Naturally sweet alternatives
Posted on 20 March 2017
Are you trying to reduce your sugar intake but still hankering for something sweet? These natural sugar alternatives have become increasingly popular. Here’s a look at 5 of the most common natural sweeteners and what you always need to be aware of with regard to sugar intake.
‘One should remember that we get added sugar and natural sugar,’ explains Jeske Wellman, a registered dietician who consults at Mediclinic Sandton. ‘Natural sugar, like sugar in fruit or milk, should still be eaten in controlled amounts although it is not so easily “overdone” as with added sugar’.
‘The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that 5% of total calorie intake can be from added sugar. This will be about 4 teaspoons for women and 6 teaspoons for men. The below sweet alternatives are still considered to be added sugar and should therefore be used in moderation to control blood sugar and limit weight gain,’ she explains.
Probably the most popular alternative sweetener, honey is widely used in cooking and baking, to sweeten tea, as a beauty treatment and in home remedies. Raw honey tastes sweeter than regular sugar, due to its high fructose (40%) and glucose (30%), content. It’s also made up of water and minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Honey is still considered high in calories and elevates blood sugar levels.
Made from the sap of succulents native to Mexico, agave nectar is about 150% as sweet as sugar but has a lower GI, and has become a popular alternative sweetener in soft drinks. Commercially available agave is highly processed and about 90% fructose – and many of its health benefits are lost as the nectar is exposed to high temperatures.
Stevia is derived from the green, leafy plant native to the warm climate of South America and has been used for medicinal purposes by indigenous people there for centuries. It’s up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, and is usually found in liquid and powered form. Studies have shown that stevia does not have a significant caloric value nor does it affect blood glucose levels. It is, therefore, being explored as part of the diet plans for people with diabetes and hypertension.
Dates and raisins
These dried fruits are perhaps not the first to be thought of as alternative sweeteners but have become popular additives in smoothies and in baking. They are also the least processed of the foods listed here as they are simply dried and packed. Dates in particular are very versatile – they can be consumed as is (Medjool dates are the larger, softer variant) and can also be dehydrated and ground to produce the darkly coloured date sugar, or turned into a syrup when cooked in some water and blended.
There are many imitators on the market, so pay close attention when shopping for the good stuff. Maple syrup is derived when the sap of maple trees (native to North America) is boiled. It’s deep golden colour and earthy sweetness is very distinctive. Choose organic maple syrup that does not contain any added sugars, and look out for words like ‘maple flavoured’ – as this is not the real thing and is usually a corn syrup that has been artificially flavoured.