Saccharides, the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, and the Meaning of Sugar-Free

I got a comment nearly two weeks ago on my sugar-free meringue recipe, saying that it is not sugar-free because honey is also sugar:

this is not sugar-free!! Honey is also sugar…Sugar is more than sucrorse (glu-fru)
Honey contains 40% fructose and 30% glucose -> so certainly not a sugar free recipe

This isn’t the first time I’ve received comments/queries about this. I responded:

This recipe is refined sugar-free, i.e. granulated sugar. That’s what sugar-free usually means in recipes. Please refer to Elaine Gottschall’s book Breaking the Vicious Cycle, in which she explains the different forms of sugar. Honey is a monosaccharide or single cell sugar. To be technically sugar-free means using no form of sweetener at all, including fruit since all fruit has naturally occurring sugars and no starches as well because they convert to complex sugar, which is why they’re forbidden on the SCD. I hope that this addresses your concern.

In this post, I wish to expand a little on my comment. If you’re a longtime and regular reader of Z’s Cup of Tea, you’ll know that I use honey a lot in my recipes, whether they are ones I’ve created or adapted from other sources. I label these recipes as sugar-free, as by definition of majority “sugar-free” usually means being made without refined sugar, just as the labeling on a food item’s packaging at a grocery store would indicate, and then one would read the label to see if there were any other sweetener as a substitute, and if so, what was used. Other sweeteners such as honey, agave nectar, tapioca syrup, etc., are known as “alternative sweeteners”, as the food industry identifies them that way, which is why most people are used to reading the packaging to discern what specifically is being used in order to identify whether or not they will decide to purchase it. All of these alternatives to refined sugar are still sugar, yes: but what makes them different from refined sugar are their cell structures.

If we were to be technically correct, if one was to be truly sugar-free, that would extend to avoiding fruit since all fruit has naturally occurring sugars. Starches would also have to be included in this abstinence from sugar as they convert to complex sugar, which, as I mentioned in my comment, is why it’s forbidden on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. All of this is explained and laid out in Breaking the Vicious Cycle by Elaine Gottschall.

Honey is unique from most alternative sweeteners in that it is single-celled, or a monosaccharide: it is a simple sugar. Other sweeteners are either disaccharides or polysaccharides. Refined sugar is a disaccharide, or two-celled sugar. (Polysaccharides, multiple-celled sugar, are also what comprises starches, including wheat.) Because of this unique status, honey is the only allowed sweetener on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD): a diet that only allows simple, specific carbohydrates and it is similar to the paleo or caveman diet. The introduction of Breaking the Vicious Cycle, the book that explains the SCD, explains how the body digests these various forms of sugar. Since honey is a monosaccharide, it is the easiest for the body to break down and digest.

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Meyer Lemon Honey Lemonade (SCD & GFCF)

While not quite summertime yet, it is Meyer lemon season and these lemons make a wonderful lemonade that’s on the slightly sweeter, less acidic side unlike lemonade made with regular, standard lemons. I find it funny, in an odd way, that while winter is associated with the citrus season lemonade is generally reserved for summertime, conjuring memories of children’s lemonade stands and hot days; returning from the beach and walking home, the pavement burning underfoot.

Meyer lemons are generally described as a cross between a regular lemon and a tangerine or mandarin; a hybrid fruit that is adored far and wide and cherished especially because of its short season and availability – unless you happen to live in California, then they’re available year round and there often even Meyer lemon trees in people’s backyards!

If you haven’t made lemonade from scratch before, it couldn’t be easier than this. This was my first time making lemonade and I was amazed at how easy it was, I don’t know why I didn’t before: simply mixing three ingredients together, the longest you have to wait is for the drink to chill. I find it’s best to drink it the day after, letting the flavours of honey and lemon infuse as it chills in the fridge. The honey merely sweetens, lemonade should really taste mostly of lemons.

(Meyer lemons not pictured, sorry. Those are ye olde standard lemons.)

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