You have probably heard that refined sugar has overtaken saturated fats as being one of the leading causes for obesity and disease in our diet. Yet sugar, like salt, is in so many things! So how can we cut down on our sugar intake, without being forced to stop eating everything we have enjoyed up until now?
If you have a sweet tooth, then you are not alone. In fact sugar is not only popular, it is also addictive! The good news is that there are some substitutes out there that are considered a healthier alternative.
Don’t be fooled though, not all sugar substitutes are the better option. Here are some of the substitutes out there, from the healthier, to the least healthy alternatives.
Healthiest options: These four are considered to be the healthiest, low calorie sugar substitutes.
Stevia - This is a sweetener derived from the leaves of a plant that has been grown in South America for centuries, both for its sweetness as well as its medicinal properties. Despite being very sweet, it is very low in calories and has been shown to actually lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. It is considered to be one of the healthiest sugar substitutes, however it has a very distinct ‘sweet’ flavour that not everyone enjoys.
Erythritol - In it’s natural form erythritol, a sugar alcohol, is found in some fruits, however usually when it is purchased in powder form it has been created through industrial processes. It contains 94% less calories than sugar yet is almost as sweet. It doesn’t spike insulin or blood sugar levels, so is a great alternative for diabetics. The only downside is that it can cause digestive complaints (mainly diarrhea) when consumed in excess.
Yacon syrup - Derived from the yacon plant, this syrup is becoming increasingly popular as a weight loss alternative to sugar as it is rich in soluble fibre and can aid in weightloss. As with erythritol, however, if eaten in large amounts it can cause digestive complaints.
- Xylitol - Another sugar alcohol, xylitol is slightly higher in calories, yet still only contains about 60 % of the calorie value of sugar. It is probably one of the most similar tastes to sugar, however as with the other sugar alcohols it can cause digestive complaints and this one is also toxic for dogs.
Slightly healthier: These two are quite natural alternatives, yet are still relatively high in calories.
Honey - Honey comes out on the glycemic index as being moderate (45-60), however it is essentially still 80% sugar. So even though it is slightly healthier than sugar, it should only be consumed in moderation. It does have the advantage of being relatively unprocessed and natural, which makes it a better choice in my opinion.
- Maple syrup - Maple syrup is basically 67 % sugar, however it does have the advantage of containing f other nutrients, such as manganese, calcium, iron, potassium and zinc.
Ones to avoid:
Agave nectar - Even though agave has been touted as a healthy alternative to sugar, the reality is that it can actually be more detrimental to your health. Regular sugar contains about 50% fructose, whereas agave contains 70-90%. Fructose is not easily metabolised by the liver and too much of it causes the liver to store it as fat which in turn increases the risk of specific diseases, such as diabetes. Even though agave doesn’t raise the blood sugar or insulin levels in the short term, it can actually cause insulin resistance when consumed in high doses over an extended period of time.
- High fructose corn syrup - This is probably the worst sugar alternative, because not only can some forms of high fructose corn syrup contain 90% fructose, it is also derived from corn which is completely genetically modified. Because of its high fructose content, it shares similar risks to agave nectar.