Sweets for my sweet (except, not)

Cubes of sugar. White sugar. Oh, my life.

Cubes of sugar. White sugar. Oh, my life.

In case you didn’t know, we’re all supposed to be sugarphobes these days. I’ve written about my feelings on grains, another food item that it has become de rigueur to demonise (to sum up: grains – I love ’em). But my attitude to sugar is a little more complicated.

The thing with sugar is that I don’t love it. in fact, I don’t really eat it. I don’t eat sweets or biscuits or cake or chocolate (except the very dark, bitter kind that’s basically only cacao and of which it is impossible to eat more than a piece the size of your thumb). This is kind-of a rule for me. Rules don’t apply on weekends, as everyone knows, so dessert at a restaurant once every few months doesn’t really count – though lately I’ve been opting for the cheese platter instead of the malva pudding in any case.

But it’s not like I’m a person who “doesn’t have a sweet tooth”. A while ago, if I heard someone say that, or that they didn’t really like desserts, I thought they were lying, and that they just didn’t want to eat dessert because they didn’t want the calories or the sugar. Because, surely, everyone likes desserts, deep down.

I thought this especially while I was pregnant. I had an unhealthy obsession with sugar while my Lil A-shaped bun was in the oven. I ate a lot of ice cream. I ate a lot of frozen yoghurt. I ate a lot of mint Aeros and mint-flavoured Tumbles and Peppermint Crisps. If it was dairy-driven, sickly sweet and especially if it had something kinda minty going on, I inhaled it. The dentist remarked on how much sugar I’d eaten when I went for a check-up two months after having had Lil A, which she got entirely from the state of my previously-perfect and now somewhat hole-y teeth.

It could be because of this nine-month sugar binge – or maybe those articles in women’s mags are true on this count: the less sugar you eat, the less you want it – that now I’m the person who says, “I don’t really feel like dessert” and “Do you think I can have another starter instead of pudding?”.

So my aversion to sugar is partly because of a change in tastes and appetite. It’s also partly, I suppose, because I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid (or whatever a sugar-free alternative would be. Vitamin Water. I’ve drunk the Vitamin Water. No, wait – that’s not right.) Anyway, you know what I mean: I’ve really bought into this idea about how bad processed sugar is.

Lil A has never eaten processed sugar in all her 16 months, except for a mouthful of her dad’s peach-flavoured frozen yoghurt at lunch a few weeks ago. Her snacks are brown rice cakes and bananas, and, knowing how many years of birthday-cake-and-licorice-allsorts-and-jelly-babies-and-suckers-and-Chomp-and-marshmallow-eating she’s got ahead of her, I’m quite happy with that.

I don’t have the same attitude to sugar as I do to junk food or absinthe, which is that a little bit every now and then won’t do any harm. I’ve started thinking that even the tiniest bit of processed sugar will a) make me feel weird, and b) undo all the other efforts I make to try to be healthy.

But this is obviously, obviously ridiculous, right? Because even though I don’t add sugar to my tea, and I buy the Black Cat peanut butter with the yellow lid, I do eat wholewheat bread – which has sugar in it. Ditto for bottled pasta sauces, ready-made soups, tomato sauce and pizza. With this in mind, next time I feel like a biscuit, I’ll go ahead and have one. Really, I will. I’ll just have to go out and buy a packet, though, because we don’t keep that kind of stuff in our house.

Speaking of sweet things in the pantry, in an altogether uncharacteristic spurt of spontaneity, I went off-list at the weekly grocery shop the other day and bought a squeezy bottle of agave nectar. It was looking all “buy me, I might cost R80, but I’m so very, very healthy and ORGANIC and definitely better for you than dreaded granulated sugar or honey or maple syrup”, so I did, and summarily regretted it as soon as I got home and did some research on what agave actually is. I should have known better, considering I did a course in nutrition and food labelling earlier this year. But I got suckered, dammit.

Agave is heavily processed, for one thing, despite my bottle’s tricksy green labelling that implied “natural and wholesome, freshly squeezed from things growing in the earth”. It’s higher in calories than sugar is, but because it’s apparently 1.5x sweeter than sugar, you use less of it. I’m not convinced of that, though – I’m sure that most people would do what I did when I used it on my oats that one time, which was squeeze until the amount of syrup looked about right. Agave supposedly contains calcium, magnesium and potassium, but you’d need to eat about eight bottles of it a day to take in enough to be nutritionally significant. And you wouldn’t want to do that because a lot of commercially available agave has a similar make-up to high fructose corn syrup. Plus – and this is perhaps what put me off most – it tastes an awful lot like honey, which just doesn’t do it for me.

So for now, my oats remain unsweetened (and every morning I think I might be getting used to it until I reach about the fourth mouthful, and gag), my pantry remains biscuit-free, and my toddler keeps crunching through her rice cakes – but I’m sure one day soon I’ll get my sucrose mojo back, and then I’ll try to be less uptight about the whole thing. My husband, for one, would like to go back to the days of having at least one tub of The Creamery‘s goodness in the freezer at any given time. (But then again, he’d also like to eat doorstop slices of banana-and-blueberry-bread-French-toast with bacon for breakfast every morning, so perhaps we don’t need to indulge all his culinary whims.)

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