Has the festive season been particularly indulgent? Get ready for a clearer and cleaner 2024 without restricting yourself by choosing to incorporate some of these sweet alternatives into your diet.
The sugar alternatives trend has grown exponentially over the last couple of years, with companies coming out with different ways for people to have it all - treats without the unhealthy side effects.
We all know that refined sugar can be detrimental to our health. Not only does it contain empty calories that can lead to weight gain and diabetes, it can also negatively impact our dental health and even damage blood vessels.
But wow, it’s addictive, and in our modern lifestyles filled with daily stressors, enjoying a little treat can help turn a frown upside down - if only for a moment.
“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way.”
- Mary Poppins
The good news is that there are many sugar alternatives on the market that are being used in some of our favourite moreish treats. Artificial sweeteners include things like aspartame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, sucralose, sucralose, and neotame. But there are also a number of more natural sweeteners that can easily be incorporated into your diet.
Natural sweeteners are generally made from leaves and fruits, and can be categorised into extracts, sugar alcohols, honeys, and syrups, each with their own unique properties and taste…
Made from the juice of a Southern Chinese native fruit often referred to as luo han guo or Buddha fruit, this sweetener also has a history of being used in the traditional treatment of colds and sore throats. It boasts a high concentration of a unique antioxidant called mogroside, which has anti-inflammatory properties. This antioxidant is also responsible for the sweetness of the fruit and, in the extraction process, is separated from the fructose and glucose found in the fruit, so that the sweetener is not only slightly fruity, but also contains zero calories and does not increase blood sugar levels when consumed.
Extracted from the leafy stevia plant native to Paraguay, this sugar substitute has a slightly bitter, licorice taste profile, and zero calories. It is known for being particularly beneficial for those with diabetes as it can help lower total cholesterol, while also decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing good cholesterol (HDL). Although sometimes eaten in raw form, the cultivated versions offer the best results without the negative effects.
Tip: Choose a stevia sweetener without dextrose or maltodextrin, as these are simply added glucose and starch, which can increase the number of calories found in each serving.
Made from the cob of corn and birch trees, xylitol is one of the most popular sugar alternatives currently on the market. It is commonly found in sugar-free chewing gum, candies, mints, and oral care products as it has been found to boost dental health and prevent tooth decay. It also contains fewer than 40% of the calories in normal sugar, has little impact on blood sugar levels, and can stimulate immune function, digestion and even collagen production, improving your youthful glow and fighting your risk of osteoporosis.
Tip: Be sure to try xylitol, and any sugar alcohol, in small doses first, as they can have a laxative effect in high doses.
Most commonly used in the creation of tequila, agave, native to the southern United States and Latin America, can be made into an antioxidant-rich, diabetic-friendly sweetener. Agave, although new to the western world, has historically been used in traditional medicine, through the boiling of the sap to create miel de agave. This syrup, although high in sugar, is known for having a positive effect on metabolism and insulin levels, as it has a very low GI. It also contains essential vitamins such as vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, and K.
Erythritol has a similar structure and taste to sucrose as it is derived from fruits, including pears, melons and grapes. However, it is low in calories and doesn’t impact blood sugar or cholesterol levels when consumed. Although it belongs to a category of fibres, Erythritol is one of the most tummy-safe sugar alcohol sweeteners. It’s a great zero-calorie option for those on a Banting or low calorie eating plan.
Honey, unlike traditional, refined sugars, contains trace elements of vitamins and minerals including potassium, iron and zinc. It is also recognised as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial food, which can positively affect your well-being. Although it can affect sugar levels similarly to table sugar, its antioxidants have been shown to help protect against metabolic syndrome, reduce inflammation and improve blood sugar regulation, as well as treat gut issues by nourishing good bacteria found in the gut. Thus, although honey is far from a zero-calorie sweetener, it can benefit your overall health.
Tip: Not all honey is created equally, so always read the label to make sure it has not been diluted with a sugar syrup, and lean towards darker variants.
Maple syrup, generally made in Canada and the Northern reaches of the United States, is an antioxidant-packed sugar alternative. The antioxidants, which are more abundantly present in the darker varieties, have been recognised as being potentially beneficial for reducing inflammation. It also contains compounds that reduce oxidative stress, which can wreak havoc on your immune system, as well as minerals such as zinc, manganese, potassium and calcium, which can positively contribute to many body functions. With all this considered, it is important to note that it does spike blood sugar levels in a similar way to sugar, and is by no means a low-calorie option.
Made from liquified dates, date syrup has all the benefits of the fruit itself, with the ease of use of a syrup. It’s free from sodium, cholesterol, trans fat and saturated fat, and contains minerals such as potassium and magnesium, which support heart health. In addition, as it is not highly processed, its GI is very low for a sweetener. Moreover, although not calorie free, it is a great option for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet as it contains essential amino acids usually only found in meat.