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Keeping Monaco healthy with Susan Tomassini: Get Sweet Wise

Get Sweet Wise

There’s a reason why sugar is so addictive. The sweeter the food the more energy it provided for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, so craving them is a leftover survival mechanism. But these days it’s not just honey, carrots and berries that tempt us – ultra-sweet foods are everywhere! Our bodies are not adapted to the sheer amount of sugar that we eat and it’s making us sick.

Apart from the obvious links with weight and tooth decay, consider a few of the other negative effects of sugar:

  • Depresses our immune system
  • Elevates triglyceride and cholesterol levels
  • Raises insulin levels – and inflammation and fat storage
  • Raises adrenaline levels – increases stress
  • Contributes to nutrient deficiencies
  • Promotes depression


Not all sugar is the same

The effect sugar has on our body differs depending on its source and degree of sweetness. Sugars derived from fruits, vegetables and whole grains are different from the concentrated sugars found in refined foods, fizzy drinks, sweet treats and alcohol. Simply put: the sugar found naturally in whole foods is fine in moderation and the sugar that is added to foods should be avoided.

“Bad” Sugar

For most of us sugar means sucrose – also known as table sugar, white sugar, granulated sugar and powdered or confectioner’s sugar. It’s made from sugar beets or sugar cane. Stripped of all nutrients during the refining process, sucrose is not just empty calories, it also robs your body of essential vitamins and minerals while your body metabolises it. Refined sugar is also rapidly digested, resulting in blood sugar imbalances which sap energy, promote weight gain and eventually may lead to diabetes.


Sugar Substitutes

Artificial sweeteners might seem to offer a way to avoid the negative effects of sugar, but they’re just as bad. Filled with potentially harmful chemicals, they offer no nutrition and trigger more sugar cravings. As they’re cheaper than sugar, the food industry makes ample use of them in their products:

  • Saccharin – linked to cancer in animals, the USDA attempted to have it completely banned, but it was removed from the list of suspected carcinogens in 2000 because there was no clear evidence it caused the disease in humans. Don’t take the chance. In Europe, you can identify saccharin as E954 on food labels. Interestingly, it is illegal to mail it to France.
  • Sucralose – Also known by the brand name Splenda. It was discovered by accident by scientists looking for a new pesticide! Made from chlorinated sugar, its slogan “Because it comes from sugar it tastes like sugar” was found to violate French consumer protection laws. It is found in baked goods, drinks, desserts, dairy products, syrups and condiments. Side effects include gastrointestinal problems, skin irritations, anxiety and weight gain!
  • Aspartame is what makes your diet coke (and many yogurts, gum and medications) taste sweet. The documentary ‘Sweet Misery’ explains why aspartame is one of the most dangerous food additives. It’s broken down into 3 main components, one of which is methanol, an industrial solvent and known carcinogen. It’s banned for all children’s products in the EU – another reason you should never give diet drinks to your children.
  • High fructose corn syrup is corn syrup with extra fructose added. It’s an unnatural product that your body can’t process. Used to lengthen product shelf life, it may shorten the life of the consumer by promoting heart and degenerative disease. Juices and foods can claim to be pure and natural and may still be sweetened with this unnatural sugar, so beware.
  • Sorbitol and mannitol are known as alcohol-derived sugars or sweeteners. They are low in calories and have a nice taste overall, but because of their slow absorption, they can cause serious gastric distress, gas, flatulence, cramps. Often people experiencing these symptoms are unaware that these sweeteners are the cause.


Natural sweeteners

Natural options are still sugar and should be consumed in moderation. When choosing, there are 3 important things to consider:

  • How they impact your blood sugar – their glycemic index.
  • How much fructose they contain – fructose converts to fat quicker (I don’t recommend agave because of its high fructose content).
  • Whether they contain any nutrients that partially offset the negatives of sugar.

My 3 Favorites (based on the above)

  • Raw Organic Honey is an alkaline-forming food that has not been heated, pasteurized or processed in any way. It’s full of natural vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants and other important natural nutrients – the ones that are destroyed in the pasteurization process. GI is a lot lower than sugar, around 35 to 50 depending on the type.
  • Maple Syrup contains lots of antioxidants and trace minerals and is lower in calories than honey. It has a lower fructose content (around 35 percent) and lower GI (around 50) than sugar, so it’s less likely to cause a spike in your blood glucose.
  • Coconut palm sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm. It’s less processed than refined sugar and retains some of the nutrients found in coconut. It has a lower GI (around 35) and less fructose than regular sugar. In terms of calories, it’s the same as sugar. Great for baking.

Bottom Line

Sugar is sugar, and whether it’s natural or refined, too much can damage your health, rot your teeth and make it impossible to achieve your ideal weight. Choose your sweeteners wisely and try to limit your intake – your body will thank you!

For more information on a wide range of children’s health issues contact Susan Tomassini, Licensed Nutritionist BSc (Hons) Dip BCNH @ 06 17481114 or visit Foodwise at

Pineapple, coconut and banana cake

banana coconut cake

This delicious cake is gluten-free, dairy free and has no refined sugar. It’s a delicious blend of coconut, pineapple and banana, just like a Pina Colada, so no added sugars or flavors are needed!

1 cup Medjool dates
250 grams Gluten Free Self-rising flour (or 150 grams gluten free mix and 100 grams buckwheat flour if you prefer). If not using self-rising add 2 tsp baking powder.
2 ripe bananas mashed
1 cup fresh pineapple diced (frozen is fine)
1 tsp cinnamon
50 grams shredded coconut
1 cup coconut oil
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons chia seeds (soaked in 1 tablespoon water) or use 2 eggs if you prefer


  • Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  • In a food processor (or blender) blend together the dates, chia seeds (or eggs), honey and coconut oil.
  • Add this mixture to all of the other ingredients and stir gently.
  • Pour into a round cake pan that has been oiled and lined with grease-proof paper.
  • Bake for about 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  • Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack.

N.B. This cake is quite dense so it will not rise a lot.

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