If there is one dietary misconception that has been aggressively marketed in recent years, is the idea that ‘low sugar’ or ‘sugar free’ diets can still include rice malt syrup, dextrose and dried fruit. Time after time, recipes labeled as low sugar, or dietary regimes that claim to eliminate sugar feature recipes jam packed with dried fruit, rice malt syrup, maple syrup or dextrose, which are all refined sugars with a calorie load. Over consumption of these, like over consumption of table sugar will cause weight gain, hormonal disturbances over time and sugar cravings. It is completely misleading to claim that recipes, regimes or foods are low in sugar, when in most cases they are simply low in fructose, the individual sugar demonised for a number of health issues, few if any of which are proven.
Sugar, the white stuff we add to our tea and coffee is a chemical molecule in which two individual sugars glucose and fructose have linked to form sucrose. We consume numerous simple sugars in natural unprocessed foods including fruit, dairy foods and even vegetables on a daily basis and have done so for hundreds of years. In simple terms, this would suggest that a little sugar, from natural sources poses no issue in the diet long term.
Unfortunately as food processing techniques have advanced, more and more of our favourite breakfast cereals, snacks, sauces and yoghurts have sugar added, and our palates have developed quite a taste for the white stuff. In fact, it is not unusual to assess a diet that contains nothing but refined white carbs for most of the day. A refined breakfast cereal to kick start the day, followed by sweetened tea and coffee, a couple of biscuits and large slices of white bread with spread consumed throughout the day is a common dietary pattern. While this diet appears healthy, a closer look reveals that every single source of carbohydrate is refined and contains added sugars, which leave blood sugar levels unstable and you prone to overeating later in the day.
There is no doubt that the average person who spends much of their lives sitting will benefit from a diet with minimal added sugars. No one is debating that. The issue is that individuals have been led to believe that they are not consuming sugar, rather low sugar alternatives. Unfortunately the truth is that these alternatives are simply other forms of sugar that will ultimately have the same impact on calorie control, hormonal balance and weight control as any other sugar if over consumed.
Brown rice malt syrup for example has one of the highest glycaemic loads of all the sugars which mean it causes rapid rises in blood glucose levels. It also offers 5.5g of sugars per 10g serving, which is hardly sugar free. Dextrose is another molecule that is often referred to as a ‘better’ sugar. Dextrose is another simple sugar but one derived via starches and often used by the food industry. Dextrose is pure sugar and has a high GI - there is nothing low sugar about. Then we have fruit. Fresh fruit is a nutrient rich food and no one ever gained weight after consuming fructose in a couple of pieces of fruit each day. Dried fruit is different. Concentrated in sugars, dried fruit can contain as much as 3x the amount of total sugar as fresh fruit, and it is exceptionally easy to overeat. With many low sugar sweet and baking recipes using dates, and with just a single date containing 6g of sugars, chances are a recipe that includes plenty of dates is not low sugar either.
So before you jump on the low sugar band wagon, it may pay to take a closer look at the ingredient list of the products or recipes you are buying or making – rice malt syrup, dextrose, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or agave sugar, it's all sugar - and the less of all these added sugars you consume, the better.