There is no other nutrition topic that is as nearly discussed as sugar intake. However, research is clear that sugars, like other carbohydrates, are a source of energy for our bodies and zero-sugar diets are neither recommended nor have positive health results. On the other hand, consuming too much added sugar leads to obesity, heart disease and tooth decay. Obesity itself is a major factor contributing to diabetes, some cancers and stroke.
But how much sugar are Australians currently eating per day? More than half of the Australians exceed the daily sugar intake recommendations. This means if we want a healthier lifestyle, we need to cut on sugars. This is not an easy task at all but is very important especially if we want to lose weight or have some cardiovascular disease. But regardless of whether your goal is losing weight or you just want to lead a healthier way of life, it’s good to know there are healthy alternatives. This means you don’t need to quit your favourite dessert, just make it with some more natural ingredients. Yay!
With so many different sweeteners on the market today, how can you choose the best ones for your health and diet? Here are the top 5 sugar alternatives everyone should try.
Monk fruit is a small green melon-like fruit that has been grown in South East Asia for hundreds of years. Buddhist monks used to grow it and that’s how it gets its name. People in eastern countries have been using it to treat intestinal problems and the common cold. And nowadays, more and more people use monk fruit as the healthiest alternative to sugar.
It’s easy to see why people love this sweetener. This fruit is sweet enough because of its natural substances called mogrosides. These compounds tend to have an anti-inflammatory effect which helps in preventing cancers and keeping blood sugar levels stable. They make the monk fruit extract 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, so you only need a little to satisfy your sweet tooth. Because it contains zero calories, zero carbohydrates, zero sodium, and zero fat, it promotes weight loss and makes its way to a variety of diets. It also doesn’t cause cavities because there isn’t actual sugar in it.
Maybe the best thing about it is that it’s proved to have no side effects and therefore can be used even by pregnant, breastfeeding women and children. Taste is a relative thing but most people find the monk fruit sweetener to have no bitter aftertaste like some other sweeteners do. It’s also temperature stable, so you can use it for baking in the same way you use sugar, just in smaller amounts. Useful tip: be sure to find a healthy monk fruit powder, containing monk fruit extract and erythritol instead of sucrose or dextrose.
Stevia sweetener comes from the stevia plant. South Americans have been using it as a sugar substitute for years and now, people, knowing its benefits, are growing stevia all over the world. Opinions differ when it comes to how beneficial is stevia. Is stevia a healthy alternative to sugar? Yes, it is. Being 100-350 times sweeter than sugar, it’s a natural, zero-calorie sweetener. The use of stevia is proven to fight inflammation, reduce blood sugar levels in our body and help us with weight loss.
Some people don’t like stevia’s bitter aftertaste and some say it reminds them of mint and are okay with it. Food scientists have been working on this issue for a while now, improving the extraction process and making stevia blends that can be used for sweetening and baking. Another downside is that stevia isn’t acting the same way as sugar when baking, due to its different chemical structure, so be sure to follow a trusted recipe or a substitution chart. As stevia has been widely recognized now, there are many blends, powders and liquid drops on the market, not all being the same quality or having the same ingredients. When shopping, look for organic stevia for the best diet and health results.
If you’re looking for a healthy alternative that is very similar to table sugar, you’re most likely to find it in coconut sugar. Coconut sugar is made out of the blossoms of the coconut palm tree, not the fruit. Its taste is almost the same as the brown sugar but with a subtle caramel scent. Being most similar to cane sugar, coconut sugar has the same temperature stability as white sugar does, so it’s perfect for baking, cooking, marinades and dressings. Too good to be true, you think. Well, having the same structure as sugar, coconut sugar is high in calories, so it must be taken in moderation.
So, what makes it a healthier alternative? It has a low GI (Glycaemic Index) rating of 35 and the great thing about low GI sugars is that they allow for a slow release of energy and as such avoid the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ caused by most commercial sugars. It also has a high mineral content compared to other sugars – it’s a great source of zinc, iron and magnesium. Coconut sugar is considered to be the most sustainable natural sweetener in the world.
You may think can something with alcohol in it be a healthy alternative. Since alcohol sugars are neither sugars nor alcohol, this term can be misleading. They are simply a type of carbohydrate that has a similar structure to sugar. The most common ones are erythritol and xylitol. How are these healthy sugar substitutes? Erythritol is made through fermentation and is found naturally in many different foods, such as fruits and mushrooms, as well as in fermented foods such as cheese, wine, beer, and soy sauce. It’s approximately 70% as sweet as sugar, it has no calories and has a zero GI, which means it doesn’t raise insulin levels, making it suitable for diabetics or people on a special diet.
You can use erythritol in so many different ways – in baking, chocolate, ice cream. Since it can have side effects as diarrhea, look for a sweetener that is non-laxative and has a high digestive tolerance. Xylitol is found to modify the saliva in your mouth, so when eating desserts and meals with xylitol, not only it doesn’t cause cavities but prevents them. And the best thing about it is that it looks and tastes like sugar, only better for your health – it contains 40% fewer calories than sugar.
Dates are the fruit of the date palm tree, growing in tropical regions of the world. Dates have spiked in popularity as more and more people learn about their rich nutritious profile. Although high in calories, dates contain many vitamins and minerals, in addition to fibre and antioxidants, which make them great sugar substitutes. The additional benefits from the use of dates are numerous – from helping with constipation to promoting brain health, and a reason why many people use them as a sweetener instead of sugar. You can use them solely – pitted and added in smoothies, or you can make a date paste and add it in salads, oatmeal or any other meal you want to make sweeter. The date syrup is another alternative, but be sure to buy one with clear ingredients, without added sugars.
To Sum Up
How can you decide what sugar alternative is best for you? Well, these may be the best alternatives regarding your health and diet but don’t forget that in the end, it all comes to your taste preferences. You can try each one and choose the one you like the most. Because, when it comes to healthy choices, enjoying them is crucial to make them sustainable in the long run.