Our view on sugar
Sugar Awareness Week: Understanding the Different Types of Sugar
January 21st 2020 marks the start of Sugar Awareness Week in the UK. We choose not to include refined sugars in our baking kits and while most people know that too much sugar is something to try and avoid, we thought it was worth giving you a bit more information so you can understand why sugar awareness is vital for a healthy, nutritious diet.
The Little Cooks Co philosophy
The Little Cooks Co food philosophy is to eat as much real food as possible and as little processed and refined food. Three years of studying very complex information and research on nutrition brought me to this very simple conclusion!
Sugar is a form of carbohydrate. You can get simple carbohydrates which break down quickly into glucose and cause blood sugar spikes, and complex carbohydrates which take longer to break down and therefore do not spike blood sugar levels quickly. Simple carbs tend to be found in products made from refined ingredients (white bread, pasta, donuts, pastries etc) and complex carbs are found in food like sweet potato, brown rice and oats.
We see headlines most days about why sugar and/or carbs are ‘bad’. We absolutely need naturally occurring complex carbs, whereas we could live perfectly well (and even better!) without any simple, refined carbs in our lives. I remember being surprised when my lecturer showed us the marco-nutrient profile of common vegetables (like spinach, broccoli and asparagus) to see that they all contained a good amount of carbs – most of us hear carbs and think bread and pasta.
Refined carbs have undergone a process which strips them of their nutrients. Sucrose (the most common refined sugar) has absolutely no nutrients in it AND it can have damaging effects on our health – through pressure on the pancreas to produce insulin, weight gain, reducing a brain chemical called brain derived neutropathic factor (BDNF) which is vital to learning and memory formation, and so much more. The same is true of white bread and pasta – the grain has been stripped of its bran leaving it devoid of nutrients and turning it into a simple carb which creates the same response in the body as eating simple carbs like sucrose.
So what do we advocate?
We are not purists. We believe in the 80/20 rule. If 80% of what we eat is a good quality variety of real food then don’t stress about the sweets at parties and puddings when out for dinner! (and let’s face it, it is nigh on impossible to get away from these days!). We are hard enough on ourselves as parents.
We set up Little Cooks Co to help encourage healthy eating habits from an early age. We want to help families reduce refined food in their diets and to help incorporate as much real food as possible whilst keeping food prep quick and manageable for busy parents. That is why we don’t include refined sugars in our kits.
Just a quick word on natural sugars. We suggest naturally sweetening recipes with ingredients like fruit, honey and dates. When applying the simple test of ‘is it real’ – these all pass with flying colours! Honey is a substance produced naturally by bees using our wonderful and diverse plant life – without even reading any research it is intuitively obvious that it is going to be nutritionally superior to a refined processed substance which contains no vitamins or minerals. And dates grow on trees, enough said! That’s not to say we should go mad with them – they are fairly simple sugars that get broken down pretty quickly by the body, but they also deliver nutrition and the fibre in fruit and dates slows the release of glucose into the blood.
But as with nearly all products, there is a wide range of quality and we would always recommend looking for raw organic honey – ideally unheated, unpasteurised and unprocessed, all of which can destroy the nutritional benefits of honey. Honey should also be avoided in children under 1 due to the risk (albeit very small) of infant botulism caused by bacteria called clostridium botulinum.
Quick and easy ways to reduce refined sugar
- Replace high sugar cereals with porridge sweetened with mashed banana and cinnamon or try our granola recipe here) – oats are a complex carb which therefore provide slow release energy so will keep you child fuller for longer and less likely to snack mid-morning
- Replace toast and jam with wholegrain toast (ideally sourdough which has undergone fermentation) topped with crushed avocado, olive oil and lemon juice, or honey for something sweeter
- Replace white pasta and rice with wholegrain pasta and brown rice. There are also some amazing new products on the market such as pasta made from peas, lentils and chickpeas! All available in big supermarkets now too
- Replace cereal bars and sweet snacks such as chocolate with refined sugar-free treats. We have lots of recipe inspiration on our website
- Replace squash, fizzy drinks and fruit juices with water or herbal teas for kids – we love Small & Wild teas for kids! And my little cook’s new favourite drink when we are out is half fresh orange juice with half sparkling water
- Replace sweetened yogurt with greek yogurt and berries (and you could add a sprinkle a spoon of flax seeds on top for added omega 3!)
- Read the labels – sugar comes under many different names (e.g. dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, corn syrup). The thing to try to avoid is added sugars rather than sugars created naturally from, for example, fruit