Often when I’m in Bristol shops, cafes or restaurants these days, I’ll ask whether they have foods for people on low sugar diets. The answer is invariably “no”, or sometimes I might be offered something made with dates. Dates are delicious, but they’re not low in sugar.
Bristol is an innovative, trendsetting city. It’s one of the things I love about living here. It’s not surprising that it’s become commonplace these days for local shops, restaurants and cafes, even the mainstream ones, to routinely cater for special dietary needs such as gluten free, dairy free, nut free or vegan, which is great. Usually I’m asking for low sugar products in these kinds of places. When I ask why there’s nothing available for people on low sugar diets, if I’m given a reason, I’m usually told it’s because there’s no demand. Really?
In a study carried out in 2014, it was estimated that as many as one in three people in England are pre-diabetic. According to Diabetes UK it’s estimated that four million currently have diabetes and this is set to rise to five million over the next six years. That’s a massive number of people who need to keep their sugar consumption low. At a personal level too, I notice more and more friends, work colleagues and other people I come into contact with, wanting to reduce or cut out sugars completely from their diet. It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice these days how current levels of sugar consumption are having a devastating effect on the nation’s health.
So why is nobody seemingly asking for zero or low sugar food? Is it because people on low sugar diets have been overlooked by food producers, caterers and retailers for so long that it seems pointless to ask?
Maybe it’s because of the widespread confusion over what actually constitutes a zero or low sugar alternative to refined sugar. It’s easy to assume for example, that terms like “natural sweetener” and “refined sugar-free” mean the same thing as sugar free, but they don’t necessarily. Commonly used natural alternatives like honey or maple syrup, are sometimes promoted for their health giving properties but many natural alternatives to refined sugar still contain significant amounts of sugar and have a pretty high glycaemic index score (the rate that the sweetener’s absorbed by body). The problem with table sugar, as far as I can see, is not its lack of nutrients as such, but the sugar it contains and the damage it does. Replacing refined sugar in foods isn’t necessarily a straightforward undertaking, it requires the willingness to do a bit of investigating.
If you’re one of the growing numbers of people trying to cut out or reduce your sugar intake, you’ll know it’s no easy task; sugar is everywhere and ingrained in our daily lives. It’s made undoubtedly harder by the lack of suitable, readymade alternatives to buy. Whilst it’s certainly feasible to forego eating anything sweet for ever more, realistically that’s a tough one to maintain in the long term. I wonder how many diabetics, and others needing or choosing to follow zero or low sugar diets, fall off the wagon temporarily or permanently, simply because sugared cakes and goodies are the only thing within reach. Sugar is highly addictive and a path of moderation isn’t necessarily the easiest one to take. Once you get the sugar effect and the taste again, it can be hard to get back on track.
Wouldn’t it be a much easier and sustainable undertaking if from time to time you could meet a friend in a café for a cuppa and a healthier cake? Or you could join in sometimes and have a sweet course in a restaurant along with everyone else, that won’t do you harm? Or be able to buy a “sugar free” snack bar without a load of hidden sugars in it?
The thing is, it’s not difficult to make zero and low sugar goodies that are delicious. A cursory “refined sugar free” search on Instagram will reveal a whole host of individuals these days making and promoting tempting recipes that are genuinely low in sugar.
I’ve recently discovered a ray of hope closer to home too. This January, local cake makers Little Roar have launched, as part of their refined sugar free range, some new keto, zero and low sugar cakes that will soon be stocked in some of Bristol’s wholefood shops and cafes. Rest assured that I’ve already tried them and they’re gorgeous. Hats off to them for boldly going where nobody very much in Bristol seems to be willing or interested to go, so far. It would be brilliant if more were to follow their lead.
So come on Bristol – food capital of the known universe, teeming to bursting point with creative chefs and bakers – who else amongst you talented foodies are also willing to rise to and be inspired by the challenge of inventing some delicious sweet cake options, without the usual white sugar, white flour ingredient props – that are genuinely low in sugar?
And to all you who are valiantly trying to maintain your low sugar and sugar free diet in this sugar free desert of a city (and that should read desert not dessert), please bear in mind that you’re not the only one attempting this. There’s a substantial and growing number of us out here. If you’ve not already started doing so, please go to your local café, your local wholefood shop, and your favourite restaurant and ask to have your sugar free cake and eat it. There’s no reasonable reason, that I can think of, why you shouldn’t have it.
Let’s start creating some demand.
Lindsey Drage is a zero and low sugar cake crusader and type 2 diabetic. She also runs CakeSpirit.
Read more: Bristol to be a sugar smart city