Most of you will be aware of the negative effects too much sugar can have on your health. Sugar can be considered empty calories that if consumed in excess may lead to hormonal changes, weight gain and even addiction. Most of you will also be aware by now that artificial sweeteners are just as bad, if not worse, than sugar; riddled with potentially harmful chemicals and void of any nutrition. Then there are natural sweeteners we see marketed as healthier alternatives to sugar; stevia, maple syrup, honey, coconut nectar, agave… The world of sugar is a confusing one.
There are three important factors to take into account when choosing sugar:
1. GI (Glycaemic Index) and the effect this has on your blood sugar
2. The fructose content
3. The additional nutrients it provides
… The ideal being low GI, low fructose and high in extra nutrients.
Our pick of natural sweeteners to provide health rather than harm:
Maple syrup not only tastes delightful, it also contains an abundance of antioxidants as well as a small amount of minerals. With a lower GI and lower fructose content than sugar, it’s much less likely to cause spikes in your blood sugar. When choosing your maple syrup off the shelves make sure it is 100% pure maple syrup with no additives.
Coconut nectar or coconut sugar, made from the sap of the coconut palm, not only give a yummy coconutty flavour to your food but are also less processed than sugar and retain some of the healthful nutrients found in coconut. While these sweeteners may have similar energy content to sugar, they have lower GI and less fructose which is great for continuing to regulate your body’s blood sugar.
Stevia extract is derived from the South American stevia plant and has absolutely zero calories, therefore has very little impact on your blood sugar. While its taste is a little more distinctive than other sweeteners, if you don’t mind the taste then you should consider stevia your go-to sweetener. With a taste 300 times sweeter than sugar, be careful to use it sparingly and opt for pure stevia products rather than those that have undergone processing.
Phoenix Organic Zero Sugar Cola is a great example of putting stevia to good use as a replacement in a classic fizzy that would otherwise be riddled with refined sugar or artificial sweetener. This drink is made with all natural ingredients and has been produced to mimic the taste of traditional Cola, minus the nasties.
Honey has a lot of uses and health benefits, including being rich in natural enzymes that help with digestion, exerting antimicrobial properties, high in antioxidants and also containing small amounts of vitamins and minerals. The great perk of using honey as your natural sweetener is that it has a significantly lower GI when compared to sugar. When purchasing honey, always opt for raw and ideally Manuka honey if the bank account permits. These qualities maintain the integrity of nutrients and will provide the most enzymes.
Dates, the sweetener of champions, are not only great for keeping hunger at bay but also for maintaining healthy digestion. Rich in antioxidants and select minerals, dates have a low GI and definitely have a place in your pantry as a natural sweetener or an occasional sweet snack.
Blackstrap molasses is the leftover byproduct after sucrose has been extracted from raw sugar cane. The result? A sugary sweet, thick sweetener with low GI and high iron. Considered a superfood by some, molasses is chocker block with vitamins and minerals, specifically iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. As it is digested more slowly than sugar, it can help your body to stabilise its blood sugar.
And those that may provide more harm than good:
Brown sugar is essentially refined white sugar with a little molasses added back in, so the effect on your body can be considered mostly the same as regular sugar. It is high in both glucose and fructose and may have a negative impact on your blood sugar and liver. It also usually contains pesticides = big no no!
High-fructose corn syrup, along with other artificial “zero-calorie sweeteners” like Asapartame, Saccharin and Sucralose should be avoided as much as possible. These have the ability to trick your brain into thinking you’re eating something sweet and will often trigger ongoing sugar cravings.
Agave has been a popular topic of debate recently, being marketed as an effective, healthful natural sweetener because of its low GI. However what isn’t communicated as well is its extremely high fructose content… Even higher than that of high-fructose corn syrup. Fructose can be hard for your body to digest and it is not regulated by insulin the way glucose is. If you consume too much fructose, your gut and liver health may suffer.
Opt for small amounts of the natural sugars we have recommended above when you need to satisfy that sweet craving. Keep them on hand in your pantry so they can be used in the kitchen or easily added to your smoothie or hot tea, preventing you from reaching for those not-so-nice sugars.