Is it time to quit sugar?


The latest ABS data on sugar consumption in Australia was released yesterday, and it’s abundantly clear that Australia has a sugar problem. But should we all be “quitting sugar” in response?

The data shows that in 2011-12, Australians consumed an average of 60 grams of free sugars per day, which is equivalent to 14 teaspoons of sugar. The biggest players here were energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages, with 81% of free sugars coming from the ‘discretionary foods’ category.

Most alarmingly, 52% of free sugars in the Australian diet were actually consumed from beverages, not foods. Why is this a problem? Because beverages provide little satiety, have very little nutritional value (if any) and promote tooth decay. They are meant to be a “sometimes” treat, and yet the data shows we are consuming them far more often.

Soft drinks, electrolyte and energy drinks comprised 19% of the free sugar intake, while fruit and vegetable juices and drinks comprised 13%. This means we aren’t just talking about fizzy drinks here, it’s also the so called “healthy alternatives” like smoothies and acai bowls that are adding to our intake.

In terms of our major food sources of free sugars, it really came down to confectionary (e.g. lollies, ice cream), cakes and muffins, which as a group comprised 8.7% of free sugars in diet. I would argue that this is significant, but clearly not as big a priority as sweetened beverages.

This data is a huge concern nutritionally, but it’s also nothing new to those of us who work in the field. The Australian Dietary Guidelines have, since their inception in the 1980’s, ALWAYS advised Australians to limit their intake of added and free sugars. This is not recent evidence, it’s nothing new, and it’s exactly what dietitians have been telling people to do for decades. It’s just that sugar has recently become the, er, flavour of the month and now people are obsessing over sugar to the exclusion of all other nutrients.

Instead of cooking faux desserts with rice malt syrup, dates, agave, raw honey, coconut sugar, maple syrup and all of the other “sugar alternatives” that are still actually sugar, let’s try and get a few of the basics right:

  • Stop drinking soft drinks, full stop. Make them an occasional treat at birthday parties and special social events if you must, but be honest with yourself about how often you are having these treats and try and keep them as such.
  • Sports drinks are not required for most people unless they are performing high level endurance exercise. “High level endurance exercise” is not kids sport or your average spin class, I’m talking about a 10km+ run on a hot day maybe.
  • Sports drinks are not a healthy alternative to soft drink.
  • Energy drinks are just soft drinks with extra caffeine and other stimulants; they are best avoided.
  • If you consume any of these beverages (especially sports drinks), be vigilant with your oral hygiene. Brush your teeth and floss, but not immediately after, as your enamel will still be soft. Instead, rinse your mouth with water immediately after consuming these beverages.
  • Bear in mind that diet and sugar free beverages contain little to no calories (and obviously no sugar), but they are still very corrosive and will promote tooth decay.
  • Enjoy normal, non-healthified versions of your favourite cakes and treats, but enjoy them in moderation. “Healthy” versions of these items are not actually healthy, and they give us the false belief that they’re not actually a treat anymore, so we eat them every day and in large amount. They’re also not as satisfying or delicious as the real deal! You’re far better off enjoying the treat you actually wanted in the first place, instead of eating a much greater amount of something that doesn’t quite hit the spot.

You can view the ABS Data in full here.

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Garlic Infused Olive Oil: Your New Best Friend

Image via Cobram Estate

Image via Cobram Estate

If you’ve been following a low FODMAP diet, and simply doing without garlic flavour, get ready for your life to be changed for the better. It’s time for you to get acquainted with garlic-infused olive oil.

It is completely FODMAP friendly, and available at all grocery stores. My favourite variety is made by Cobram Estate, because it’s a good quality, locally-produced olive oil and gets its flavour from garlic oil, not from an added flavouring agent.  You will find this product at all major supermarkets.  I have also seen a reasonable alternative at Aldi, which is made with garlic oil, and is at a comparable price point.

If you are a bit concerned about eating garlic oil and are concerned about having a reaction, remember that fructans are the things we want to avoid on a low FODMAP diet. Fructans are a kind of carbohydrate, and oils do not contain carbohydrates. So garlic oil is completely fine, but you want to avoid garlic powder, garlic extract and garlic salt, which will likely contain fructans.

It is possible to make your own garlic infused olive oil (method here), but if you are planning on making a big batch and storing it then you need to be very sure you have removed all of the garlic pieces, as there is a risk of serious food poisoning. This method also requires heating the oil, which destroys its shelf life, flavour and antioxidant content. All in all, I don’t recommend it, unless you are infusing oil to be used the same or next day. You also need to be very sure that none of the “juice” (as distinct from the oil) has been leached into the olive oil, as this will contain fructans.

The flavour of commercial garlic-infused olive oil tends to be quite strong, so if you are using it for the first time I would start with around a teaspoon of oil per clove of garlic. E.g. If a recipe calls for one clove of garlic, use one teaspoon of garlic infused olive oil. If the recipe calls for a tablespoon of oil, you would use one teaspoon garlic infused olive oil and three teaspoons regular olive oil.

These are my favourite ways to use garlic-infused olive oil:

  • Saute carrots and a small amount of celery in garlic infused oil as a base for spaghetti bolognaise, soups or stews
  • Drizzle over lightly steamed broccoli and sprinkle with sesame seeds
  • Use in addition to regular olive oil in salad dressings
  • Add to home made pesto in place of garlic cloves
  • Drizzle over home made pizza when it’s fresh from the oven
  • Use in home made dips to add garlic flavour
  • Drizzle over poached eggs
  • Mix through mashed potatoes in place of butter

The possibilities are endless!

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Gluten Free, Low FODMAP Pumpkin & Cheese Bread


This savoury bread works well on its own as a snack, particularly if toasted and covered in butter and honey, or you can pair it with an egg and some sautéed spinach to make a delicious savoury breakfast. It also freezes well, meaning you’ve always got cheesy, pumpkiny goodness on hand whenever the mood strikes you. The recipe is low FODMAP, but it’s still a crowd pleaser, so you could serve this to your friends and family without anyone being the wiser. And should you be lucky enough to tolerate lactose or fructans, you can simply use regular buttermilk or wheat based self raising flour, respectively.

I have a feeling bacon would elevate this to the next level, if anyone wants to try this (for science) and report back I would be thrilled to hear!

Gluten Free, Low FODMAP Pumpkin & Cheese Bread
400g pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups FODMAP friendly gluten free self raising flour
1 cup polenta
1 tbs thyme leaves
3 tbs pepitas
2 eggs
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup low FODMAP buttermilk
50g grated cheddar
10g grated parmesan

  1. Place the pumpkin in a microwave safe container with a few tablespoons of water. Microwave for around 7 minutes or until soft. Drain, mash with a fork, then set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 150C. Line a loaf tin with baking paper.
  3. In a large bowl mix together the flour, polenta, thyme and 2 tbs of the pepitas.
  4. In a large jug or bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil and low FODMAP buttermilk. Next, stir the cooked pumpkin gently through the wet ingredients.
  5. Slowly add the pumpkin mix to the dry ingredients, mixing well. Once the ingredients are well combined, stir through the cheeses.
  6. Pour the mixture into your prepared loaf tin and sprinkle over remaining pepitas. Bake for one hour and fifteen minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the tin for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, slice into around ten slices. You can then store these slices in the fridge, or freeze individually and defrost as desired.

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How to Pick a Low FODMAP Flour

If you’re following a low FODMAP diet, you’re probably well acquainted with gluten free flour by now. This is because wheat, which is the key ingredient in what most of us call “flour”, is high in fructans. Fructans are a kind of fermentable oligosaccharide, which is a long chain carbohydrate that we all malabsorb. For those with a healthy gut, this malabsorption is not a problem, in fact it actually helps feed your microbiome. But for those with IBS, this malabsorption of fructans can trigger symptoms such as bloating, cramping, diarrhoea or constipation.

In order to reduce our intake of FODMAPs, IBS sufferers will often turn to gluten free breads, pastas and flour mixes, because these products are wheat free. The only problem is that some of these gluten free products are made with flours that are actually high in FODMAPs. For example, lupin is a kind of legume that can be ground into flour and works really well in baking. Unfortunately, it’s also very high in oligosaccharides! So if you are using a commercial gluten free flour mix that includes lupin, you might find that your symptoms are aggravated afterwards.

This is why label reading is essential on a low FODMAP diet. Simply relying on a gluten free front of pack label is not enough – you really need to check the fine print.

High FODMAP flours to look out for:

  • Almond meal
  • Amaranth flour
  • Barley flour
  • Besan flour (chickpea flour)
  • Kamut flour
  • Lentil flour
  • Lupin flour
  • Spelt flour

FODMAP friendly flour alternatives:

  • Buckwheat four
  • Maize flour (corn flour)
  • Millet flour
  • Quinoa flour
  • Rice flour
  • Sorghum flour
  • Tapioca Starch
  • Teff flour

If you would like to create your own low FODMAP flour blend, Glenda Bishop has a great recipe here. this is definitely the cheapest way to go, as you can buy the components in bulk for cheap, and avoid the specialty item price tag that most gluten free products attract.

If you want to go commercial, label reading is definitely in order. This is a product I have used successfully at home, and it does not contain any high FODMAP flours at last look. However it’s important to keep checking your ingredients list, as formulations do change from time to time! I’ve found that of the commercial blends, it’s best to go with something that’s not just maize and rice flour – a little tapioca starch or similar really helps improve the texture.

Orgran Gluten Free All Purpose Flour: Maize Starch, Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, Rice Bran and Guar Gum. They also do a self raising variety with added rising agents.

Image via

Image via


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How to Make Your Own Lactose Free, Low FODMAP Buttermilk

Buttermilk is an important ingredient in lots of baked products like pancakes and muffins, but it’s also a source of lactose. This can be a problem if you’re lactose intolerant, or follow a low FODMAP diet!

One might assume buttermilk is low in lactose because of how it is produced commercially – cultures are added to cow’s milk to ferment it, and produce a distinctive sour taste. These cultures convert lactose to lactic acid, which helps reduce the lactose content of buttermilk, but not enough to avoid a reaction in those who cannot digest lactose.

As an aside, traditional buttermilk, which is a by-product from churning butter from cream, is just as high in lactose as regular cow’s milk as there is no fermentation involved in this process. And because this product is very low in fat, in can contain more lactose gram for gram that full cream cow’s milk.

When it comes to baking, we are talking about the fermented, sour product, which you find in stores. They do not currently sell any lactose free alternatives, but that’s fine, because it’s super easy to make your own.

Lactose Free, Low FODMAP Buttermilk
1 cup lactose free cow’s milk (such as Zymil, Liddell’s, or Coles or Aldi brands)
1.5 tbs vinegar (apple cider or white wine
Simply combine the milk and vinegar in a cup or jug, and set aside for around ten minutes. This will allow the milk to begin to “curdle” and take on a sour taste. You can then use this in any recipes that call for buttermilk. It’s that easy!

You can try out this DIY buttermilk in my recipes for Buttermilk Chicken, Apple & Quinoa Pancakes or Red Wine Chocolate Cake.

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