

Go for:

Five Grain Porridge – made with quinoa, amaranth, flax seeds, whole oats and organic coconut water. It’s naturally creamy (never gloopy), dairy-free and made with no gluten ingredients. We like this one! If you want to sweeten it up add your own raspberries, blueberries, or ¼ of a banana.

 

Lunch

Pret are now using ingredients like brown rice, quinoa, black rice and buckwheat, oh and of course kale, which is really great! The options I’ve listed here contain these types of slow releasing carbohydrates, not refined quick releasing ones like white rice, pasta and bread.

 

Avoid:

  • Wraps, baguettes, sandwiches, toasties.

 

Go for:

  • Roast salmon & avo superbowl
  • Beets, squash & feta superbowl
  • Chicken, pesto & buffalo mozzarella
  • Chicken, peppers & feta superbowl
  • Red tapenade & avo superbowl – but this one needs some extra protein added to it to add one of the snack pots below e.g. boiled egg.IMG_7809
  • Red thai chicken curry quinoa rice pot
  • Tuna nicoise salad
  • Chef’s italian chicken salad
  • Chicken, broccoli & brown rice soup
  • Chicken, edamame & ginger soup
  • Coconut chicken curry
  • Lemon chicken
  • Smoky chicken & bean
  • Tuscan bean
  • Vegetable tagine

The salad dressings their and sugar content

The dressings are supplied on the side with the salads, in a small tub, some of them are higher on the sugar side than other and I’ve listed this below. So ideally take the salad back to the office and use your own extra virgin olive oil (and a small dash of balsamic vinegar if needed), but if you cant do that then just use ¼ of the pot of dressing if it’s a high sugar one.

How much sugar per 100g is ok?

Labels that show more than 10g of sugar per 100g are leaning towards the high side; ideally we want to see less than 5g per 100g.

The Dressings and sugar content

  • Apple Balsamic Dressing – 8g = 2 teaspoons of sugar (25.2g per 100g)
  • Coconut and chilli dressing – 13.1g per 100g
  • Dijon dressing – 2.3g = ½ a teaspoon (5.1g per 100g)
  • Lemon dressing – 0.4g = 10th of a teaspoon (1.4g per 100g)

 

SOUPS

Some of Pret’s soups are full of slow releasing carbohydrates like buckwheat, beans, butternut squash and brown rice, with great vegetables choices like kale. Some are lower in protein that others and I have specified this below. For a main meal you ideally want about 25-30g of protein so these soups could make a lovely heart-warming side.

Go for:

  • Coconut chicken curry – 7.8g protein
    Lemon chicken – 14.1g protein
    Smoky chicken & bean – 15.2g protein
    Tuscan bean – 4.8g protein
    Vegetable tagine – 7.4g protein

 

SnacksIMG_7811

They’re snack pots are great, they are based around protein which is exactly what you want to be snacking on to keep your blood sugar levels stable, keep you feeling fuller for longer and satisfied. Protein is also something so many people aren’t getting enough off, but the body and brain really needs it to function properly, and to keep your weight in check.

 

Avoid:

  • So-called ‘healthy’ bars, cereal bars, cakes, muffins, mousse, yoghurt and compote pots, croissants, bread, brownies etc.

 

IMG_7812Go for:

  • Egg & avocado protein pot
  • Smoked salmon & egg protein pot
  • Egg & spinach protein pot
  • Chicken & edamame protein pot
  • Crayfish and avocado no bread
  • Edamame beans
  • Miso soup
  • Nuts (natural, not salted or roasted) and an apple

 

 

 

If you’re still hungry

Check first that it isn’t just too soon after eating to make your mind up and wait 10-20 minutes, if you still feel hungry have a small pot of natural full fat yogurt with a good sprinkling of ground cinnamon to help balance your blood sugar levels nicely and keep you feeling satisfied. Or have a couple of squares of dark chocolate, I like mine dipped into some almond butter 😉

 

So, if you have a Pret near you, look no further, they’ve got your lunchtime covered, now there is really no reason to opt for a massive jacket potato, a sandwich, or fish and chips because there was nothing else available, Pret is at your service.

Avocado & Raspberry Pink Smoothie

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I love smoothies because as long as you know what to put in them they make such a nutritious breakfast or snack. You can actually pack more nutrients into a smoothie that you’d get in some meals, and that’s because you can add great things like flaxseed, chia seed, avocado, coconut oil, nuts and seeds.

This smoothie makes a great breakfast or snack. For breakfast use 3 dessertspoons of the protein powder to make it higher in protein and keep you full until, lunchtime.

Just blend the following (to serve 1):

  • 200-250ml coconut, almond, or hazelnut milk
  • 1/2 a small ripe avocado
  • 1 tbsp of ground chia seeds or ground flaxseeds
  • 2 dessert spoons of pea, whey or brown rice protein powder (I like Pulsin the best)
  • 1 handful of raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  • A sprinkle of cinnamon powder (for good sugar balancing support)

I hope you enjoy it! x

Eat more to lose more!

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From the moment we are born we want and need food every 3 hours, it’s a natural instinct from day 1 and what we need to do to survive.

So how does this then completely turn on its head when we get to our adult years and believe that under eating is the way to go to be healthy, to maintain weight or lose weight?

Why do we resist eating so much as adults, and if we eat more than we said we would we feel like we’ve done something really bad and need to make up for it the next day?

It’s called ‘dieting’. And its because the dieting industry is so powerful it has got into our heads and made us believe that to lose weight we must take in less food (than our body needs) and expend far more energy, each day.

Imagine doing this to a baby…they wouldn’t survive. Ok so we’re not babies but it’s the same principle, these deprivational-calorie restricting-one size fits all diets are madness when you actually think about it. The body NEEDS certain nutrition every day and certain amounts of it, just to survive and feel ok, yet we will follow a diet plan that aims to give us a quarter less of the energy we need just to survive (not even thrive) and then push ourselves to run on a treadmill for an hour or go full pelt on a cross trainer……hmmm, this sounds insane, and that’s because it is!

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Don’t get me wrong I’m not judging anyone who does this or believes in it, I was there myself many years ago when I went along to a Weight Watcher’s meeting in a bit to start doing the ‘right thing’, but that was before I knew better.

When people who are overweight are on a ‘diet’ and they feel hungry they either fight the hunger, or have some sort of meal replacement low calorie bar or shake. These bars or shakes are usually laden with sugar, and low in calories and any sort of nutrition. So these 2 all too common responses to hunger deoprive the body of what it REALLY needs and make matters worse in the long run.

So why do so many ‘dieters’ respond to hunger by ignoring it??

Unfortunately the conventional diet industry has spread the (so very wrong) message that eating is bad and that it will make us FAT and that the only way to lose weight is to stop eating. The dieting industry is huge and its influence on what we believe in regards to weight loss is HUGE. But if they’ve really got it so right then why are so many people struggling to lose weight and getting bigger and bigger. I speak to so many people that say “I hardly eat anything, I don’t know why I’m so overweight”, I then cannot wait to get my side of things across and educate that person the RIGHT way, the trouble is that so many years of brainwashing is hard to undo in just one conversation. Our natural instinct is to eat, and if we go against that, our bodies will work against us not for us.

Now I’m by no means saying that we should be consuming 3000 plus calories a day of whatever we like, and overeating, that’s another extreme and another article. What I’m saying is that we need to give our body what it needs and take care of it. We don’t deprive our cars of petrol or give it the wrong the petrol, so why do we not take the same attitude towards our amazing bodies?

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The diet industry has taught is to starve our bodies, and to leave out nutritious real food and replace it with low calorie low nutrient foods. The only outcome this results in is CRAVINGS, BINGEING, and ADDICTION, followed by shame, self-hate, frustration, and WEIGHT GAIN. Our body is always working to protect us, so not giving it the nutrients it needs and enough of them, only results in fat storage in a bid to protect us from starvation and danger.

In the meantime the diet industry makes a whole load more money yet again, whilst we continue to buy into their advice and follow their rules.

So, basically what I’m saying is eat the food your body needs and asks you for, provide it with good quality protein, healthy fats, and low sugar-nutrient dense carbohydrates at every meal and snack and don’t go hungry. Cut sugar foods, cut sugar drinks, increase water so you’re properly hydrated, sleep well, move often and practice deep breathing, and watch fat melt off, and energy levels soar. Now that sounds like a much nicer way to live each day to me?

Why I don’t like the word ‘diet’ and the principles I live by

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People always ask me what ‘diet’ I follow, or what are my views on this diet or that diet. The ‘diet’ world can be a confusing and frustrating place. There are so many diet companies out there claiming to have the answer! I don’t like the word diet because it is usually associated with restriction of calories, or food groups, and counting. So my answer to the question of what diet do I follow is that I don’t ‘diet’. I live by certain principles yes, but I don’t restrict or count anything e.g. calories or food groups (apart from gluten because it upsets my brain and digestive system). I like life to be simple and fun, if I was to follow a strict eating regime then it just would be.

Here are the principles I live (or eat!) by:

Eat Real, Whole Foods in their Natural Form

I don’t eat processed foods, or I like the term ‘frankenfoods’, these are foods that have been interfered with by humans in food labs and factories and contain an ingredients list as long as your arm with most being unrecognizable. If we don’t recognize something on a label then we probably shouldn’t be eating it. There is plenty of real food available to us; we really don’t need to look to processed foods. I try to buy organic as much as I can, especially important for animal products such as chicken, yogurt, and eggs because the farming process can invite antibiotics and hormones to be pumped into the animals, and we really don’t need or want to be taking these in and adding them to our toxic load. When I’m vegetable shopping I like to make sure I’m not buying foods sprayed with pesticides and I follow the ‘Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen’ shopping guide (more on that here) which means I don’t have to buy EVERYTHING organic if I cant always manage it. I also like to choose locally grown fruits and vegetables rather than items that have been flown in from the other side of the world. You might be wondering why that’s important? Ideally, crops are harvested at the point in the plant’s development when the level of nutrients is highest, then immediately after harvest the nutritional value begins to fall. So, produce that’s transported to our supermarkets or stalls from far away will spend a longer time losing their nutritional value before it even gets to us, and furthermore it’s usually picked well before it reaches it’s peak of nutrition so that it won’t wilt or spoil before it is sold L

Do it right when you can but relax when you can’t

This is my favourite, no one can be perfect 100% of the time, and if they were then they’re probably not having that much fun. I love it when I’m in control of what I buy and what I eat, I feel good about that both physically and mentally. BUT, there are times when I’m not in control of what I eat for example when visiting family or friends, and this is when I just relax and get on with it, and I DON’T feel bad about it. Obviously if you have an allergy or intolerance to certain foods then you might need to make that known beforehand, but other than that, just relax. I know that 80-90% of the time I’m eating whole, real, nourishing foods that work with my body and make me feel good, so the times when I’m not in control just aren’t a big deal, I take what I’m given and enjoy it! I don’t feel guilty or sweat about it, life would be too dull if I didn’t and couldn’t relax and enjoy everything a little bit. There’s nothing more damaging to health that negative talk, so beating yourself up about ‘failure’ will make matters worse. There’s no such thing as failure, you just learn, take note and move on, don’t look back and don’t dwell! J

Stay hydrated

This one is so important, no matter what else might slip, always keep this one going. About 2 litres of water per day is good for a 60kg person, if you weight more, or your quite active, then more is required. Basically just use the colour of your pee to guide you! You pee should always be a very pale yellow almost clear, if its dark yellow then you’re dehydrated, if its always pale (apart from maybe first thing in the morning), then you’re doing well. Every cell in your body needs hydrating, all day everyday. This can include herbal teas, just not regular tea (or coffee).

Keep it simple

So in a nutshell, stick to real foods like vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, good quality meat and fish, eggs, full fat natural yogurt, healthy oils found in avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds like chia and flax, fatty fish, and coconut oil, water, and whole grains. My food is mostly home-prepared. Avoid sugar it all its forms (most of the time – see above point), I don’t eat gluten because it doesn’t work for me, I don’t take caffeine apart from green tea. I move every day whether it’s a full workout in the gym, a bit of jumping around in my living room using an app on my phone, or just walking.

Francesca x :-)

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