Written by Sophie with nutritional information from Rhiannon Lambert...
“You’re a walking time bomb and you could drop dead anytime.”
These words and subsequent years of pain and suffering was the inspiration for me and my sister to create the Squirrel Sisters snacking brand.
There is nothing like being told that you might die that forces the mind to think about what you want to do with your life.
I was diagnosed with Wolfe-Parkinson-White and needed immediate surgery. Two failed attempts at trying fix the problem was a journey to hell in itself but it was the recovery that took me to a place beyond hell that is the black hole of despair.
The surgeons had done their bit to heal my body, now my diet would determine whether I would recover.
Strong bonds are created in times of uncertainty and endurance, it was during this time of recovery my younger sister Gracie dedicated her life to me getting well. She spent all her time desperately searching for the right foods to help my body heal.
Anyone who has been on a journey of recovery will know it is a rollercoaster ride. All the gains made can tip you backwards. In my case it was something seeming so small and irrelevant that my body would rebel against.
In its refined state it is a white crystal and since its discovery this ingredient has been playing havoc on the human body; rotting our teeth, a contributing factor to diabetes and some say the cause of some cancers.
In my case any sugar that I consumed would cause a violent reaction in my body. I shall spare you the details here but it wasn’t pleasant.
It was out of this darkness that the Squirrel Sisters brand was born having pinpointed the impact sugar was having on my body I didn’t want others to endure what I was going through.
Gracie and I decided to make products that tasted extraordinarily delicious, healthy and nutritious, gluten free and our holy grail no added sugar.
We have 4 million diabetics in the UK and the number is growing. There is an on- going debate about whether sugar feeds certain cancers so Gracie and I wanted to create products that contain no added sugars.
We want to encourage retailers to have a no added sugar option and we at squirrel sister are determined that no added sugar will become part of the mainstream.
Snacking is now a major part of our food consumption and for decades manufacturers have been dumping cheap unhealthy products into this category. We want to change that.
Something we discovered on our journey was that so many brands that market themselves as healthy by using sugar alternatives that sound much 'prettier' are actually just as bad as refined sugar and in some cases even worse.
We spoke to Rhiannon Lambert to find out more about these sugars...
Rhiannon Lambert BSc MSc ANutr is a Registered Nutritionist specialising in Weight Management, Eating Disorders and Sports Nutrition. Registered with the Association for Nutrition (AFN), Rhiannon has obtained first class Bachelor (BSc) and Master’s (MSc) degrees in Nutrition & Health as well as a Diploma in Nutritional Interventions for Eating Disorders. Her qualified approach to nutrition and total dedication to her clients’ needs has seen Rhiannon work with some of the world’s most influential people.
by Rhiannon Lambert, Registered Nutritionist
The role that refined sugar plays in our health is simple – It’s of zero value to us nutritionally. As a result, added sugar is unquestionably the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. Thankfully, there are countless alternatives many of which are considered healthy. Unfortunately, the problem with many of them is that they are just as bad as regular sugar. In some cases, these so called ‘healthy’ sugars are even worse.
Agave is best recognised as the plant from which tequila is made by fermenting the sugars in it. It has also been seen as a medicinal plant in its native Mexico for centuries but once processed and refined into the Agave Syrup found in the supermarkets, any supposed health benefits are likely to have been lost.
Agave Syrup is largely considered a healthy alternative to sugar because it has a low glycaemic index (GI). Generally, the higher the GI rating of a food, the greater the blood sugar spike – the worse it is for your health. However, the harmful effects of sugar have little relevance to the glycemic index.
Regular sugar is typically 50% fructose but Agave can be as high as 90% fructose. Although fructose won’t raise blood sugar levels in the short-term, it can contribute to insulin resistance causing major increases in long-term blood sugar, increasing risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Eating large amounts of fructose can also have various other harmful effects including raising LDL cholesterol.
Agave syrup should be avoided given it is significantly worse than regular sugar comparing gram for gram.
Brown sugar is produced by taking refined white sugar and mixing in molasses. Given molasses have zero nutrients for the body to benefit from, they are no healthy addition. Molasses are about 50% sugar with an insignificant amount of minerals.
Quite simply, brown sugar is regular sugar diluted with a less concentrated sugar. Therefore, brown sugar cannot be considered healthier than white sugar, even though some marketers would like us to believe so.
Coconut Sugar or Coconut Syrup is derived from the sap of the coconut plant and simply produced by extracting the sugary fluid and allowing the water to evaporate. It naturally contains a small amount of fibre with also having a lower glycaemic index than regular sugar.
Similar to Agave Syrup, Coconut Sugar is very high in fructose with 75-80% of it is sucrose (which is half fructose) totalling 35-45% fructose. With a smaller amount of fructose than typical white sugar, and the tiny amounts of fibre and nutrients, it could be argued that Coconut Sugar is less unhealthy than regular sugar comparing gram for gram. Nonetheless, less unhealthy does not make it healthy.
Honey is of course a real food that can still be obtained in its natural form. A typical batch of honey is 82% sugar by weight half of which is fructose, trace amounts of vitamins, minerals and various antioxidants. These antioxidants found more so in darker honeys than lighter ones are associated with improved health and lower risk of disease,
With the wide ranging types of honey available, it’s glucose and fructose content vary greatly and its glycaemic index can range from low to high.
Studies comparing honey and white sugar have noted that honey had slightly less harmful effects on metabolism.
As a natural food, honey is most definitely less unhealthy than regular sugar and a superior choice over most other sugar alternatives. Importantly, it’s high fructose content does not allow it to be considered healthy and should not be consumed regularly.
Maple syrup is made by evaporating the sugary sap from maple trees which leaves a thick syrup. Maple syrup is different from refined sugar as it benefits from a number of minerals and antioxidants. 100 grams of maple syrup contains the following % of your recommended daily allowance (RDA); Calcium (6%), Potassium (6%), Iron (7%), Zinc (28%), Manganese (165%).
Given Maple Syrup contains often in excess of 70% sucrose, it’s mineral contents are effectively irrelevant. Comparing it against regular sugar gram for gram, an identical amount of maple syrup will cut the total sugar content by a third.
BROWN RICE SYRUP
Brown Rice Syrup is a sweetener derived from brown rice. It is produced by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starches resulting in thick sugary syrup, which doesn’t resemble brown rice at all.
Despite brown rice being highly nutritious, Brown Rice Syrup contains no nutrients with the exception of trace elements of calcium and potassium. Brown rice syrup actually contains three types of sugars; Maltotriose (52%), Maltose (45%) and glucose (3%) but regardless of these sugar molecule types, once Brown Rice Syrup digested is broken down and digested, it is 100% glucose, the very sugar that raises blood sugar levels.
Brown Rice Syrup has an extremely high glycaemic index of 98, which is much higher than regular sugar (GI of approx. 70) and higher than almost any other sweetener available. Consuming Brown Rice Syrup is very likely to lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar so should be avoided altogether.
Stevia is a green, leafy plant known for its strong, sweet flavour. Generally, Stevia is found as an extract in either powder or liquid form with whole stevia leaves rarely available. Stevia has two major compounds called Stevioside and Rebaudioside A, both of which are significantly sweeter than regular sugar. Some suggest 1 teaspoon of Stevia extract powder can have a similar sweetening power as a whole cup of sugar.
Studies have shown that taking stevioside (one of the sweet compounds in stevia) as a supplement can reduce blood pressure. Stevioside appears to improve function of the hormone insulin, helping to lower blood sugar levels. This may be useful for people with type 2 diabetes. Stevia has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Although, it should be noted that these studies require further investigation given many of the results are only found in animal trials.
Stevia is the only sweetener that has health benefits not impacted by its sugary ingredients.100% natural with zero calories, Stevia is considered the healthiest of all sweeteners available.
Xylitol is a substance categorized as a sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols have the ability to stimulate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue.
Although Xylitol is found naturally in small amounts in many fruit and vegetables, it is largely processed from the Birch tree as a refined sweetener not benefiting from any vitamins and minerals. Xylitol contains no fructose and has insignificant effects on blood sugar and insulin. Therefore, none of the harmful effects of sugar apply to Xylitol.
It is a common ingredient in sugar free chewing gums, mints and oral care products. Numerous studies suggest that Xylitol, either by replacing sugar or adding it can reduce cavities and tooth decay by as much as 85%. Xylitol has been seen to increase the production of collagen, which may help to counteract the effects of ageing on the skin, in addition to being protective against osteoporosis, leading to increased bone volume mineral content.
Xylitol is an excellent alternative to regular sugar. It doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin, starves plaque-producing mouth bacteria and feeds the friendly microbes in the intestine.