Why I’m disappointed with the “sugar free” cakes on the GBBO

Today’s post isn’t fodmap related but it is on general healthy eating. Anyone who saw the Great British Bake Off last night will know that they had a free from show where they baked goods which were sugar free, dairy free and gluten free. The first challenge on the show involved the contestants baking a sugar free cake. I was excited to see what all the bakers would come up with to sweeten the cakes  however my excitement quickly turned into disappointment when all the contestants resorted to using honey, agave syrup and maple syrup to sweeten their cakes. The term sugar describes monosaccharides and disaccharides . Monosaccharides include glucose, fructose and galactose. Disaccharides include maltose, sucrose and lactose (SACN, 2015).  In my understanding a sugar free diet would attempt to limit the intake of the above mentioned sugars however all the contestants substituted table sugar for honey, agave syrup and maple syrup. Honey is rich in fructose and contains small amounts of glucose, maple syrup has a high content of sucrose and agave syrup has a very high content of fructose (Berg et al, 2006). All of these ingredients are rich in free sugars. Honey, agave syrup and maple syrup are sweeter than table sugar therefore less would be needed in a recipe reducing the overall calorific value and amount of free sugars, however  it would make the bakes lower in sugar as opposed to sugar free. A recent report by SACN (2015) has recommended that free sugars should account to no more than 5% of an individual’s daily energy intake. This translates to approximately (BDA, 2015):

  • 19g or 5 sugar cubes for children aged 4 to 6
  • 24g or 6 sugar cubes for children aged 7 to 10
  • 30g or 7 sugar cubes for 11 years and over

What are free sugars? 

Free sugars are sugars which are added to food e.g. sucrose (table sugar), glucose or those naturally present in honey, syrups such as agave and maple syrup and fruit juices but excludes lactose in milk and milk products.

Why should we limit the intake of free sugars?

  1. A high intake of free sugars increases the risk of tooth decay.
  2. The higher the intake of free sugars, the higher the energy intake therefore increases the risk of weight gain.
  3. A high consumption of high sugar beverages result in weight gain and increases in BMI. Just one high sugar beverage can meet or exceed the recommendation limit for free sugars set by SACN (2015).
  4. The consumption of high sugar beverages increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (BDA, 2015; SACN, 2015).

In conclusion, swapping to honey, maple syrup or agave syrup in baking can help reduce the overall calorie content and amount of free sugars. However, while honey, maple syrup and agave syrup come from natural sources it does not make them healthy and their intake should be limited.  Finally, for a sugar free bake limit the use of free sugars and try to use the natural sugars present in fruits and natural sweeteners such as stevia and erythritol instead.


  1. British Dietetic Association (BDA), 2015. SACN Report: Drastic Action on Sugar Consumption Recommended. Available online at: https://www.bda.uk.com/news/view?id=75&x[0]=news/list [Accessed on 2/09/2015].
  2. Berg A, Perkins T and M Isselhardt, 2006. Sugar profiles of maple syrup grades. Maple syrup digest 18A(4).
  3. SACN, 2015. Carbohydrates and Health. UK: Public Health England.

2 thoughts on “Why I’m disappointed with the “sugar free” cakes on the GBBO

  1. You suggest stevia and erithrotol as preferable to maple syrup. What does produce the sweetness in stevia? I react to it with diarrhea, just as I do toother artificial sweeteners. Is erithrotol a polyol? That would also be bad for IBS.


    1. Hi Carol, thank you for your comment. As I mention in the beginning of the article it was not FODMAP related. I was merely discussing the fact that the cakes where labelled sugar free when they were not which is misinforming the UK public watching the show. However you are right in terms of FODMAPs, maple syrup is a perfectly good sweetener to use, as is golden syrup as both of these are low FODMAP. They are my go to sweeteners especially when I have to substitute honey.

      Now to answer your questions about stevia and erythritol…

      Stevia is made from the stevia plant. I was lucky enough to come across a stevia stand at a conference and I tasted one of the leaves of the plant. The leaves to my surprise tasted like sugar! Stevia extract on its own is low FODMAP, unfortunately many of the stevia products available on the market contain other added ingredients such as inulin which make it high FODMAP. These added high FODMAP ingredients may be the reason why you have experienced diarrhoea. The only granulated stevia I was able to find without any additives is the Simply Wholesome 100% pure stevia extract white crystals. There are also some liquid stevia products available which are also low FODMAP such as the daforto liquid stevia and the widsom natural liquid stevia.

      With regards to erythritol, it is a 4 carbon polyol which is generally well absorbed however a recent study showed it can interfere with fructose absorption. This can cause IBS symptoms when erythritol is consumed with fructose containing foods as less fructose is absorbed. The malabsorbed fructose ends up in the large intestine and it is fermented by bacteria. This may lead to IBS symptoms. It would be best to avoid erythritol throughout the elimination phase and try it in the reintroduction phase to assess your personal tolerance to it. If consuming erythritol avoid consuming it alongside fructose containing foods.

      I hope this is helpful and I am sorry if the article caused you any confusion.


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