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Let’s talk sugar!

As we get closer to the holiday baking season, it might be a good time to talk about sugar. Most of us know that we should limit our sugar intake, but exactly what does that mean and more importantly, how does it impact our baking?

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) released guidance recommending that for both adults and children, consumption of free sugars should not exceed 10% of total daily intake, and if possible should be kept to below 5% of total daily food intake.  The WHO points out that sugar doesn’t provide any nutrients, just calories.  Reduction of total free sugar intake will help with our society’s increasing incidence of obesity, and therefore decrease risk of other diseases and conditions such as heart disease and dental cavities.  The entire WHO document can be found here.

So….what is a free sugar?  The WHO defines a free sugar as “monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates” (www.who.int).  The WHO takes the stand that limiting intake of sugary beverages such as soda is a good place to start our attempts to reduce free sugar intake, but for those of us who do not consume soda, there are certainly other sources that we can address.  Sugars added as part of the food preparation or manufacturing process or by us as bakers count as free sugars.  Therefore, the sugars in the recipes on this baking blog also count as free sugars.  The joy of baking for ourselves is that we can control the sugar we add.  In many of the recipes that I prepare for my family I reduce the sugar, and I invite you to further reduce the amount of sugar in them to continue your efforts to meet the WHO guidelines.  If you set it as a personal goal to keep simple sugar intake to 10% of total caloric intake, then there is still room for the occasional cookie.  As always, moderation is the key.

Is there such a thing as a more healthy sugar?  Is honey or brown sugar better than white?  Sugar is sugar – none of the sugars (brown, white, icing, honey, rice sugar, maple sugar, fructose, sucrose) provide anything to your diet in significant amounts other than calories and all fall into the category of free sugars that the WHO is urging us to reduce.

What about the sugars in whole fruits and vegetables?  Sugars do naturally occur in whole fruits and vegetables, but these sugars are beautifully wrapped in a package that also includes fibre, vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients.  The sugars found in whole fruit and vegetables (not juices) do not count as free sugars, and recent studies show that Canadians do not eat sufficient amounts of especially vegetables, and in many cases fruit.  Consuming a wide variety of whole fruit and vegetables forms part of a healthy diet.  Try to chose different whole fruits and vegetables in your family’s diet so that you have a varied intake of minerals and vitamins.  A word of caution – use whole fruits not fruit juices to ensure that you also get the added fibre.  Fruit juices and juice concentrates are in the list of items under the “free sugar” category on the WHO website.  For suggested serving amounts of whole fruits and vegetables, see Canada’s Food Guide on the Health Canada website.

I am a huge fan of cooking and baking at home because it puts us in control of what we eat.  We can adjust recipes in order to limit some ingredients and increase other ingredients to suit the need of our families and meet our personal nutrition goals.  An example of this is substituting whole grain flours for white in baked goods in order to increase the fibre.  When we produce food in our own kitchens we are in control of the end product.  When we buy a product in a store, all we can do is read the label.  And even if we can’t reduce sugar in a recipe as much as we might like, we know everything that we put into that product and that knowledge is power.

Until next time!

Victoria

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