Let’s get this out of the way first: we hear all the time that sugar is bad for us. Increased consumption can lead to harming our metabolism, which can lead to increased insulin and fat storage, it can interfere with hormones in our body causing variety of health issues. The list goes on.
The aim of this article, however, is to provide some options to replace white sugar if it does feature in your diet. No shaming here, just some facts, pros and cons for each alternative to, hopefully, inspire you to give them a go.
All the information provided here is to my best knowledge and research available at the time of writing, because let’s be honest, nutritional information and evidence can sometimes change faster than we can blink. Let’s get to it.
Stevia has been around for rather few years and is one of the most popular natural sweeteners that are widely available to purchase. It is extracted from the leaves of South American shrub and can be up to 350 times sweeter than sugar. What I have noticed, some stevia products available to purchase, contain only small amounts of stevia and are filled with cheaper, artificial sweeteners, so it is worth checking the label before buying.
Interestingly, people seem to fall into two camps when it comes to the stevia’s flavour: some will argue it is tasteless making it a great alternative, but for some, the taste reminds of artificial sweeteners, making it a less attractive option.
· Zero calories
· 100% natural
· Has been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels
· Some people find the flavour over powering.
Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol that has only recently gained more popularity and became widely accessible. You may often find it available in combination with stevia. It is up to 80% as sweet as regular sugar, but contains only about 5% of the calories.
· Only 5% of calories compared to a regular sugar
· May help lower blood sugar levels in the body
· Can be used in cooking and baking
· Tastes almost exactly like sugar
· Leaves a slight cooling sensation in your mouth
Monk Fruit Sweetener
While it seems to be very popular in the US, I struggle to find it in the UK market. It is extracted from the fruit grown in Southeast Asia and is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar. The antioxidants in the monk fruit sweetener (mogrosides) provide anti-inflammatory properties. Little information is provided on the taste of this sweetener and I have not yet tried it myself.
· Zero calories
· Contains antioxidants
· Minimal influence on blood sugar and insulin levels
· Not as widely available for purchase
You might wonder how it made it to the list: maple syrup is very high in sugar and has just slightly lower glycaemic index (54) compared to a regular sugar (65). If you were to choose between the two, maple syrup at least contains some minerals and oxidants. Make sure you read the label carefully when purchasing - very often you will find and maple-flavoured syrup that is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup (which you really want to avoid).
· Contains at least 24 antioxidants
· Some minerals found (zinc and manganese in higher amount)
· Very high in sugar, should be consumed in very small amounts
Similarly to maple syrup, coconut sugar is just slightly better option than regular sugar with the advantage of some minerals and slightly lower glycaemic index, but your body still metabolises it the same way.
· Contains iron, zinc, calcium, potassium and some oxidants
· Almost same number of calories and carbs compared to regular sugar
· Affects our blood sugars just as white sugar does.
As you may have noticed, there is rather a big difference when it comes to natural sweeteners. I hope this article provided you with more information with what is available out there, together with the potential benefits and downsides. I would love to hear from you, what is your preferred sweetener at the moment?
Photo credit: Photo by Mae Mu.