Natural sugar alternatives
Written by guest author Nynke Burggraaff
Luckily I am not a sweet tooth, but I know many of you are! The main ingredient to provide sweetness in foods and drinks is of course sugar. There are countless reasons why it would be better to cut out, or at least decrease your sugar consumption. A high intake of sugar contributes to obesity, causes high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, increases your blood sugar levels and more.
So we've established that sugar causes health complications. But what about the alternatives? Are they healthy? In this article I'll discuss the most popular sugar alternatives and will discuss whether or not they are in fact safe alternatives.
What makes a good alternative?
One of the key factors of a good alternative is if the natural sugar has a low glycemic index. It is only a plus if the alternative contains other good nutrients such as minerals and vitamins.
Stevia rebaudiana is a plant that typically grows South and Central America. The leaves of the Stevia plant is widely used by South Americans to sweeten their food and drinks and nowadays is gaining popularity in the rest of the world as a sugar substitute. Natural Stevia is green but is also available as a white powder.
Research has not shown any negative effects on diabetics by using Stevia. The Dutch Diabetics Fund researchers advise not to use more than 4 mg per kilogram of bodyweight. When trying to avoid carbohydrates which are found in sugar, make sure you always read the labels of a Stevia product. Many product packages will scream Stevia while in fact there it only contains a small percentage of Stevia and the rest are fillers which can include the carbohydrates you were trying to avoid in the first place.
Click here to learn how to read nutrition labels.
Palm Sugar, often called coconut icing sugar, is made from coconut nectar extracted by making notches in the bud of the coconut flower. Palm sugar contains many beneficial nutrients such as potassium, magnesium, iron, boron, zinc, sulfur, copper and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6.
Though palm sugar is not without calories, it's glycemic index is lower than refined sugars and therefore is absorbed much slower by the bloodstream. Many say that palm sugar tastes more or less like brown sugar but with a hint of caramel. The advantage of palm sugar is that you can use it like you would regular sugar because it has the same consistency and same sweetness.
When opting for palm sugar, always check the labels of your product as palm sugar often is mixed with cane sugar which brings you right back to bad refined sugars.
Agave nectar sweetener
Do you like tequila? Good chance you'll love agave nectar. Just kidding! However, tequila is made from the same plant as agave nectar namely from the agave plant. This is a plant that grows a lot in South America. In order to use the extracts from this plant it is heavily refined. Agave syrup, again check the labels for hidden additives, has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar making it a better alternative.
Ever heard of the maple syrup diet? Maple syrup is extracted from the xylem of red or black maple trees. Compared to the other sugars alternatives we spoke about, maple syrup has the most extra nutritional benefits. It contains 24 antioxidants, calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. This is not a reason to consume maple syrup as you should get those nutrients from other, healthy foods. A reason to opt for maple syrup is that its glycemic index is around 54 which is slightly better than white sugar which is 65.
Click here to learn more about the glycemic index.
The bottom line
Sugar can be bad for a healthy lifestyle, but sometimes you just have to indulge your inner sweet tooth. The best sugar alternatives are those with a low glycemic index and that potentially have beneficial nutrients.
When choosing what you believe to be a suitable sugar substitute, it is crucial to read the nutrition labels. Many producers will try to lure you into buying their 'healthy' sugar while in reality the product is mixed with bad sugars. Also, keep in mind that even though you are using a natural sugar substitute, they still contain calories and should be used in moderation for a healthy lifestyle.