Healthy, vegan, sugar free brownies – just add 1 cup of maple syrup!

The term ‘sugar free’ is quite popular nowadays. Personally though, we feel like it’s used way too freely. Many recipes we come across online – be it on YouTube, on blogs, or via Pinterest – often include the term sugar free in their title. The ingredient list however shows quite a different story!

Even companies that produce products use the term sugar free to advertise their products and make them appear healthier than they actually are. When you however delve into the background of all ingredients involved in the production of these products, the packaging turns out to be quite misleading.

Since we feel like it’s getting out of hand, we thought we’d explain why we do not particularly agree with how the term sugar free is regularly used these days.


Refined (table) sugar

When we talk about sugar, you’re probably thinking about the granulated form you use to sweeten your coffee or tea. The term sugar however actually simply refers to a range of carbohydrates with a sweet taste.

These carbohydrates come in three different forms. Monosaccharides (mono = single chain) include glucose and fructose; disaccharides include sucrose and maltose; and polysaccharides (or oligosaccharides) include starch and cellulose.

Table sugar is sucrose, which is a combination of glucose and fructose. The familiar refined sugar originates in the sugar beet. Sucrose extracted from these sugar beets is referred to as raw sugar. This can be consumed as is, but to get rid of unwanted taste and color, it is refined and bleached.

But as you can see from our previous list, there are so many more sugars than just sucrose, and refined sugar is definitely not the only kind!


Refined sugar is unhealthy

If you’ve ever scrolled through Pinterest, or looked up some recipe ideas online, it’s probably clear that many recipes are listed as ‘healthy’. Oftentimes, the reasoning behind calling a recipe healthy, is the lack of added refined sugar.

Refined sugar is high in calories, and lacks additional nutrients. There is no other benefit to consuming refined sugar other than gaining energy. Which is the reason why they are often referred to as empty calories. Added sugars in the food we consume offer nothing but added calories.


Glucose vs fructose

When refined sugar is broken down, it forms glucose and fructose. Glucose is a normal energy source found in every organism on earth, and when our bodies are in need of glucose, they produce it.

Fructose on the other hand, is not necessary to our body and our bodies can’t produce it. Our livers can only metabolize a certain amount of fructose at a time.

Fructose obtained from fruits usually cause no harm to your body. Fruit sugars are packed in fibers, causing them to be released gradually over time to your body.

Consuming fructose in its extracted form, such as syrup, on the other hand, results easily in overconsumption of fructose in a short period of time. With sugar-peaks as a result. Excessive fructose is consequently transformed to fat. In the long run, excess fructose intake can cause obesity but also serious liver issues like fatty liver disease.

Although refined sugar is unhealthy, excluding it from a recipe does not magically create a healthy dish! But why is that?


Sugar free…?

Many recipes these days claim to be sugar free. Many might not include refined sugar, but that doesn’t immediately mean that they do not contain sugar in one of its many other forms.

Do you remember the sweet carbohydrates that we mentioned at the beginning of this post? They all fall under one category: sugar.

Now although one of these sugars is indeed refined sugar, there are so many more types and sources of sugar that people seem to forget!


Sugar substitutes

So, if something doesn’t include refined sugar, what type of sugar is in there? There are many substitutes for refined sugar, and most of them contain (high amounts of) sugars.

A selection of natural sweeteners that we repeatedly see in recipes are products like honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup. These sweeteners are basically liquid sugar. They originate from natural sources and are processed for optimization of color, taste, and consistency.

These syrups are often certainly healthier than refined sugar. Instead of solely consisting of sugar, they also contain a selection of useful nutrients for your body. Agave nectar for example contains a number of B vitamins and vitamin C, as well as some minerals.

Agave nectar however has a higher fructose concentration than refined sugar, which links back to the detrimental effects on the liver that we discussed earlier.

We must remember, although the use of natural sweeteners is generally healthier than using chemically refined sugar, it still mainly consists of sugar. In the end, sugar is still sugar, which still brings all its negative effects along with it. If you were to substitute all refined sugar in your diet with maple syrup, it would not help you lose weight.

Artificial sugar substitutes, like xylitol and aspartame, are artificial sweeteners. Though used as sweeteners, they are not made from carbohydrate chains and are hence not classified as sugars. These substitutes are thus really sugar free.


Sugar in plants

Recipes that are free from refined sugar and other natural sweeteners such as honey still don’t have to be sugar free. Technically, if they are sweet and do not contain an artificial sweetener, they will always include a form of sugar!

Healthier recipes are often sweetened with the use of fruit and (root) vegetables such as bananas, dates, carrot, sweet potato, and beetroot. These ingredients however have a sweet taste simply because they contain a high amount of sweet carbohydrates, sugar!

Now don’t get us wrong, these ingredients are healthy, despite the fact that they contain sugar. Our body in the end does need energy to function. We merely want to emphasize on the fact that a recipe without added sweetening agents should not be labeled as sugar free and can still be quite high in calories.


Sugar equals sugar

When you make your cup of tea in the morning, please consider this: instead of switching out your sugar for honey, just skip the sweeteners altogether!  If you next scroll through Pinterest and come across the term ‘sugar free’, have a look at the ingredients. We think you’ll find sweet carbohydrates in at least one of them!

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