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Sugar free, wheat free, organic – We explain!

When April rolls around, our senses are bombarded with images of renewal of nature and our brain translates them into our desire for a healthier lifestyle.

We enter our local supermarket with a spring in our step. There, we face a bombardment of another kind – advertisements promoting sugar free, wheat free and organic food.

We then return home with bags full of food products that will make us lose those dreaded winter comfort food-induced pounds, and enable us to face the summer with a healthy and fit approach.

Well, not necessarily. Read on.

Sugar free

What is so bad about sugar anyway? Sugar is basically a carb and like all carbs, it is responsible for our energy levels.

The World Health Organisation does not recommend sugar to exceed 10 % of our daily energy food intake. Why? Because while studies do not conclusively show that consuming vast amounts of sugar will lead to us developing diabetes, it will make us obese, which is a roundabout road to the same destination.

Sugar is undeniably bad for our heart, blood vessels and teeth. The war between experts who are trying to prove or disprove links between sugar intakes and Alzheimer’s disease is still raging.

Sugar is just a carb called glucose. However, in fruit and grapes, it coexists with its sisters - fructose and dextrose.

A food product labelled “sugar free” contains none of these three.

But it can still have sugar substitutes, which will make our food sweet.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame are often called intense sweeteners because they taste much sweeter than sugar. They are synthetic substitutes for sugar although they may be derived from herbs or sugar itself.

Since they are NOT carbs, they will add virtually no calories to your diet, which is good news for diabetes sufferers.

Artificial sweeteners got much bad press in the 70s when some of them were linked to bladder cancer. Today, they are heavily scrutinised and deemed safe.

Sugar alcohols and novel sweeteners
Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and xylitol are definitely carbs. They will make you gain a bit less weight than sugar as they contain less calories but will have the same negative effect on diabetes sufferers. On the flipside, they will help improve our teeth. If we overeat sugar alcohols, we may experience some laxative effects, bloating, intestinal gas and even diarrhoea.

We will never meet novel sweeteners such as stevia face to face. That’s because these are well hidden in processed foods and often mixed with artificial sweeteners for added sweetness.

Natural sweeteners

Natural sweeteners are promoted as the healthiest sugar substitute. Fruits juices and nectars, molasses, honey and maple syrup all qualify. However, they can also be processed during production.

It’s therefore advisable to recognise the names of sugar substitutes and read the list of ingredients carefully when tackling a “sugar free” labelled product.

Wheat free

Wheat is the X factor winner among staple grains. Westerners didn’t know it existed before Columbus discovered a new world in the late fifteenth century. Today, wheat covers the largest portion of cropland in the UK.

Most people can’t get enough wheat. Some people are intolerant to its protein gluten and should therefore consume gluten-free food products (embed gluten-free article link here).

Others get allergic reactions to different proteins, contained in wheat – mostly to albumin and various globulins. When allergic to wheat, our body recognises these proteins as dangerous and raises its defences. This may leave us with chronic gastrointestinal disturbances and infections, asthma, acne, joint pains, fatigue and migraines. The way to avoid them is a wheat free diet.

Going wheat free is not easy. The first rule is not to confuse a gluten-free diet with a wheat free one, because the former does not cover all dangerous proteins of the latter. Furthermore, wheat can be hidden in some brands of beer, ale, salad dressings and even some ice creams. So, read the labels carefully and thoroughly.

Organic food

Organically produced food means that farmers grew fruit, vegetables and grains or produced dairy products and meat without using pesticides, hormones and food additives. They also used natural fertilisers.

Organic farming also encourages soil and water conservation and reduces pollution.

But producers of non-organic food will tell us that their apple, while cheaper, is as nutritious as any organic one. However, results of the most comprehensive study in the UK of pros and cons of organic food, tells us a different story.

A four-year study funded by the EU found that organic food contains more cancer fighting and heart beneficial antioxidants.

It also showed a staggering difference in antioxidants between organic and non-organic products. It’s up to 40% for fruit and veg. Organic milk was shown to contain 60% more antioxidants and healthy fatty acids than its non-organic cousin. The level of toxic metals in organic food also proved to be lower.

The latest findings are contributing to the organic food trend in the UK.

But it wasn’t always so.

“We had to start from scratch, literally,” Prince Charles explained in a speech in 2013, who started one of the first organic and locally sourced food companies in the world over two decades ago.

So, only rich farmers and posh consumers can produce and buy organic food? Wrong.

The latest report by the Soil Association shows that consumers in the UK spent £1.4 million a week on organic food in 2014.

The recent recession made some farmers give up on organic food production, but the business is bouncing back with the UK budget supermarkets stocking its stores with cheap organic food for the first time.

But, always read the labels carefully. Free range, all natural or hormone free food is not organic food, so you may end up spending more and getting less.

By Ivana Miloradovic

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