Berry Chia Jam
Maple syrup > table sugar. Honey > maple syrup. Agave > honey. You’ve probably heard this if you’ve perused over any social media outlet (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). Certain sugars, i.e. honey, maple syrup, agave, are “better” for you than just plain old table sugar. I’m here today as a dietitian to tell you the truth, they are NOT better for you. Sugar is sugar! And while honey might have a few more antioxidants and trace minerals than table sugar, it’s minor in comparison to the quantity that you’d need to consume in order to receive any benefit from those said antioxidants and minerals, which is kind of the opposite of what I’d want. I need people to consume less added sugar in their day.
To get a little science breakdown into it, your body breaks food down into glucose in order to use it for fuel. The more complex a food -- namely a carbohydrate -- is, the more work it takes to break it down. Sugar is made of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose, the sugar typically found in fruits, and is broken down very easily, leading to a surge of blood glucose. What your body doesn't use right away gets stored as fat. Honey is also made mostly of sugar, but it's only about 30 percent glucose and less than 40 percent fructose. And there are also about 20 other sugars in the mix, many of which are much more complex, and dextrin, a type of starchy fiber. This means that your body expends more energy to break it all down to glucose. Therefore, you end up accumulating fewer calories from it. So it might be the logical assumption to make and say that “honey is better for you than table sugar” by a slight margin. I get it. But at the end of the day, added sugar is added sugar. And we need to consume less added sugar. I think people have taken some of this science and distorted it to make them believe they are doing the healthier thing by simply switching out one sugar for another sugar. There are small variations in how our body metabolizes the sugars, so using honey instead of table sugar when adding sugar in might be the preferred choice, but overall less added sugar is actually the goal. Remember that time I made brownies with maple syrup and not sugar, think those are healthier just because they are made with maple syrup and not table sugar? Food bloggers would have you think so, using the phrase “naturally sweetened”. Puh-lease. Let’s not be fooled into thinking that a brownie is healthy because it has honey and not table sugar, just because the sweetener is “natural”..
For me as a dietitian, I’d like to bring to light the bigger issue. Added sugar. With over 50 different names for sugar, it’s often easy to get duped when buying products at the grocery store. And until the manufacturers have to list the “added sugars” on the label (it’s coming one day…who knows when, but it’s coming) will we really know how much added sugar is in the product. Of course, the less packaged products the better. But let’s be real. Most people are not making their own homemade bread and even then bread is a product that has added sugar in it. It all adds up! And if we’re trying to consume less added sugar, we need to know where it’s at.
The American Heart Association has a great visual to show all the places that sugar lurks and while some may seem obvious, this is where I tell people to start. Find out where the added sugar is that YOU consume. From there, begin to cut back. I’ll go over the recommended amounts as the handout shows in a minute. But first it’s finding out where it’s coming from in your diet!
Sugary Drinks - this goes without saying, but this is the absolute first place I start with people. If you’re drinking sugary drinks, find out how many you’re having (to get the total sum of added sugar you’re consuming) and begin to cut back little by little. I mean I’d love to tell you to go cold turkey and have none, but for you to buy in, I need to compromise and have you start cutting back little by little. All these sugary drinks, the new Starbucks drink, currently the Tie Dye Frappuccino, Sweet Tea, Lemonade, Soda - sure they may taste good, but they shouldn’t be consumed on a daily basis. I know it’s summer and it’s hotter than heck, but water will do the trick just right. As a side note, juice is listed in this category. While juice comes from a fruit and is actually ‘natural’ I include it in the added sugar category as there is no fiber. So even though it won’t show up as “added sugar” when the new labels come out, it is considered to be additional sugar that you shouldn’t be drinking but rather eating. You need the fiber from the fruit. No debating this one.
Sweetened Breakfast - There’s a lot of culprits in this category, but I’d say simply examine your breakfast. If you’re having a flavored oatmeal and think you’re eating healthy, think again. It’s that health halo I mentioned earlier. Yes, oatmeal is healthy, but add all that sugar in and it’s turned into dessert for breakfast. Same goes for yogurt. Any of the flavored yogurts out there have tons of added sugar. There are a few brands that have recently come out with the “less added sugar” version but the better option? Buy plain and add your own fruit in. This past week I used mango and pineapple and let me just say, delicious!!
Syrups and Sweets - This is what I was addressing earlier on, begin to see how much sugar (maple syrup, honey, agave) you are using, whether it be syrup on your waffles, sugar in your coffee, honey in your tea, start aiming to reduce the amount being used. And examine the products you purchase to see how much they’re adding in, you’d be surprised that bread, spaghetti sauce, ketchup, and other items have added sugar that we need to be watching. The general message in this category is to be aware and watch the portions when you do use some of these products. Or find a spaghetti sauce (like I did) that doesn’t have added sugar and is also low in salt (and it’s not homemade. Shhhhh).
Frozen Treats - All I will say here is that dessert is meant to be enjoyed and sure it has added sugar in it, so simply watch the frequency of consumption. i.e. if you’re having ice cream every day, probably not the best idea for overall health, just saying.
Sweet Baked Goods - again, dessert is dessert. You will not see me making ‘Nice Cream’ (banana based alternative to ice cream), if I’m going to make ice cream I’m going to make ice cream. But again, keep in mind the frequency and portion when consuming desserts.
The truth is for me all of my added sugar in a day typically comes from something sweet. My oatmeal is plain (I add my own fruit in for literal natural sweetness). My yogurt is plain (again, with added fruit for natural sweetness). So the area for me where added sugar comes into play is with dessert. And that’s kind of the point of this whole discussion. No, not to eat dessert, but rather know where your added sugar is coming from as well as then how much you’re consuming. If you’re using packaged products, sauces, etc. it might be hard to exactly pinpoint the grams of added sugar (as it’s not well listed yet on the label) but I’d say minimally know if the product you’re using has added sugar to be aware and possibly then cut back.
Women and kids are allotted 6 teaspoons = 24g of added sugar/day. It’s listed both ways as some people may be adding sugar to their coffee, desserts, etc. in the form of teaspoons but some people are also looking at a label and have it listed as grams. Men are allotted 9 teaspoons = 36g of added sugar/day.
To this point we’ve been only talking about added sugar. There are two forms of actual natural sugar - that is the milk sugar, lactose, and fructose, found in fruit. I could write a whole blog post about fruit and not fearing fruit (yes, that’s also a thing on social media too) but I’m simply mentioning it here to distinguish and know that fruit doesn’t count towards your added sugar intake/day. We are simply talking added sugar here and fruit is not added, but rather natural.
Which leads me to my go-to jam always and forever (that is if I’m making jam). As I mentioned earlier typically my added sugar consumption comes in the form of sweets. Fruit is a natural sweetener for me - in my yogurt, oatmeal, etc. So I knew I needed to create a jelly/jam for people that had less added sugar. I’ve stood in the jam/jelly aisle at the grocery store and really tried to figure out how they use sooooo much sugar. Although just the other day with my dad we really did see one that uses just the bare minimum. I’d say the awareness is catching on and companies are making what is in demand. Or you can take 10 minutes and make your own homemade version, which is what I hope you will do. This recipe I’ve tried with blackberries, blueberries, and mixed berries. I’ve never tried it with strawberries or raspberries by themselves. The reason I mention this is that with the versions I’ve made I’ve used NO added sugar. None. Zilch. Zero. Nada. If you were to make this with raspberries, I’d probably add a tablespoon of the maple syrup and then taste test to see if it is enough. If not, add up to a tablespoon more. By adding just two tablespoons for the whole two cups of fruit you have just 1/2 teaspoon of added sugar for a tablespoon of jam. This may not be sweet enough for some people, but I’m here to tell you to start where you are at and begin to cut back. We have to. There is just too much added sugar in the food that we’re eating. Start appreciating fruit for it’s natural sweetness. Soon, this too will be just sweet enough.
Berry Chia Jam
2 cups berries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons sweetener of your choice (sugar, maple syrup, honey) IF needed
Heat the fruit in a small saucepan over medium-heat, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is heated through and begins to break down and bubble. Use a spoon or potato masher to mash the fruit to your desired consistency.
Stir in the chia seeds and lemon juice until combined. Then taste, and stir in 1 tablespoon maple syrup if needed - most berries are sweet enough no added sugar is needed!
Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. The jam will thicken considerably as it cools.
Give the jam one final good stir. Then serve immediately or transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 2 months.
*This chia jam is great on toast with nut butter. It’s also fantastic in yogurt and chia pudding. Try it on pancakes and waffles too!
*Fruits that work well in chia jam: Berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries). Not yet tried, but I know they’d be good - cherries, peaches, plums, pineapple, and kiwi - any juicy fruit. (And with pineapple and kiwi, taste test before to make sure you’ve got a sweet one!)
*Optional Add-ins: 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, lemon zest (for a little more tang!), a pinch of spices (cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, or nutmeg).
*Remember, some fruits are sweeter than others and might need some of the added sugar. Totally okay - with the amount I’ve listed, again it’s a minimal amount of added sugar. And also remember some fruits are juicier than others which will make for a thinner jam.
*Taste, adjust as needed, and ENJOY!!