Nutritionist Fiona Hunter gives her indispensable advice on the healthier alternatives to sugary treats, with tips to help you beat your sweet cravings.
With the news full of stories covering the negative affects of sugar – from links to weight gain and heart disease to how addictive it can be – we ask nutritionist Fiona Hunter how we can get our sweet fix in healthier ways.
1. Your vice is… fizzy drinks
A 330ml can of cola contains as much sugar as three and a half Krispie Kreme doughnuts. Research from Action on Sugar revealed that cola isn’t the only villain – ginger beer and even some elderflower sparkling drinks contain even more sugar than cola.
A little less: Make your own fizzy drink by using a small amount of cordial and diluting it with fizzy water – 100ml of diluted Vimto has half the sugar of 100ml of cola.
A big difference: Sugar-free versions of your favourite fizzy drinks might not contain any sugar, but they can still cause damage to teeth. Instead, try fizzy water with natural flavourings such as a squeeze of lemon or lime, a few sliced strawberries, or a sprig of mint and a slice of cucumber. You’ll be surprised by how much flavour it adds and you’ll get a small dose of vitamin C, too.
2. Your vice is… chocolate
A 45g bar of milk chocolate contains 25g of sugar, which is almost a third of the total amount we should eat in a day.
A little less: Chocolate-coated rice cakes or chocolate-dipped strawberries are a good way to get your fix with fewer calories. Swap your milk chocolate bar for a couple of squares of dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa), which contains less sugar, has higher levels of phytochemicals (that have protective or disease-preventing properties) and has a more intense chocolatey taste so you tend to eat less of it.
A big difference: For a chocolatey snack, try a small pot of sugar-free plain yogurt with 1 tsp pure cocoa or raw cacao powder. Or sprinkle a little ground cinnamon over popcorn – cinnamon can help to improve blood glucose levels, reducing cravings.
3. Your vice is… sugary hot drinks
A cup of coffee may seem like an innocent treat, but Action on Sugar found that some shop-bought coffees such as mochas, chai and caramel lattes contain the equivalent of 20 tsp sugar.
A little less: Order an Americano or a flat white instead – both are low in sugar. For a sugar-free alternative to hot chocolate, replace drinking chocolate with cocoa powder and sweeten with a sweetener like stevia.
A big difference: Switch to a healthy hot drink that can aid digestion, such as peppermint tea – or try green tea, which still contains caffeine but is packed with antioxidants.
4. Your vice is… cakes and cookies
Even some of the ‘healthier’ options are packed with sugar – a modest slice of carrot cake contains around 20g sugar, and a ‘skinny’ blueberry muffin has a whopping 25g.
A little less: The key here is portion control. Fortunately, most coffee shops now offer mini and bite-size treats, so if you just can’t resist something sweet with your coffee then make sure it’s small. Biscotti or cakes such as banana cake or malt loaf made with fruit for natural sweetness can be lower-sugar choices, but double check them first.
A big difference: Make your own and swap the sugar for apple sauce, prune purée or mashed banana. Fruit still contains natural sugars, but it offers other nutritional value such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. If brownies are your favourite, reach for a couple of Medjool dates, which have a similar sticky and gooey texture.
5. Your vice is… jams and spreads
Unless you’ve made your own jam at home, you probably wouldn’t realise the amount we spread on one slice of toast contains the equivalent of 2 tsp sugar. A recent article revealed a jar of popular chocolate spread is nearly half sugar.
A little less: Reduced-sugar jam contains marginally less sugar, but you’ll only be saving a meagre 1g per serving.
A big difference: Try making your own fruity spread for toast by puréeing raspberries, strawberries or drained canned fruit like apricots with a little ricotta cheese. Or swap to peanut butter or another nut butter – but check the ingredients list, because not all brands are sugar-free.
6. Your vice is… sweets
The big problem with sweets – whether its pick ’n’ mix at the cinema or your stash of toffees in the car – is that we rarely limit ourselves to just one. One mint humbug contains 5g sugar, which is the equivalent of a teaspoon.
A little less: If you must have sweets in the house, keep them hidden away. Research carried out by Cornell University found that when sweets were stored in a clear glass jar, participants ate twice as many as when they were stored in an opaque jar.
A big difference: Buy sugar-free mints or sweets, but be careful about how many you eat because they often use sweeteners like sorbitol, which can cause bloating if you eat too much. Alternatively, try chunks of frozen banana or frozen grapes instead.
7. Your vice is… sugary cereal and energy bars
Don’t be fooled by the health claims – energy bars, cereal bars and even the trendy ‘power balls’ can still contain high levels of sugar – even if they’re made with natural sugars like honey, agave syrup or coconut blossom nectar. ‘Breakfast biscuits’ mean you could be eating up to 3 tsp sugar before your day has begun.
A little less: Compare brands and check the label to see where sugar comes on the ingredient list – the higher up the list, the more the product contains. Brown rice malt syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose and corn syrup are all just code words for sugar. Instead, look for bars with ingredients you actually recognise such as oats, nuts and seeds, and ones that contain protein, fibre and fewer than 12g sugar.
A big difference: Make your own trail mix from nuts, seeds and a small amount of dried fruit. Or blend sugar-free peanut nut butter with oats and dried fruit and roll into balls before dipping in desiccated coconut or cocoa powder.
Fancy a treat, minus the white stuff? Try this low-sugar berry cheesecake by chef Olivia Wollenberg