Sunday, December 5

Dates: healthy way to sweeten or the same as sugar?

We are still out of the myth that homemade pastries and desserts are much healthier than industrial ones – but not; At most we can say that you control the quality of the ingredients – and the story comes that, if you use healthy raw materials that have sugars naturally, you will have a healthy sweet dessert. Put dates and enjoy!

The proposal to change table sugar for dates in order to achieve the desired sweet taste, theoretically avoiding the adverse effects that sugar has on health began to become popular on social networks. Although the starting point is logical – if dates are healthy, a dessert made with them must be too – the equation is more complex. Staying in this simplification is reasonable and comfortable in the short term, because it offers us an acceptable alternative that allows us to continue eating practically the same thing, thinking that we have made positive changes, but the long-term damages will be suffered by your health and your pocket.

The first, because the worst food choice is the one we make mistakenly believing that we are making a commitment to our health, and if we are not aware of following a bad diet, we will not even consider modifying it. The second, because the malevolent food industry has already realized that there are those who perceive certain sugars as “better”, and is sneaking true sugar monsters at a price of gold, selling that they are as healthy as biting into an apple. You do not believe it? Let’s go for a reality bath.

It is sweet because it has sugar

Cakes, cakes, truffles, sweet bread, cookies, ice cream, cocoa creams … think of your favorite dessert and you will find its interpretation “healthy date“What an atheistic version of the miracle of the transformation of water into wine (it is also prodigious, because it is super sweet and does not say that it has even half a tablespoon of sugar … or so they say).

Dates are the fruit of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). During its development, evolves through 4 stages, known by its Arabic name:

  • Kimri: it is not edible and is elongated, greenish, hard and with a high water content (85%).
  • Khalal: yellowish with a hard texture, the amount of sugars begins to increase.
  • Rutab: the fruit loses half of the water and much of its astringency and becomes soft, sweet and darker.
  • Tamr: loses more water, increases the sugar content and acquires the dark color, smooth texture and wrinkled shape. It is the edible variety that we know.

Although the composition in the tamr stage varies –It is divided according to its amount of water into soft, semi-dry and dry-, is characterized by having very little humidity, below 25%. For your reference, melon has more than 90% water, and banana, one of the “driest” fruits, has 75%. Almost all the rest of its weight is made up of sugars, which account for between 50-80%. It also has a significant amount of fiber; between 5-10%, a certain protein content (2-3%) and a minimum part of fat (0.25-0.40%).

Yes, they have a lot of sugars. But we have always heard that eating fresh and dried fruits is healthy and that their sugars are not harmful. They were? As your knowledge of nutrition is already in the advanced phase, let me undo this ball a bit before you roar – rightly so – because dieticians-nutritionists say one thing every day.

“Fruit sugars” is not fruit

Before continuing and your head imploding by all the names that are given to sugars, I refer you to what Juan Revenga told in this article, where he reels with hairs and signs everything you need to know to distinguish the “good” from the bad guys”. Except for exceptions like that of EFSA, it is increasingly accepted in the scientific community that the sugars in whole fruits cannot be compared to their counterparts crushed, crushed, squeezed or blended. Yes, that’s what your dates turn into when you put them through the blender.

The idea that shredded vegetables provided 50% of their sugars in the form of free sugars had already been introduced in the UK within the NMES concept (non-milk extrinsic sugars). In fact, it was the only thing that differentiated the WHO “free sugars” from the British “NMES”. But that value of 50% was taken as an approximation to reflect the partial rupture of the cell walls and was considered arbitrary, so it was eliminated in the document of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition 2015.

From this consideration, the The Department of Health adopted in 2018 a definition of free sugars which includes in this group all – not limited to 50% – of the sugars naturally present in fruits and vegetables in the form of juices, concentrates, smoothies, purees, pasta, powdered or extruded. They do not consider free those that are in fruits and vegetables -including legumes- dried, cooked, canned or frozen.

The WHO is receptive to expanding its concept of free sugars and adopting this definition, which in its document Commercial foods for infants and young children in the WHO European Region (2019) considers that it is an “extension and logical interpretation of the definition of the WHO”.

How does this translate to your baking skills or your shopping cart? On the first: if you want to make a guarrindongo dessert, do it. It’s better that you enjoy some cookies, a mousse or a cake every now and then knowing that it is a special occasion, than to eat supposedly healthy homemade versions every day just because you have changed the white sugar for powdered dates or orange juice, lime and passion fruit: the annihilated pulp of the fruit does not count as fruit; it is sugar.

As for what to do at the supermarket, things get complicated. The corridors are a gymkhana of attractive containers that compete to get your attention and convince you that, really, they have nothing, no sugar.

Sweet unregulated claims (that don’t mean a thing)

The more knowledge we consumers have about the labeling, the more pranks the marketing department does to strangle the words and make the product look like what it is not without incurring illegalities (if possible). Since we are now concerned with sugar, they play with that term so that we get ideas that are not.

The trick is that certain claims appear to have normative support; but that in reality they do not mean anything more than what the manufacturer decides, without having to meet any requirements. This is how they differentiate themselves from the competition with a food that turns out to be nutritionally identical, but tries to look much better.

A striking twist: “no sugars produced”; or what is the same, “with sugars WITHOUT producing”, right? To be or not to be, that is the question: I never imagined that so much philosophy would fit in a cereal container. If you follow the asterisk, they clarify that they have eliminated a technological process that transformed raw materials and caused free sugars to appear, that is why “they have not been produced”. Of course, of the free sugars that some of its ingredients naturally contain, such as honey, they do not say anything (and honey has free sugar in a tube).

On your safari through the supermarket you will find jams and preserves “without refined sugars” (the word “refined” appears tiny, to encourage you to never forget your glasses up close). Yes there is one legal definition for refined sugar -it is table sugar, sucrose from sugar cane or beet, which requires physical-chemical characteristics-, but it is only one of the many types of free sugars that food can have. It voluntarily declares that it does not contain refined sugars, it distracts you and you associate it with the fact that it does not contain sugars in general – we are not going to think that putting “refined” on an infinitesimal scale has any bad intention – but it can lead to other types of free galore.

In the world jam we also have versions superhealthy because its sugars are “100% fruit sugars”. Oh ok! If you have obtained the sugar from the fruit, you will leave me more calm. Let’s see, I know it sounds better, but if you extract a compound from a food, what you have is that individual compound: it won’t matter whether it comes out of beets, sugar cane or nectarines.

We come to the trickiest trap, the sugar bomb in disguise. The one that only has “natural” ingredients, such as vegetable drinks with cocoa or hazelnut creams made with dates, but in which those raw materials have been so tortured -for hydrolysis to break down starch in vegetable drinks, or by crushing the fruits in the spreadable – that almost all the sugars have become free.

And so you drink your oatmeal drink so happily without realizing that it is nutritionally similar to a Coca-Cola, or you spoon that creamy sin ignoring that a third is sugar like that of your sugar bowl. Remember: if you remove the headlight from a Maserati and put it in your Seat Panda, you are actually still driving a Seat Panda.

Two bad news and one good

Do not shoot the messenger, but every time you will find more hyper sugary foods that will try to convince you that they are good for your health. Its sugar content is going to be pretty sneaky and its marketing will be brutally effective. Furthermore, mandatory food labeling is very difficult to interpret and voluntary (like NutriScore) has more holes than a strainer.

The positive part of this is that there is a rule that does not fail: if it looks too good, it is not real. If it’s posed as the healthy alternative to an unhealthy food, but has the same taste, texture, and culinary use, it will probably be just as (bad). Of course, with a prohibitive price that also includes a wonderful feeling of self-deception as standard.

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