The UK free-from market is set to be worth £561m by 2017. The overwhelming consensus is that this trend is here to stay. The appeal is growing amongst those with a general interest in health and wellness and, of course, those with medical needs. But what is it that people really want out of a free-from product?
Nobody wants to be obese. Nobody wants to be ill. So why is it that so many people are both? Take certain free-from products off the shelf – packaged to scream healthy – and look at the sugar content. Bearing in mind that the NHS recommended daily allowance (RDA) is no more than 70g for men and 50g for women, lots of them are far from healthy. The World Health Organisation may be about to reduce its RDA to 25g – 45g, which would make lots of these products even unhealthier than you might think.
Sugary carbonated drinks are amongst the most villainous culprits. There are a few that spring to mind. Nobody would try to claim they’re anything other than diabetes in a can. But who’d have thought that an innocent looking pudding, on the shelf of a health food shop, designed to look like a health food could contain 200% more sugar by weight?
There are good reasons to go free-from: animal welfare; reaction to industrial farming practices and genuine intolerances and allergies. But the more we research this area, practically and academically, the more that we are convinced that sugar is the problem, not just for those with specific health issues, but for everyone. Googling figures for diabetes, sugar consumption, metabolic syndrome and obesity immediately produce some alarming facts.
We questioned whether ‘sugar-free’ was the 21st century’s equivalent to the ‘fat-free’ obsession of the 90s and realised that it was a result of it. Dr Robert Lustig sums this up very nicely: “What they knew was, when they took the fat out they had to put the sugar in, and when they did that, people bought more. And when they added more, people bought more, and so they kept on doing it. And that’s how we got up to current levels of consumption… Adding sugar to everyday food has become as much about the industry prolonging the shelf life as it has about palatability; if you’re shopping from corner shops, you’re likely to be eating unnecessary sugar in pretty well everything. It is difficult to remain healthy in these conditions”.
There are many diets around the world lauded for their health benefits: Japanese – contains lots of white rice; Ornish – very low in fat; Mediterranean – lots of olive oil, fish and fresh, seasonal produce and Nordic – lots of whole grains and local fruits and berries. Some of these may appear contradictory, but the one thing they have in common is very low levels of sugar.
Fools & Queens’ priority is to make delicious puddings, and we want to make them as healthy as possible too. Over the last year we have turned all of our puddings gluten-free and we are now aiming to have them all sugar-free.
We are both fortunate enough to not suffer from any known allergies (apart from Matt and wasps, but we aren’t making puddings stuffed with wasp stings, so he is ok). The more research we do into the benefits of eating ‘free-from’ foods, the more we understand that sugar is the enemy and this has led us to take a stand against sugar. Gluten and dairy are allergens, sugar is not. However, out of all three, sugar is the silent killer.
We have been hunting high and low for something to use instead of sugar. Don’t be fooled by maple syrup, fruit sugars, agave nectar and a whole host of others that are high in fructose. If it’s fructose, it’s bad news. If eaten in moderation and in its natural state, we’d be pretty unconcerned about it. It comes with fibre and and we wouldn’t eat 10 apples in one go. Juice it though and it’s a different story. The concentrated fructose is then dealt with by the liver with potentially dangerous consequences for the the arteries and the heart too. Heard of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease for example?
Daily fructose consumption has doubled in the past 30 years in the US, a pattern also observable (though not identical) here, in Canada, Malaysia, India, right across the developed and developing world. World sugar consumption has tripled in the past 50 years, while the population has only doubled; it makes sense of the obesity pandemic.
We have settled on xylitol as our sweetener. Despite it’s very chemical sounding name, it’s actually totally natural, being made from sustainable birchwood, ‘xyl’ being the greek word for wood. It is also produced naturally in the human body and can be found in strawberries, plums and raspberries. It has a GI value of 7 and can be consumed by dieters and diabetics.
It has struck as slightly odd that the UK government has stipulated that if a product contains polyols, like xylitol does, that the product must carry the warnings: ‘excess consumption could cause laxative effects’ when products with refined sugar don’t carry the warning: ‘‘excess consumption could cause fatness, cancer, diabetes and death’.