Although natural cane sugar is fine (and enjoyed by many wild animals), refined white sugar is just poison to your body. It’s okay as an occasional treat, but try to find something different for everyday. You could gradually reduce sugar in tea or coffee, or just use a natural unrefined sugar like Billington’s (UK) or Wholesome Sweet (US). For baking, there are lots of other alternatives. Instead, try this Thick Blueberry Tart (Full of Plants) to satisfy a sweet tooth.
If you live with pets, never use foods with xylitol. This ‘natural sweetener’ (it’s made in a lab) will ‘tear your stomach to pieces’ according to some. It’s lethal to pets, even if eat a few dropped crumbs from a muffin. It’s also round in most sugar-free gum and some natural toothpastes.
So what’s wrong with white sugar? Natural sugar features mineral-rich molasses (often used in gingerbread) and for white sugar, it’s taken out and can spike your blood sugar, rot your teeth and give you a sugar-crash, followed by mood swings. Excess sugar also turns to fat, making it difficult to lose weight. Some white sugars are fined with bone char, though that happens less in England, although be careful as most icing sugar contains battery egg.
The problem with sugar is that most of it is hidden. Anything ‘low-fat’ in shops often contains lots of sugar like fruit juice, fruit yoghurt or fruit smoothies. It’s also under different names (including honey) including sucrose, fructose, lactose (milk sugar), dextrose and maltose. If it ends in ‘ose’, don’t eat it! Other hidden sugars are in breakfast cereals and sugary squash and soda.
So how much sugar should we eat? If you eat fruit, you don’t really need any more. This 70-year old woman (who looks like a 40-year old model) swears that no eating sugar is key, but maybe she just has good genes! NHS has a list of what sugar we should have, but people don’t weigh up grams when they are eating their dinner. They also recommend switching to sweeteners, a bit concerning in that some are linked to cancer (from the NHS?)
The Aussie actor who did a ‘Supersize Me’ documentary That Sugar Film (but instead ate the daily average amount of sugar, and accidentally sent himself pre-diabetic) says that sugar is everywhere.
There are many natural ways to sweeten drinks and baking like rice malt syrup, mashed dates or barley syrup. Stevia is the main natural sweetener available, which is much sweeter than sugar, so you need less. Fooditive is a new plant-based sweetener from The Netherlands, that uses up food waste.
Rice malt syrup is a popular alternative to refined sugar, to sweeten vegan recipes. It has a rich mellow taste and a milder sweetness than sugar, honey or maple syrup. For this reason, it does not overpower the taste of foods. It tastes a bit like caramel/butterscotch, although for baking, you need to add it to the liquid (not solid) ingredients. And you may need to adjust the quantities of solid ingredients, to avoid the batter becoming too wet.
Tips to Naturally Reduce Sugar
- Drink water, plant milk and heavily diluted natural squash over soda.
- Go for porridge or healthy breakfasts, over sugary breakfast cereals.
- Choose plain yoghurts (ideally plant-based) and add your own fruit.
- If you like soda, add sparkling water to fruit juice.
- If you are a builder who puts 4 sugars in your tea, apparently if you just gradually reduce, your tastebuds will adjust in a few weeks, and you won’t need any at all.
- If you have a sweet tooth, eat naturally sweet vegetables like beetroot, sweetcorn and carrots. All good too to make cakes. Ripe bananas are also very sweet.
- Choose natural fruit jams and marmalades.
A good rule to find low-sugar foods in the shops is to follow the ‘5 and 5 rule’. Per 100g, foods should be more than 5g of fibre and less than 5g of sugar (in the carbs section). You’ll find for breakfast cereals two of the few that are any good are porridge oats or Weetabix (the health store sells a better brand). Frosties and the like are way over the sugar mark, and have hardly any fibre. It’s a good way to avoid the ‘greenwash’ and is quick and simple to do, once you know how.
Organic rice malt syrup is a good staple to keep in the cupboard (most brands are sold in glass jars). A nice alternative to refined white sugar, it can be used to sweeten hot drinks and baked foods, and also is used to top cakes, desserts and pancakes. It has a rich mellow taste (similar to caramel butterscotch) and is around half as sweet as sugar, and milder in taste than honey or maple syrup, so does not overpower the taste of other foods. If used in baking, you need to add it to the liquid ingredients (not solid ingredients like flour) and may need to adjust the solid ingredient quantities, to avoid creating a batter that is too wet.
It’s made by sprouting organic grains to release digestive enzymes to breakdown nutrients into natural sugars. The resulting dark sticky syrup that has a full flavour and good digestibility. This brand (Clearspring) is made by an authentic Japanese macrobiotic company, and sold in zero waste glass packaging, with a metal lid.
Sweet Freedom’s Natural Syrups
These are are ideal to replace a lot of the unhealthy ingredients in the kitchen cupboard. The company is known for its liquid chocolates (sweetened with fruits) that you just squeeze into hot milk to make an instant hot chocolate, or blend with cold milk to make a milkshake. But it also offers natural alternatives to refined sugar, which you can use for tea or coffee, or drizzle over porridge, pancakes or waffles. You can use them for baking, use 25% less – so 75g of syrup for 100g of sugar.
These are packed in plastic bottles and so please recycle the bottles (and tops are okay to recycle too) in household recycling. Although the products are free of the 14 major allergens, they recommend avoidance for severe food allergies (the items are kept separated during production but are made in a factory where other items are made).
Although these items have less effect on blood sugar, they suggest talking to your doctor if diabetic, and consume sparingly, if used.
All the products are free from palm oil and vegan-friendly. Many people use these syrups as they prefer the taste to stevia, and their fruit sugar is not the same as conventional brands which are just processed sugar beet (fructose). Once opened, store in the fridge ideally, or in a cool cupboard.
- Natural Fruit Syrup (also in Light Syrup)
- Vanilla Syrup
- Cinnamon Syrup
- Gingerbread Syrup
- Golden Syrup
- Caramel Syrup
Make Your Own Powdered Icing Sugar
This recipe to make your own powdered sugar (Simple Vegan Blog) is a good one to keep in stock, as many plant-based recipes use frosting or powdered (icing) sugar. Although most regular sugar is vegan (a few still filter through bone char), most powdered sugars are not vegan, as they contain egg (especially royal icing for cakes).
This recipe is a simple blend of ground granulated sugar and a little cornstarch for good consistency. It does not affect the flavour and you can keep this sugar to hand, whenever you need to ice a cake. Keep it stored in an airtight container in a cool dry place, and use up fairly quickly. If you want to buy ready-made, Suma Icing Sugar is organic and vegan. In the US, Wholesome! is a good brand.