Some Sweet Advice

I know. This isn’t really a food blog. But I’m so frustrated with some of the misinformation out in web-land, I’m going to rant about food today. Specifically, I’m targeting sugar.

Friends recently posted a couple of recipes on Facebook, claiming they were very healthy:

Banana Bread with honey and applesauce instead of sugar & oil….Delicious & Healthy….

When you have a sweet tooth and want to stay on track, here’s a nice treat. Sugar is NOT an added ingredient. (The recipe for oatmeal cookies includes three ripe mashed bananas and ½ cup raisins.)

Wondering if either recipe fits my low-glycemic (that means food that won’t spike my blood sugar levels) diet, I did some calculations. Are they really healthy? Is either recipe actually low in sugar?

First, here are the ingredients for the “delicious and healthy” banana bread:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar free applesauce
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 mashed overripe bananas

True, there’s no refined sugar added, but there’s still tons of sugar. For example, there’s no such thing as sugar-free applesauce. Perhaps they mean unsweetened? Mott’s unsweetened organic applesauce has 11.1 grams of sugar per cup. Not bad, but not great either.

Then there’s the honey. Yes, honey isn’t refined, and it has some trace minerals in it, but for the most part, honey is just sugar. In fact, it contains the same simple sugars (fructose and glucose) as granulated sugar. One cup of honey has 272 grams of sugar, while a cup of granulated sugar has “only” 192 grams of sugar.

Now we come to the bananas. An average ripe (but not overripe) banana contains 14 grams of sugar. As that banana gets spots and begins to blacken, its sugar content soars. That’s because the starches in the fruit break down into their component sugars. (The total carbs stay the same, as do the calories.) The problem is that sugars (and easily-digested starches) cause our blood glucose levels to rise more sharply than do more complex carbohydrates. Spiking blood sugar triggers our bodies to release an abundance of insulin, raising triglycerides and greatly increasing the risk of developing Type II diabetes.

Finally, we have the whole wheat flour. A cup only contains half a gram of sugar, but 72 carbs in the form of starches—and starches become sugars during digestion.

So, how much sugar is there in this supposedly healthy banana bread? Do the math: 185.5g or more. Notice that there are no fats in the recipe. True, fats are high in calories, but oils slow digestion, lowering the impact of all those sugars. This might actually be healthier with some “good” oil in it.

Of course, how many grams of sugar per serving all depends on how thick the slices are. I’d have to shave off 60 slices (and only eat one of them) to lower my intake to an acceptable three grams per slice!

(If you still want to make this bread, mix everything together, dump the batter into a greased loaf pan, and bake at 350° for about an hour.)

Now for the oatmeal cookies. Here’s the ingredient list:

  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 1/3 C applesauce
  • 2 C oats
  • ¼ C almond milk
  • ½ C raisins
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Most of this is similar to the first recipe, but the raisins are new. How much sugar is there in raisins? Like all dried fruit, the sugars are concentrated from the loss of moisture. Raisins boast 98 grams of sugar per cup!

From a health perspective, this is a better recipe than the first one since there’s no honey. The entire batch of cookies contains about 99 grams of sugar. If you make 3 dozen cookies (the recipe doesn’t tell you how many it makes—three dozen may be stretching things a bit), that’s only 3 grams of sugar each. Not bad—if you only eat one or two at a time. Note that these cookies also lack butter or other fats.

When my doctor ordered me onto a low-glycemic diet, my taboo list included not only refined sugar, but also honey, maple syrup, fruit juices, high sugar fruits (pineapple, melon, and mango, for example), dried fruit, fresh corn, white rice, white potatoes, and white flour (which includes pasta made with refined flour). And not only that, but carrots and beets are also high in sugars, and should be eaten in moderation. It was quite a shock to go from normal “American” eating to so many restrictions, but I was able to lower my triglycerides by 700 mg/dL just by my change of diet.

Don’t be fooled by recipes that claim to be healthy until you read the list of ingredients. Many foods may be natural, but that doesn’t tell you how much sugar they contain!

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One thought on “Some Sweet Advice

  1. My favorite “health food” sweetener is still the one we saw at a local health food store: pure organic dehydrated cane juice. 🙂

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