Sugar continues to be a hot topic in the nutrition world. I often hear people declaring they are going ‘sugar-free’ because of its apparently toxic qualities. But what does sugar-free actually mean? Added sugar-free? Or all sugars? Are they abandoning fruits and other foods with natural sugars? Is there really a difference between natural and added sugars? And why is it ok to eat these high sugar 3-ingredient date bites? Perhaps I can shed some light on this issue.
Sugar itself is not an inherently dangerous substance. The potential problem comes when foods high in added sugar displace other nutrients in the diet, i.e. you frequently fill up on the pleasure foods and don’t eat the other foods. And continually eating too much added sugar over time can contribute to an unhealthy diet, diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and tooth decay.
- Natural sugars are those found naturally in foods like fruit, vegetables, and milk. They are intrinsic in foods that also contain plenty of healthy nutrients, like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. When you eat these foods, the other components slow down the movement of the sugar into your blood stream, and provide other health benefits.
- Added sugars are those that are added to foods and drinks during processing or preparation by the manufacturer, cook, or consumer. They can include natural sugars (like white sugar and honey) as well as manufactured sugars (like high fructose corn syrup). The key is that they are added to a product. As soon as a sugar is added to a product it becomes an added sugar, even if it was a natural sugar to begin with.
So how much sugar is it ok to eat? The following are upper limit recommendations for added sugars:
- Women = 25-45 g or 6-11 teaspoons per day (for 1,800-2,000 kcal diet)
- Men = 31-45 g or 8-11 teaspoons per day (for 2,500 kcal diet)
- Children = 25 g or 6 teaspoons per day
What about natural sugars? There are no restrictions on eating natural sugars. Yes, you read that right. You really can eat as much fruit as you like (unless you have a medical condition that causes your blood sugar to respond negatively to high levels of fruit sugars). Why? Because the sugar in fruit comes wrapped up with fiber and hundreds of incredible plant chemicals (like antioxidants) that have healing properties in your body.
So why is it ok to eat these high sugar 3-ingredient date bites? These little treats are made with dates, nuts, and coconut. There are no added sugars. The dates make them high in calories and sugar, because 65-75% of a date’s weight is sugar. But the difference between this sugar and a spoonful of table sugar is that the sugar in dates comes with lots of other healthful nutrients. Dates are high in fiber, have a low glycemic index, and are very rich in minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, and selenium. They are also a good source of the B-complex vitamins and are packed full of phytochemicals. Table sugar, on the other hand, is nothing but molecules of sugar. So the overall effect of these date nut bites is far more nutritious than eating a snickers bar.
- 1 lb dates
- 1 cup nuts*
- ½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut, plus 2 tbsp for rolling
- *I used ¼ pistachios, ¼ walnuts, ¼ pecans, ¼ almonds, but you can use any nuts you like
- Preheat oven to 300F (160C).
- Lay nuts out on a baking tray and place in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
- Remove nuts from the oven.
- Remove the pits from the dates and place in a food processor with the nuts and coconut.
- Pulse until finely chopped and the ingredients form a ball. If they do not stick together, add 1 tsp water to the mixture.
- Remove mixture from the food processor and roll into a long sausage shape, about 1.5" diameter. If it sticks to your hands, slightly wet your hands before rolling.
- Sprinkle 2 tbsp coconut on the counter and roll the date log into the coconut until coated all over.
- Place on a freezable tray and pop in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the freezer and slice into discs.
- Store in the fridge for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months (I like to eat them straight from the freezer so I keep mine there).