Sugar & Natural Alternatives
Sugar – no longer the flavour of the day!
During the 1970s and 1980s, fat in all shapes and forms, became a dietary evil. The consequence was there was a movement to reduce the fat levels in our processed foods and that “reduced” fat products were a healthier option. However, in order to retain the flavour while reducing the fat content, sugar was added. Many low-fat alternatives became (and are still) much higher in sugar than the full-fat variety.
Fast-forward to the present day and the tables have turned a little with the recognition that a certain level of “good” fats is actually needed in our diets. Sugar is now coming off as the bad kid on the block and research is pointing the finger at its role in heart disease, diabetes, obesity and increased levels of tooth decay in the population.
Health experts worldwide are starting to recommend we reduce our sugar intake. The World Health Organisation is suggesting that we halve the daily recommendation of 10 tsp of sugar. If you consider 1 can of soft drink alone contains around 10 tsp of sugar! This puts things into perspective.
Natural alternatives to artificial sweeteners
Some people believe artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet) are actually worse than sugar.
So what natural alternatives are there? And how do they stack up? Let’s have a look at a few.
This sweet natural herb native to Central and South America has been used for over 1500 years. In it’s natural leaf form it is over 10 times sweeter than sugar. In extract form it can be 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.
- Virtually no calories
- Doesn’t affect blood sugar levels
- May be beneficial in regulating blood sugar metabolism in diabetics
- Doesn’t break down in heat so can be used in baking and cooking
- Doesn’t promote tooth decay
- Slight bitter after-taste
- So sweet it’s easy to use too much
See more information on Stevia
Sugar Alcohols e.g. Xylitol, Malitol and Sorbitol
Sugar Alcohols are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. Not as sweet as sugar. Often found in foods such as toothpaste, chewing gum.
- Fewer calories than sugar
- Less impact on blood sugar levels than sugar
- Doesn’t promote tooth decay and in the case of Xylitol, may even protect against it
- Can cause gastric problems if excessive consumption e.g. excessive consumption may have a laxative effect
- Some can be toxic to dogs and small animals
Otherwise known as Luo Han Guo, this orange-sized fruit is grown in Thailand and China and has been used for over 800 years as a sweetener and for treating gastric complaints.
- No aftertaste
- No affect on Blood Sugar levels
- 200 x sweeter than sugar
- Still a relatively new product and not readily available in NZ
See more information on Monk Fruit
Anything to do with coconuts is very popular at the moment. Coconut oil doesn’t raise cholesterol levels and its nutritional values are not affected by heat unlike other oils. We’ve also seen coconut water being touted as “Mother Nature’s Sports Drink”, especially in the US. Derived from the sap of the coconut palm, coconut sugar is also achieving attention as a healthier alternative to sugar.
- More nutritious than sugar containing some vitamins, minerals, and amino acids
- Lower glycemic score than sugar
- Tastes like brown sugar
- Same calories as table sugar so no kinder to the waist line
So, what about Honey? Is it better than sugar?
Quality honey that hasn’t been over-processed can contain many beneficial elements. But is it a better alternative to sugar?
- Raw honey contains natural antioxidants, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals
- Sweeter than granulated sugar so you use less
- Good alternative to sugar in baking at a reduced amount
- Higher calorific values than sugar
- High levels of fructose, the most harmful form of sugar so you shouldn’t use much of it
Don’t fool your body…
Like with all things, moderation is still key. If you have a sweet tooth and simply try to replace sugar levels with artificial or natural sweeteners, your body’s natural ability to calorie count could be affected and you end up with even more sugar cravings!
Cutting down your sugar intake…
Apart from the obvious cakes, lollies and sweet goodies. Sugar can also be “hidden” in other everyday items. Here are some tips to reduce your sugar intake.
- Choose water, milk or other calorie-free drinks over of sugary soft drinks or sports drinks.
- Fruit juice should be 100% fruit juice with no added sugar or better yet, eat a piece of fruit instead as the fibre will help digest the sugar.
- Cut sugar out of your tea and coffee (if you can) or at least substitute it with a natural sweetener like Stevia. Brands like Equal now offer Stevia sachets as an alternative to their artificial sweeteners. Healthyonline stocks Stevia in various forms – Sachets, Liquid and Tablets.
- Breakfast cereals can contain a lot of sugar so check the nutritional information carefully (especially those “cereals” aimed at children – extra sugar is added to make them even more palatable for kids). It is more nutritional to add fresh fruit to very low sugar cereal to make it tastier for them.
- When baking, test recipes using a reduced sugar volume. Sometimes you can even halve the sugar in a recipe without compromising the outcome or flavour.
- Pre-prepared sauces (e.g. tomato sauce and tomato pasta sauces) and salad dressings can also contain a lot of sugar. The low-fat varieties usually even more! So, make your own. A good pasta sauce is one of the fastest, easiest things to make!
- Buy canned fruit that is in natural fruit juice rather than syrup.
- More and more brands are producing reduced-sugar varieties of their jams and preserves. Choose these over the full-sugar variety.