I would love to be serving up a seaweed infused chocolate treat this Easter, but bear with me... I will have succeeded by next Easter.
Why might it be a good thing to talk about seaweed in chocolate you might ask? It opens up a good opportunity to discuss the anxiety around sugar.
Sweetness is a natural carrier of nutrient-rich foods
Naturally sweet foods such as honey, nectar and fruits, all contain sugars and have been eaten by diverse human civilisations for millennia. On a macronutrient level, honey is basically sugar. However, this oversimplification ignores that honey contains over 180 substances that come from the bees, microorganisms and the plants that bees source their nectar from. Many of these substances are known to have health benefits and, therefore, honey is considered healthy in moderate doses. If honey is added to sweeten other complex foods, it serves an even greater health purpose.
Naturally sweetening nutrient-dense foods can be part of global health gains. Just look at the clinical study of seaweed infused chocolate that reduced anaemia (iron deficiency) in adolescent girls. This is a good example of how sweet things can be a part of delivering healthy components to the human diet. It is actually very hard to access the high levels of antioxidants in natural, dark cocoa without formulation with other ingredients, as the bitterness of cocoa is high. The sweetening of dark chocolate is considered to be a better outcome than not eating cocoa at all, bearing in mind that a lot of the Easter chocolate products are highly refined with not much cocoa; so choose wisely.
Maybe we need to rephrase the sugar scare
Making an enemy of sweet foods makes sense in a world where the high refinement of food to very simple components means that we are eating lots of empty sugar calories, especially the liquid calories in soft drinks. Eating empty calories means that we have to keep eating more, to achieve the feeling of fullness and attain adequate nutritional intake. However, simplifying the story to blame sugar, rather than blaming the stripping of nutritional density, could be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe the focus needs to be on increasing the natural nutritional density and diversity of food and ingredients.
A recent workshop with an international team of nutritional researchers concluded that “sweetness could [be detrimental to] diet quality if sweet-tasting diets were intrinsically nutrient poor”. However, their paper on Dietary Sweetness – Is it an Issue? stated that “there is no consistent evidence for an association of [a sweet tooth] with obesity or type 2 diabetes. Further, a recent scientific review by Canadian medical researchers suggest that sugar content "should not be the sole determinant of a healthy diet".
Let’s make sugar a treat again
At PhycoHealth we agree wholeheartedly with the mission to reduce the overdosing of sugar in the oversimplified western diet. Personally, I believe that just cutting out the doughnut shops and stripping down the soft drink isles will improve our population health significantly. However, I also believe that there is oversimplification and overreach in suggesting that sugar is toxic and an enemy; only serving to add unnecessary stress and confusion in peoples lives. Sugar is only unhealthy in isolation and overdosing, and sometimes its presence disguised in nutrient poor, savoury food manufacturing is misleading. In foods that are nutrient dense, there is room for sweetness. This is why we do not eliminate all sugar from all all products, but prefer to create food choices with a diversity and balance of nutrients. Two of our products offer some sweetness in life along with diverse and dense nutrition. We want people get more nutrition per sugar intake than they currently do, and that is our mission.
Nutrient-dense energy for breakfast
I have been asked a number of times why we include rice malt in our PhycoMuesli. To start with, PhycoMuesli without any sweetening at all would make it a seaweed breakfast exclusively for the hardcore types. Because the lead ingredients in PhycoMuesli are high in dietary fibre and nutrient dense, we can include a dose of sweetness without the sugar hits of the empty calorie breakfast types.
We chose rice malt as a diversification of sugar type because it does not contain fructose, which has been overly concentrated in industrialized foods. The jury is still out on how much fructose is a bad thing, and once again there is no point in making an enemy of fructose as it is a natural nutritional food indicator in fruits, but the industrial food technology that has rapidly increased our fructose consumption is not considered good. Therefore, redistributing the diversity of sugars is a good thing, which is why we focus on rice malt which only contains maltose (2 glucose molecules).
Glucose is an essential nutrient and fine if it is not eaten with empty calories or in excess, and within your body's regulatory capacity. As long as you are not diabetic, our bodies are designed to regulate blood glucose throughout the day. Indeed, glucose is the battery of our life and what drives us each day, so it is in no way toxic in natural foods. A ripe banana contains close to the same amount of sugars as PhycoMuesli, as does plain yoghurt. These foods are considered healthy. They are nutrient dense and diverse foods. However, if we compare these to say, a doughnut, we understand that this is unhealthy as there is not much other nutritional value. Soft drinks, fruit loops and other empty-calorie foods are unhealthy because they have the balance all wrong. This is the choice that people need to be making, rather than a focus on blaming sugar alone.
Diversity throughout the day and week
A normal intake of sugars each day in wholefoods is about 50g. A serving of PhycoMuesli would be less than a fifth of this, and therefore comprises a normal range of sweetness for a daily intake. PhycoMuesli gets its sweetness in part from ricemalt, but also cranberries and currants. PhycoMuesli has a very diverse and concentrated amount of other nutrients, proteins and a bumper 16 grams of dietary fibre. This concentration of diverse co-nutrients means that the nutrient density is high, and the fibre component from oats, seaweed and nuts make the complex digestion a slower and steadier process. If you still consider that you are eating a bit too much sugar throughout the day, then you might want to choose a very low sugar ingredients to add to your foods or to alternate your breakfast across the week.
Here are three ways to make nutritional density and seaweed a part of breakfast routines with a diversity of sweetness levels and types:
-Day 1: Smashed avocado on wholegrain, sourdough toast with a lashing of Phukka (hardly any sugar at all)
-Day 2: PhycoMuesli served on natural yoghurt with fresh berries on top (nutritionally dense sweetness)
-Day 3: Oatmeal porridge cooked with a tablespoon or two of Phybre, some fruit and honey. (moderate sugar)
If you have created more ways to eat seaweed for breakfast we would love to hear from you.
Sweet Easter OK
In a nutshell, while you are waiting for next years seaweed infused Easter chocolate, have no fear that a dark, less processed and fair-trade chocolate is a good thing this Easter. As long as your whole day includes very different and diverse nutrient dense foods, your life should not have to be so stressed about a fear of sugar.