The sweet life, sans sugar

Sarah Wilson


Sarah Wilson is an Australian author, tv host, blogger and wellness coach. MasterChef fans may know her as the host of the first season of MasterChef Australia. Her cookbook, I Quit Sugar for Life, has just been released in the United States, so we asked Sarah to discuss the book and provide EYB members with information on sugars and sugar substitutes in our diets. You can win a copy of Sarah's cookbook by entering our contest.




Let's start with a basic question - what is your definition of sugar?

When I refer to sugar I'm talking mostly about everyday table sugar, or sucrose, as well as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This is how we consume most of our added sugar. Both sucrose and HFCS are roughly 50 per cent fructose and 50 per cent glucose. Of course it's the fructose that's the problem. Other "sugars" that I refer to include maple syrup (35 percent fructose), honey (45 percent fructose), agave (up to 90 percent fructose) and so on. I should also point out that sugars that don't contain fructose - e.g., pure glucose and artificial sweeteners, as well as stevia - also have their own set of health issues that I like to remind people to be cautious of. You can read more on this here.

There are so many different types of sugar, which are those you avoid completely and are there any you allow yourself, e.g. fructose in fresh fruit?

Avoid table sugar and HFCS. Two pieces of whole fruit a day contain up to six teaspoons of sugar, however, because fruit contains so many minerals and vitamins as well as fibre and water, consuming sugar in this way is not as problematic. Me personally, I have one to two pieces of low-fructose fruit a day. I also consume a little sugar in homemade chocolate and other foods that contain a little sugar.

How long do you think it takes someone who is addicted to wean themselves away from sugar?

My research has found that for most people it takes about eight weeks to recalibrate your metabolism and to balance out blood sugar cycles. Hence my 8-Week Program.

Given all the temptations around them, how hard is to wean children away from sugar?

I'll be absolutely honest - really difficult. Kids palates can adjust very quickly; however, sugar is marketed very aggressively at children and it can feel like an uphill battle for parents. My best advice is to not have sugar at home, not demonise sugar (so that it becomes stigmatised) and get the kids involved in cooking. To learn more, check out my I Quit Sugar Kids Cookbook.

What is your view of sugar substitutes such as stevia?

Brown rice syrup and stevia are two of the safest. But bear in mind, even non-fructose sugars (such as glucose) aren't good to eat in large quantities and can cause insulin spikes and wobbliness too, albeit in a more manageable way. Just the sweet taste can trigger insulin and metabolic responses. I choose to use any substitutes in minimal amounts, and suggest them as "treats" only. Even when a recipe contains a safe sweetener it should still be eaten with care, and preferably not every day.

I Quit Sugar for LifeWhat would you say to those who feel they do not have the willpower to quit?

I would say there are a whole range of emotional techniques to help with addiction. I was really resistant to quitting and committed to two weeks only. I felt instantly better and just kept going. This is my approach - to treat it as a gentle experiment and keep going as long as it feels good. This helps me see it through.

How hard was it to adapt baking and dessert recipes to exclude sugar?  What alternative sweeteners do you use?

It's rather simple, especially once you substitute all sweeteners for sweet foods. Like sweet potato, coconut products, fennel seeds etc. Brown rice syrup and stevia however, as mentioned above, I keep these to the lowest amount possible and use other whole foods to provide sweetness.

Your books are huge in Australia and the UK and you now have your first book published in the USA. Did you have to adapt your plan in any way for the American market?

Not really, my recipes are very much about "going back to basics" - granny cooking! The challenge has been changing metric to imperial, and changing the names of some ingredients. Brown rice syrup hasn't traditionally been used a lot in the US, however since my program has been available a number of health experts and chefs have switched to this sweetener, for example Gwyneth Paltrow, making it a lot more available now.

Your plan sounds great for people who love to cook their own food (Eat Your Books members!) - but can you help those who buy prepared foods which contain a lot of hidden sugar and especially in the USA, HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)?

Absolutely! Always buy the full fat (not the low fat or diet) versions. Manufacturers replace the fats they remove with extra sugar to make up for the lack of taste and texture. Look for the version of a food with least number of ingredients. This ensures less additives and less sugar. Also compare sugar quantities on labels and go for one with the least amount. Avoid products with heavy sauces, especially tomato-based ones. They have lots of sugar. Also be aware of Asian sauces, especially Thai. They have huge dumpings of sucrose.

1 Comment

  • boardingace  on  5/13/2014 at 10:09 PM

    I don't buy the argument that you need a new cookbook to reduce sugar. I just make my desserts in smaller amounts using smaller pans, and eat small amounts, savoring them slowly. Moderation is much more appealing to me than giving up all of my favorite recipes and starting all over again with a restrictive diet. And I tracked down the "research" about why fructose is "worse" than glucose which is also "bad" (my quotes), following link after link on Sarah's website to... nothing. I could not find the actual scientific article linked anywhere. Even the quote referenced "carbohydrates and a sugary diet" as being unhealthy which is pretty vague (and obvious.... in excess). While I do appreciate the niche market for this, and applaud the author for writing a book about something that she is passionate about, I am completely disinterested, and find it unsettling that a non-medical person is making health claims and also not backing them up with clear scientific studies. [This often happens when a non-medical person makes health claims - lol. You can't analyze research properly when you have no science or medical background.]

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