Power balls…

Ok. So we know sugar is the proverbial Devil. Boo to sugar! We wave our banners and we join the marches to ban it from our lives before it kills us. Out! Out! OUT! Fists are shaken at the sugary world  around us and tears are shed about our waist lines. But all the while we have our minds on that secret Curly-Wurly in the glove compartment…right? Oh, just me then…#awks

Anyhoo…moving on.

One thing that is definitely true is that it’s harder to kick any of these worst habits when those around us are indulging happily and have no intention of paying any mind to the warnings from either their own bodies or any health experts. It takes mega will power and single minded focus. Of the many established barriers to healthy eating one is the thorny subject of who buys the food that comes into the household and why. This person is referred to in the health world as ‘The Gatekeeper’. A rather Hollywood title for the person lumbered with the weekly shop. We shall look at this minefield and enormously responsible job, that is fraught with pressure, elsewhere.

From the many people I’ve discussed this with I hear the same complaint and wrangle. Upon returning they are faced with the likes and dislikes of those that don’t do the shopping peering into the fridge and cupboards disappointed at the lack of their favourites. The lack of sugar laden, vitamin stripped empty calories which they see as the ideal foodstuffs. The stoic Gatekeeper then begins the Nutritional Value of Food lecture from the very top for the umpteenth time but gets the same response. Unprintable but easy to guess! I feel their pain and admire their tenacity but I also know, more often than not, it ends in a defeat. The biscuits and the crisps return alongside the mostly ignored healthier offerings…two types of bread now instead of one and so on…

In my house – I’m The Gatekeeper. I rule. BUT I also know that inside me there is a Curly-Wurly chomping, prosecco swilling version of myself with the the most alarmingly cavalier attitude to nutrition. So, I understand that look on His Nibs face that reads a tad disappointed that there isn’t a packet of dark chocolate covered digestives (the ideal breakfast apparently) and no Hoola Hoops (the ideal snack apparently – especially when eaten with a block of cheese! The Hoola Hoop becomes a kind of mini cookie-cutter when pressed into the cheese…oh lord…ok, I admit it’s rather nice actually but cannot be condoned!!)

So, the birth of the Power Nutrition Ball. The PNB.


These little beauties pack a sensationally healthy punch and provide sweetness that (hopefully) can satisfy the cravings. As you will know (and I’ve banged on about endlessly on here) sugar creates addiction and the weaning from it can take some doing. It should be a slow process that essentially begins with the retraining of your tastebuds away from sweet and into a more general, multi dimentional palate.

Just a note here to say that although sugar is usually targeted as a specific single item to avoid in its various forms – the word ‘sugar’ should also be taken to include all refined grains, juices, alcohol, processed foods and even fruit to some extent. Basically anything that ‘acts’ like quick release sugar in the body or has hidden sources of sugar in it. And I’m here to tell you that’s a hell of a lot of stuff. You’ll be amazed actually…

Even these PNB’s have dates in which some would argue are a concentrated hit of ‘sugar’ but more about that anon. I wanted to create something that would pack a good nutritional punch, be slow release and yet actually be nice to eat!

Here are a couple of my favourite mixes so far but honestly there are many more variations of this and you will want to adjust and exchange things as your palate and inspiration dictates.


You will need a food processor. I use a mini bowled one. Either way, but especially with the bigger processors, always check that the mixture is fully integrating as you go along. As with all my so-called recipes I am rubbish at amounts as I made it up as I went along. So the quantities below are a rough guide. There are a couple of things that I will point out. I would add the ingredients in the order below as the oats and seeds need to be pretty finely chopped/powdered.




Then add the other stuff slowly because if you go too far and want a drier mix it’s harder to add oats in later as they don’t chop finely enough and you’ll have to do them separately and blah, blah, wrangle, wrangle…

4 tablespoons organic rolled oats

1 tablespoon of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseed)

1 tablespoon cacoa powder (I use a blend that comes with powdered flaxseed and berries too)

5 organic medjool dates

2 organic prunes

1 organic dried fig

1 – 1.5 tablespoons nut butter (I used cashew here)

Makes about 25-ish

OR try these:


3 tablespoons organic rolled oats

1 tablespoon of mixed seeds (I used pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and flaxseed)

1 tablespoon cacoa powder (I use a blend that comes with powdered flaxseed and berries too)

2 organic medjool dates

11 raspberries – as that’s how many I had left!

1 tablespoon organic nut butter (I used almond here)

Makes about 15-ish – and the dry ingredient amounts here will perhaps need a tad of adjustment due to the fresh fruit element.


As you add the dried fruits the mixture may ‘ball’ together but remain ‘choppy’ – the nut butter will ‘clump’ everything together (these are all technical terms I’ll have you know!) What you are after is a mixture that presses together firmly and stays ‘glued’ – if it’s still crumbly when pressed then add more nut butter.

IMG_0594     IMG_0595

Keep in mind you will be chilling these so they ‘set’ a little. If you are making bars then you might even want the mixture firmer to hold that shape. BUT do keep pressing bits to check the consistency as you don’t want it too claggy as you’ll never roll the buggers and there’ll be temper tantrums. Guaranteed.

A heaped teaspoon full pressed and rolled firmly between the palms creates the finished product. If you’re old enough to remember plasticine or were poor like me (cue violins…) and plasticine was a considered a luxury toy (those violins are deafening…!) then you’ll know the technique for squishing this mixture together without any further ado. Others will take longer to master the wily ways of it. Some posh, flashy folk then roll these in cacao powder or desiccated coconut…the options are many! As with everything it’s all about your own tastes and experimenting to find the exact combination that rocks your tastebuds!

Keep them chilled and they last for a while and, of course, can be carried around for snacking during the day – keeping you away from that beckoning Curly-Wurly!

Good luck!

A smattering of nutrition info regarding some of the above:

OATS: Oats are instantly better than many processed grains as the hulling process doesn’t strip them of their ‘bran’. Also, they contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan which can slow down the absorption of sugars creating a slower release of glucose energy into your system. It is also thought to bind to fats slowing their absorption too and subsequently assisting the reduction of ‘bad’ cholesterol.

Oats contain very good sources of the minerals phosphorous (bone structure, healthy functioning of cells) and magnesium (nerve and muscle function and key to the production of energy) and the trace minerals manganese (needed for bone and skin health and helps regulate blood sugar) and molybdenum (assists in the detoxification of the body). It has a good hit of B-vitamins and that all important fibre – both soluble, mentioned above, and insoluble too which ‘scrapes’ through the intestines keeping everything moving along nicely!

Oats are technically gluten free. However, they contain a protein called avenin which is similar to gluten so those who are coeliac may still be sensitive to them – but the real problem lies in the fact that many are prepared in places where other gluten rich grains like wheat, rye and barley are produced making them susceptible to cross-contamination and unsafe for coeliacs. So, if you are avoiding gluten then search for pure oats that have been produce in a gluten free atmosphere.

DATES: Dates are an ancient bite size powerhouse of vitamins and minerals bound with great fibre. Naturally sweet and easy to digest so you can make full use of their health benefits. All round lush then…!

CACAO: Cacao (cocao) is generally believed to be a good source of antioxidants but the presence of flavonoids gives it its current healthy image. Flavonoids are a class of phytonutrient (the chemicals plants use to fight disease and bacteria) which are responsible for the pigmentation in the plant. They are getting a lot of attention in research these days as consumption of them is thought to give vital support to the main body systems (like the nervous and cardiovascular) and they are powerful antioxidants too, plus have anti-inflammatory skills which also assist the detoxification of the body.

BUT before you rush out to buy ten boxes of Milk Tray – the powdered cacao bean is more nutrient rich than the end processed result that we know as chocolate. The further the original roasted and ground beans go into the processing procedures the less the nutritional value. That’s why a 80% dark chocolate bar is going to be heaps better for you than a Curly-Wurly…but you guessed that, right?!

Added Sugars – the legal class A drugs…

This might seem a bit over the top but the truth seems increasingly hard to avoid. Everyone and everything has the knives out for sugar…and about flipping’ time!! It’s become embedded in our lives as the go-to substance for a treat or reward and, as an answer to stressful times, it’s synonymous with comfort. All experts agree that heaps more sugar is consumed now than ever before.

Yes, we can process sugar, of course, and we do need, and can find good use for, a dash of it when nature includes it in a natural food but, the fact is, we simply consume way too much for our bodies to process. The immediate burst of energy it gives is all very well till the crash that rapidly follows and the constant cravings that this spike and trough roller coaster triggers. Fatigue and headaches, lack lustre mid afternoon lulls and dehydration. Then there’s the weight gain…and many other linked nasties…

We are talking about what are often referred to as ‘added sugars’ not the ones found naturally occurring in raw foods but the ones that are ‘made’, refined and packaged to utilise in foods as taste enhancers etc.

The whole debate about refined sugars vs unrefined and white vs brown etc. is essentially bogus. See this sugar post for further discussion and general sugar chit chat.

I’m sure you all get it by now but in case you’ve been away a lot, skiving from class and/or just attending a very long course in avoidance, then these are the types of things sugar currently stands accused of:

Tooth decay

Accelerating the ageing process

Behavioural problems – especially in children

Anxiety and depression

Increasing the risk of weight gain and obesity

Hampering the immune system

Causing type 2 diabetes

Cardiovascular and heart disease

Macular degeneration

Renal failure and kidney disease

High blood pressure

Reducing the body’s natural ability to fight bacteria

Interfering with mineral absorption

Causing gastric issues such as ulcers

Arthritis and all inflammation within the body

Causing liver fat and damage

Linked to various cancers

Linked to just about every brain disease

Being more addictive than cocaine or alcohol

…and the list goes on and on…

…enough to make you stop and think, at least, before ignoring the levels of sugar you perhaps consume in a day…?

The GDA (Guideline Daily Allowance) for sugar is a mind boggling 90g per day. This is from both naturally occurring (fruit sugars, lactose in milk etc.) and added sugars but allows for a staggering 50g of added sugar which is around 12/13 teaspoons!! That’s a couple of cans of soda or half a packet of biscuits! Hmmm, wait a minute, that sounds like a whole heap but when you actually start looking at the foods we eat in a day and see that added sugar lurks in just about every food that is processed, even in a presumed basic way like breads, yoghurts and cereals…it’s easy to eat way above this guideline…

In fact, savoury packaged foods very often have sugar added, as does all low fat or ‘fat-free’ food (fat removal leaves food bland and vague and sugar is a main stay of the flavour and texture replacements), touted healthy foods like cereal bars and fruit juice are loaded with many forms of sugar, AND bear in mind many modern varieties of fruit (especially apples) have been bred to increase their ‘sweetness’ so even ‘natural’ products are now poisonous – it’s like all Grimm’s fairy tales rolled into one..!

I sense from the questions I’m being asked that people are frankly, and quite rightly, confused and getting a tad irritated over the whole SUGARGATE wrangle!! We will explore breaking the addiction to sugar and ridding ourselves of our acquired sweet tooth in a different post but for now let’s identify the enemy shall we?

For starters let’s begin a ‘hidden sugar’ list for all those who are trying to avoid it completely. Just to reiterate, what we are talking about here isn’t the carbs that the body breaks down into sugars (that’s a whole different post…) but the actual added ones that are liberally used in food throughout the prepared food market place. Some of you will want (and need) to avoid all sugars as much as humanly possible to retrain your taste buds and send a strong message to your body to start using the fuel it has stored (essentially fat) and return itself to the normal and natural process of fuelling the body through the use of a varied and balanced range of whole grains (complex carbohydrates), fats and proteins…which we will self-lovingly feed it…won’t we?

As always and ever read ingredients lists and don’t be tricked by the often subliminal messages the packaging sends you. A green label doesn’t mean healthy…it’s just a green label…

Always look at the per 100g values NOT the portion values and as a rule of thumb less than 5g is low sugar content, and more than 15g is high. Well, that’s the official guidelines rule of thumb malarkey but you’ll need to go lower than these figures to break your addiction. I mean, IF you’re addicted, of course…

Look out for these:

Agave syrup/agave nectar

Barley malt/barley malt syrup

Beet sugar

Brown rice syrup

Brown sugar

Cane sugar/cane crystals/evaporated cane juice/dehydrated cane juice/cane juice crystals


Carob syrup

Caster sugar

Coconut sugar/coconut palm sugar

Confectioner’s sugar

Corn syrup

Date sugar

Demerara sugar


Dextrose (D-glucose)

Deionised fruit juices

Fruit juice/fruit juice concentrate

Fructose/crystalline fructose

Fructose/glucose syrups

Glucose (dextrose)/glucose syrup

Golden syrup

Grape sugar

High-fructose corn syrup/corn sweetener

High Maltose syrups


Icing sugar

Invert sugar


Grape sugar

Golden syrup


Maise syrups

Malt extract/malt syrup



Maple syrup


Muscovado sugar

Nectars/fruit nectars (peach, pear etc)

Palm sugar

Raw sugar

Rice sugar/ rice syrup

Saccharose aka sucrose


Sorghum/sorghum syrup

Sucrose aka saccharose

Sugar/white sugar/table sugar/granulated sugar

Syrup/corn syrup


Turbinado sugar



Any others you see or know about let me know…!

And let’s throw in the other sweeteners while we are at it shall we…? There is growing evidence that ‘artificial sweeteners’ are actually increasing the likelihood of the metabolic syndrome more usually associated with added sugars. They also stand compellingly accused of failing to satisfy any sugar cravings and indeed triggering further cravings leading to increased intake. More on this anon, of course…

Acesulfame K








Sweeteners were developed to replace sugar after sugar was discovered to be the cause of tooth decay and linked to obesity related diseases. The idea behind them is essentially to provide the sweetness but not the same energy intake and still give the sweet aspect to taste that many people are used to, and perhaps even addicted to. Sweeteners cannot completely replace sugar as the sugar element in some processed foods, like cakes, also performs other functions such as retaining humidity (humectant) and provides bulk and structure to the finished product.

Typical products that use sweeteners heavily are:

  • Sodas, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks etc.
  • Sweets/candy – chewing gum and mints are reliant on sweeteners
  • Desserts, ice creams etc.
  • Many baked goods and processed foods both sweet and savoury, including dressings, sauces and bread
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Many medicines

Commonly used sweeteners are:

(they are gauged for their sweeteness against sucrose – the chief compound in cane and beet sugars aka table sugar…yeah the white stuff that you all know I hate…!)


  • Aspartame (E951) – sweetness value 200 times higher than sucrose.
  • Aspartame-K (E950) – a synthetic compound that mixes well with other sweeteners to create either more complex taste or greater levels of sweetness. It has a sweetness value 300 times higher than sucrose.
  • Saccharin (E954) – a synthetic compound that is rarely used alone now and 300 times sweeter than sucrose.
  • Sucralose (E955) – the ‘strongest’ of sweeteners with sweetness value of 600 times that of sucrose.


  • Sorbitol (E420) – carbohydrate like structure but only just over half as sweet as sucrose. A preferred sweetener for diabetic purposes.
  • Xylitol (E967) – created to match the sugar sweetness of sucrose so it is much sweeter than sorbitol. Used in similar quantities therefore to sugar and sold in shops in bags to use as such. It is a naturally occurring substance in many plants and suitable for diabetics and even heralded as an active anti-cavity aid as it prohibits the growth of bacteria (it’s chemical composition means bacteria and yeasts cannot make use of it to ‘feed’ themselves).

‘Artificial’ or ‘intense’ sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame-K are many, many times sweeter than sugar and are only needed subsequently in very small amounts. Increasingly these are used in combinations to create ‘superior taste profiles’ which mirror the complexities of the natural taste of sugar and require fewer sweeteners over all. The defense of their use therefore notes that this not only creates tooth-friendly foods but also reduces calories significantly due to the minute amounts used. (Those against them argue this ‘taste profiling’ also makes them more addictive.)

‘Bulk’ sweeteners like sorbitol (used as a combination humectant, sweetener and emulsifier), xylitol and maltitol (E965 – used as a combination sweetener, humectant and stabilizer) can have from 35% – 100% similar sweetness to sugar and so they are used in similar amounts to sugar. They are also tooth-friendly and are considered suitable (or at least more suitable) for diabetics as they have a significantly reduced glycemic index, although they have laxative properties if consumed in large amounts resulting in mandatory warnings on product packaging.

Sweeteners also became popular as part of weight loss programs. Sugar began to be replaced with non-calorific or reduced calorie sweeteners in many popular items (this was also a boon for diabetics (especially sorbitol) as mentioned above). Don’t be fooled by this though! I’ll be posting more thoroughly about this soon but research the arguments against sugar and the role sweeteners play in weight gain…it’s very interesting and it will surprise you! Here’s a taster…

The opposition to sweeteners is strong with pressure groups claiming no good and proper evidence exists to prove that sweeteners do anything whatsoever to help weight loss, specifically. In fact, they say the evidence is strongly available to show the opposite. In essence, the theory is that sweeteners cannot trigger the ‘reward centre’ in the brain in the same way as sugar and then the brain triggers further appetite stimulation to intake the calories (especially carbohydrates) that the sweeteners have created a desire for (in the mouth). Similarly some anti-sweetener groups say that the brain triggers insulin release just based on the expectation that the sweetener creates in the mouth, regardless of the reward centre, potentially causing insulin spikes etc. and all this means more sugars in the body that are not used and subsequently turned to stored fat. Beware…!

Some sweeteners have been linked to cancers in lab animal testing research further raising concerns over their safety especially cumulatively when eaten many times in many products throughout a day. Other noted issues are sleep and anxiety disorders, triggering epilepsy and interference with the progress and efficaciousness of medications – especially anti-depressants (sweeteners are often in medicines too). I’d say the evidence stacked against sweeteners (especially aspartame, aceslulfame-k, saccharin and sucralose) and their effects on fundamental body systems and functions are enough to avoid then until a convincing and conclusive study proves otherwise!

My previous missives (rants) about sugar are here and here!


Preservatives – E numbers 200-299

Various ways to make food last longer have been employed throughout history. Unless another method of preserving the food has been used, like freezing or canning, then any food that has a clearly prolonged shelf life is likely to include preservatives. More traditional preservatives such as sugar, salt and vinegar are still used to preserve some foods but just as  likely is some kind of added (probably synthetic) preservative. Most are added to prevent the growth of molds and yeasts but they have some anti-bacterial properties too.

Microbes are everywhere. They are in the air, in the earth, inside our bodies and in the food we eat. Microbes will multiply in the right atmosphere by their millions, and in a really short time, so the certain ones that break down foods are the ones the preservatives are attempting to stop or at least slowing them down. Different microbes react to different preservatives so there are many used in many everyday products and foods. Without them the food would not only deteriorate quickly it would also subsequently allow bacteria that cause deadly illnesses like botulism and salmonella poisoning to spread (especially in animal products).

A common example is that dried fruit (drying is a form of preserving in itself) is often treated with sulphur dioxide (E220) to stop further deterioration. One very important use of preservatives from a food safety angle is its use in processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami and sausages. They are usually treated with nitrite and nitrate during the curing process as bacteria in the meats can cause fatal food poisoning. It is often argued as an example of the benefit of preservatives, in fact, that the tiny ‘safe’ amount of the preservative used far outweighs the potential damage from the deadly bacteria’s they negate.

Many advantages are gained from adding preservatives and generally preserving food. It not only keeps food safer for longer from deterioration or poisonous bacteria, but this allows for increased availability of out of season produce or items that are not native to be transported. Convenience for the consumer is another added value (although can mean the price of the goods is higher) and not only does this mean less wastage but also prevents the need for regular shopping, which is an advantage to many.

Most popular/frequently used in processed foods:

Benzoate preservatives:

  • benzoic acid (E210)
  • sodium benzoate (E211)
  • potassium benzoate (E212)
  • calcium benzoate (E213)

Sulfite preservatives (E220 – E224)

Nisin (E234)

Propionic acid (E280)

Nitrite preservatives:

  • sodium nitrite (E250)
  • potassium nitrite (E249)

Sorbic acid (E200)

Potassium sorbate (E202) – a synthetic preservative used for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.

There has been a lot of contention over the use of preservatives in food and there are a number of them in frequent use that have been targeted as not particularly good for us. They are regulated and maximum levels are set to well below amounts that could be deemed at all dangerous. Concern is largely over the accumulation of these ‘tiny, harmless amounts’ over time could increase the risk of cancer. Also, sugar and salt, whether added for flavour or to assist the preservative nature of processed foods, are also under fire. Their over bearing presence in processed food is a mainstay of the argument against it. I’ve discussed the horrors of sugar at length previously, here. And discussed salt here.

Common preservatives that are listed as those to avoid are nitrates (Potassium nitrite and sodium nitrite (E249 and E250) – preserve colour and help fight bacteria – stabilising and flavouring too AND nitrItes are considered worse than nitrAtes), sulphites (prevents discolouration), sodium benzoate (preserves against fermentation or acidification), BHA/BHT (preserves fats and oils – as an antioxidant) however without these there is no longevity to foods and there might be many more cases of food poisoning.

Some health experts associate nitrates and nitrites with asthma, headaches and nausea in some individuals. Sodium nitrite is said to converted to nitrous acid within the human digestive system, and this substance has been associated with high rates of cancer in laboratory animals. Reports show allergies to benzoic acid and sodium benzoate can cause severe reactions.

These preservatives are also argued to be safe (not only by the regulators and manufacturers but by some health officials too) and in some cases the preservative is actually promoted as beneficial. These are commonly used and include ascorbic acid (vitamin C)**, critic acid (and to enhance sour flavours) and sorbates (fight bacteria and yeast).

**However, this is contentious (isn’t everything?!) as many noted experts have pointed out that added elements such as ascorbic acid, retinoic acid and types of tocopherol (…er…sorry getting carried away (showing off more like?!?) I mean, added elements labelled as vitamin C, vitamin A or vitamin E) are not the actual vitamin at all but just a lab created isolation of them (synthetic versions needed to replace the naturally occurring versions lost during processing – especially vitamin C which is destroyed by heat). The essential theory being that vitamins are complex compounds that need to work within a set of multi level parameters and so creating an individual molecular compound from them might well work as a preservative, antioxidants etc. but does not therefore consequently also work within the body as a fully fledged vitamin. I.e. you’re getting the vitamin just not any benefit. The American company ‘Real C’ use the analogy: ‘If you compare Vitamin C to an egg, ascorbic acid would be just the egg shell with nothing inside’.


So, while it is more than likely ‘urban legend’ that bodies are not decomposing in the ground due to the large amount of preservatives eaten in a lifetime (although some sources are adamant it is true and it’s possible that they are adversely affecting the bacteria that usually break down the body after death) it is safe to say that they’re not exactly good for you. The body is still required to break down the chemical and foreign compounds and it would really rather not have to do it too often…and research shows the digestive system struggles to extract any nutritional value from highly preserved foods.


I’m just a adding a footnote to the previous sugar post as a quick response to many interesting comments about the difficulties of giving up sugar completely and what to use instead. Natural sweeteners being the option.

In an ideal world we would all be ‘added sugar’ free and ‘naturally occurring sugar’ all the way. I love many sweet things but have trained myself to think of them as treats rather than the norm. I come from a generation brought up on dinner and a pudding. There was always a pudding…something sweet after the savoury. These days, as many of you will know, I fall on a dark sumptuous chocolate (from Paul A Young invariably) and revel in that. My days of jam roly-poly and treacle sponge are over. Not because I’m so saintly and marvellous, far from it,  simply because I don’t live the sort of life that would burn that kind of energy anymore (poor old thing)!…and, frankly, these were always made by The Aunt or The Mother neither of whom are within striking distance for them to indulge me!

I’m so anti diets as a form of healthy living that I could commit a crime. It’s a life style change. And, as it’s going to be the way you are going to live for the rest of your healthy life, build it slowly but surely and, armed with information and knowledge, create a sustainable and individually tailored healthy way of eating, drinking, exercising and living!

I agree with comments saying that our first step has to be the label reading element. Sugar is added to so many products we buy in the stores that it is mind-boggling. So let’s try to not buy the tins and packaged food that has all the sugar (and salt) added. Easier said that done, I realise, as it is so prevalent (and often the alternatives are much, much more expensive) but we have to try, right?

As we are addicted to sugar, by all research and accounts, I’d say going cold turkey and not eating a single molecule of the stuff is going to be pretty hard for most of us. This brings us back to natural sweeteners. Many ‘natural’ sweeteners actually have been produced with an element of processing or unnatural additions, so look for this on the label. Some products are also combined with sugar alcohols (pitched to you as ‘naturally occurring’) like the popular bulking agent erythritol (in loads of products like chewing gum and is often combined with stevia) or new lab created varieties of scary sugariness like the dodgy sounding crystalline fructose (completely unnatural and popular in beverages). Obviously, the more actually natural the better! Otherwise it’s a waste of effort…

There are a gazillion sites on the internet either extolling or vilifying the virtues of each and every one of these sweeteners. Some fare better than others. As ever and always, when we are talking about such a vital and fundamental element of your health, research and arm yourself with as many non-partisan facts as possible! Some initial factors of all the information I’ve looked at so far is that you will have to look out for certain things when making your choices:

Nutritional element. This is key as we are trying to limit the damage and ease ourselves away from sweet tasting foods. Dark natural sweeteners like black strap molasses have lots of minerals (including selenium) but might cause a spike in blood sugar levels whereas agave will not but has heaps more calories. Some of these products have other value like anti-inflammatory or  anti-fatigue properties and so on…ALSO just because a product occurs naturally in plants doesn’t mean you should just accept it as healthy. Erythritol, for instance, occurs naturally in some fruits but it isn’t as sweet as sugar and so is often used in conjunction with another sweeter substance like stevia. It also is championed for its lack of calories, kindness to teeth and because it doesn’t affect blood sugar…well, that’s nice but these are empty calories that also cause bloating, upset stomachs and diarrhea (hence the ‘laxative’ warning on sugar free sweets).

Taste. All these products have different baseline tastes (and behave differently when baked) so consider carefully what you want the sweetener for. Darker syrups (brown rice, barley), jaggery and molasses tend to work well with strong flavours like coffee or curries, for example, but might give your baked products a strange (not unpleasant) aftertaste. Stevia and agave will be better for these, but really it comes down to personal taste, as ever…

Sustainability. Whilst we are being so good we might as well throw another boulder on our globally responsible shoulders. Many of these sweeteners – to be truly natural – are not very commercially viable so beware that corners might get cut. Agave is a good example. Yes, it’s vegan and ancient but the plant takes 7 – 10 years to mature and then is fully harvested. Maple syrup is hugely time consuming to produce etc…

What I’m saying is that you need to be aware of all the factors of each of the sweet product you choose so you can adjust accordingly. Balance, moderation and ultimately diminishing the use to the least possible amount…we are not machines after all…

More anon on this subject no doubt…!



The foodstuff they all love to hate at the moment is sugar, so to properly quote (and yet bastardise) that most often misquoted saying…the love of sugar is the root of all evil…or is it…?

In truth we need some sugar, it’s one of our bodies preferred fuels. The naturally occurring sugars in plants and fruits, that is, (such as sucrose) all become glucose the body’s favourite fuel. NOT the refined, derived commodity that has taken over our dietary world – which is what this post is about. Over thousands of years our bodies have developed an ability to process sugar one way or another, not at the amounts we are consuming it, but fundamentally. And, like many things these days, there is a dividing attitude to sugar…there’s good sugar and bad sugar you might hear said, or may even believe it yourself….but it’s not actually true. Sorry. So-called ‘natural’ sweeteners can be almost as bad, high in fructose and with an equal quantity of calories, and yet, artificial ones like stevia and sucralose are being touted as safe and almost marvellous…it’s a candy-coated minefield…and potentially a deadly poison.

So, let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this (before it gets to ours) or at least stir up a few of yer-actual-facts and, as per, arm ourselves with information. Let’s be thorough about this and start with the question, ‘What is sugar?’

Sugar is the term used for a group of sweet substances that are used in, and as, food. They are a carbohydrate and classed as ’empty calories’ (having the same energy content as other calories but have none of the redeeming additions like fibre or any vitamins or minerals). So already you see OBVIOUSLY not all calories are the same, right…?

There are various types that come from different sources but the main source for many decades has been sugar cane (and sugar beets) which itself has been the subject of much wrangle and fighting. Sugar is an ancient commodity and was being processed from sugar cane in India half a century before Christ was born but it wasn’t until the boom in production during the eighteenth century that it went so global and The West clamoured for this sweet fix and simply couldn’t get enough. It’s arguable it’s been like that ever since but has also brought the dark clouds of illness with it by association – diabetes, tooth decay, obesity and various other horrors have been, and are being linked to the consumption of sugar.

Essentially sugar starts out as, say, sugar cane and the juice (sucrose) is extracted by pulping the canes and then clarified. This juice has water extracted and the resulting syrup is heated until crystals form. The last remaining moisture is separated from these crystals with centrifugal force and the resulting brown solids are called ‘raw’ sugar. To create white sugar this raw product is treated with chemicals (sulphur dioxide) and filtered and dried to prevent it clumping.

Brown sugars are this same white sugar with a varying amount of the dark surface molasses left in tact or simply added back – be aware that often brown sugar is simply white sugar with a tinge of the molasses, that was extracted in the refining process, reintroduced to colour it…yes, I’m afraid so…BUT HOLD ON…what am I saying?!? It’s all the same thing anyway and even though the sugar companies will argue it’s a ‘natural product’ and doesn’t contain any artificial preservatives, colourings or any other additives…it also doesn’t contain anything useful. Arguing less refined sugar is better for you is ridiculous not least because the sugar canes and sugar beets contained practically zero nutrients in the first place.

Common white sugars like granulated, castor and icing are the same thing but in different granule size. Icing sugar is powdered and has cornstarch added to keep it from clumping. There’s even a possibility that our sugar isn’t actually vegetarian and certainly not vegan…if the filtration process used a form of ‘natural carbon’ otherwise known as bone char! White sugars and brown sugars have the same nutritional value regardless of the molasses content…so that’s the end of ‘have brown sugar it’s healthier’ as an idea! It’s all the same. But is it really bad for us?

Sugar performs a huge variety of functions in food products, in addition to providing a sweet taste and flavour. Sugar is used as a preservative, to inhibit the growth of microorganisms, to hold moisture and prevent staleness, to enhance texture and colours, and to support fermentation in products containing yeast, such as bread. It is also used to counteract the loss of flavour when fat is taken out of foodstuffs. In these roles and others, sugar is an important and versatile fixture for these industries…but not for us.

Yes, we need sugar but in such minute doses compared to the amount we actually consume.Eating things that are termed ‘natural whole foods’ as much as possible is the key. This is basically meat, vegetables and fruit that haven’t been treated or processed in any way. Thousands of everyday items you buy in packets, tins and the like will have sugar in them somewhere. Some obvious some not so. Here’s a list of the most infamous:

…beet, brown, cane, confectionary, corn, granulated, inverted, maple, raw and turbinado sugars…

…agave, corn, high fructose corn, malt and rice syrups…

…corn sweetener, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, fruit juice concentrate, honey, isomalt, maltodextrin, molasses, sorghum and treacle!

Then there’s mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol (all sugar alcohols)…

…and don’t forget dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, levulose, maltose, saccharose, sucrose, xylose.

(We need a tune to sing this to and learn so we never forget them…)

These and refined grain products, like the much vilified High Fructose Corn Syrup, have crept into everything these days from obvious places like cans of pop to more hidden culprits like bread, yoghurt and cereal. A majority of processed foods and packaged, tinned and pre-prepared items have sugar in (especially those labelled low and non-fat). Read the labels in your cupboards now and you will be staggered how many everyday things have sugar of one form or another added to them (and salt but we will cover that later). This is SO IMPORTANT because the ‘hidden’ sugar slipped in under a name we don’t recognise, and therefore rarely stop to explore, is just as dangerous (if not more so if it’s a lab created Franken-sugar!) Please be vigilant…!

If you believe that honey or agave is better for you than sugar than please look away now. It is not. Ok, in a trump card style battle RAW honey would only beat sugar due to the most tenuous things. Yes it does have a less-empty-calorie card to play but it is so minimal as to be almost embarrassing. Okay it tastes nicer and it has antibacterial qualities which make it good for soothing your throat but it is still a high calorie item and around 50% fructose. Use it in face packs and sparingly in your food. Agave is another much touted ‘healthier’ option, but no, no, no! It has a high fructose content (sometimes as much as 80%) which means it’s sweeter and you might use less, but please it’s really no improvement. AND fructose is THE sugar to avoid of all the sugars. Agave is usually processed to oblivion and doesn’t remotely resemble the original natural plant product. If you must, then sweeten your life with whole fruit which also gives you nutrients, hydration and fibre.

So switch to sweeteners I hear you cry. Oh dear. Please no. True, you’ll not have a single calorie to worry about but you are instead putting an unknown chemical in your body, which has no long term testing to support it, and therefore has no vindicating evidence that it does in fact have any effect on weight loss. In fact, recent research has shown that the excessive sweetness of these substances can trick your body by priming it to prepare for a huge calorific meal and react badly when it doesn’t get it!

Stevia should be mentioned here as it is the newest hottest contender in the sweetener market place and, since being given a good food safety rating, it is being flung in everything. It is incredibly sweet and leaves you with that strong after taste of ‘sweeteners’ which some people apparently enjoy…! It comes from a subtropical shrub and has been used for eons by indigenous South Americans but using this as a factoid to promote it, or define it’s sugar replacing miraculous qualities, is missing the point entirely! The point being that those same indigenous types weren’t also eating all the other sugar riddled crap and anyway, more vitally, whatever sweetener you are using you are still craving and perpetuating the ‘sweet cravings’, meaning it is effecting your every choice in your food and drink intake, increasing it and actually damaging your body.

So, let’s face some facts together, and be brave, shall we? Sugar is not good in whatever form really (as it is processed the same within the body), sugar of one sort or another is simply in everything (often hidden) and we are consuming a mind boggling amount of it and this overloading is causing our bodies to crash and burn. Some reports even go as far as to say that sugar is more addictive than cocaine.

This perspective comes from the invasive way sugars and refined carbs give us that quickening of the system and elevation of mood that we all know so well…just as we all know that feeling of slumping and sluggishness that follows. Reports conclude that the prolong exposure to this kind of abuse to our bodies is causing anxiety and depression along with the more publicised disease and obesity issues.

Sugar in any form is unnecessary and bad for your body. Full stop. There’s no point trying to arrange them into some kind of sliding scale of allowability or health. So-called natural or not, too much of anything sweet with sugars or refined carbohydrates is going to bad for you.

The glucose the body needs can be found (i.e. extracted) in abundance in whole grains, legumes, vegetables and, specially when the sweet tooth kicks in, fruit. Otherwise, the only thing better for you than sugar is simply to have nothing…

…hmmm, so I guess it’s time for a little sugar detox, weaning myself off sweet things and embracing natural flavours. Wish me luck…!

P.S I was sent this interesting article (thanks Grace):