Best Sugar Alternatives
Sugar, as sweet as it is, is sometimes known as an enemy to our bodies. Still, it is the most used sweetener in food production. Over 75% of packaged foods contain sugar and humans consume 20 pounds of sugar daily. This is unhealthy and has created a need for sugar substitutes. This article will take a look at the best sugar alternatives currently in circulation. There was a time only fitness fanatics would think of replacing sugar with other alternatives. Today, as we get more aware of the dangers associated with sugar, it has become a need for the general populace and not just health-conscious people.
Why Do You Need Sugar Alternatives?
There are so many health risks associated with sugar that it is best to scrap it out of your diet entirely. The only thing sugar does to your food is sweeten it. It contains no vitamins, minerals or other nutrients needed in the human body. This means your body can survive without it. It can do more than survive. Studies have shown that cutting out or reducing your sugar intake is highly beneficial to your health.
In an ideal world, we would all discard sugar and quit cold turkey. But not many people can live a sugar-free life. This is why physicians and dieticians alike encourage adopting other sweeteners in place of sugar.
Some of the reasons why you need to cut out sugar include:
- Sugar impairs your metabolism, leading to obesity and increased intake of calories.
- It is extremely addictive and as such causes cravings and overeating.
- Sugar is bad for your skin as it hastens your aging process and is associated with the development of skin issues such as acne.
- Apart from physical aging, increased sugar intake hastens cellular aging and can drastically reduce your energy levels.
- Sugar intake is linked to mild cognitive impairment.
- Increased consumption of sugar is the chief cause of tooth decay and is largely implicated in chronic diseases such as cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases
- Processed foods high in sugar increase your risks of depression.
Due to these dangers, more people are making the switch from sugar to its alternatives as they are oftentimes much healthier.
Best Sugar Alternatives
There are wide varieties of natural and artificial sweeteners to choose from. Some are healthier than sugar, and so much sweeter than sugar. Incorporating them into your diet will help you maintain a healthy, nutritious lifestyle. They include:
Honey is one of the most sought-after natural sweeteners, especially in its raw, unprocessed form. It is the only sugar alternative with cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial benefits. It contains important minerals such as iron and selenium which are absent in sugar. Due to the powerful antioxidants present in pure honey, it is effective in fighting off infections and battling diseases such as cancer.
Honey is much sweeter than sugar so you have to use less quantity than you would sugar. Substituting sugar with honey in your pastries, smoothies, and beverages will lead to a gradual reduction in fat and body weight.
Cons: Honey has a more calorific content (64 per tablespoon) than sugar and most of the other substitutes. It has a glycemic index of 61 as opposed to 58 seen in table sugar.
Stevia is another natural sweetener obtained from the leaves of the Stevia plant. It has zero calories, a glycemic index of zero and no adverse health effects. It is the healthiest natural substitute with no side effects yet plenty of health benefits. It lowers blood sugar and insulin levels and does not damage the teeth.
Because of this, stevia is the perfect sugar substitute for diabetic patients and sugar-intolerant individuals. It is also ideal for vegans as it is 100% plant-based. Stevia is three hundred times sweeter than sugar so a tiny bit is more than enough in sauces and baked goods.
Cons: It has no essential nutrients and has a bitter or metallic aftertaste.
Agave nectar is a natural alternative to sugar produced by the agave plant. It contains minerals, vitamins and metabolites. It tastes like honey but is much runnier. Because of this, agave nectar is more soluble in foods and beverages. It contains more calories than sugar. However, it is twice as sweet as sugar so since you use less of it, the calorie difference is balanced.
Cons: Even though it has a lower glycemic index when compared to sugar, its fructose level is higher than sugar at 85%. This increases the risk of obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and other diseases in users.
Pure, organic maple syrup is another ideal natural substitute for sugar. It is obtained by boiling the sap from maple trees into syrup. It is rich in minerals and antioxidants which boost your immunity. It is also good for your skin. Darker, Grade B maple syrups are more beneficial to health. It works best in yogurts, sauces, oatmeal, pancakes and waffles.
Cons: It has a high calorific content of 51 per tablespoon. It is much less sweet than sugar. However, it is still not recommended for sugar-intolerant individuals like diabetics. This is because of the varying quantities of glucose and fructose in the syrup. It has a strong flavor and as such can’t be used to sweeten all kinds of food.
This is another natural alternative. Coconut sugar is not extracted from the coconut itself, rather from the flower buds of the coconut tree. It contains a trace amount of nutrients and has a neutral flavor which goes well with foods. It is low in fructose and also has a low glycemic index. It contains inulin which means it balances blood sugar level.
Cons: It is not completely natural as it is still processed. Because of its coarse texture, it has to be passed through a food processor before it can be used in place of granulated sugar. The presence of inulin does not mean it is good for sugar-intolerant patients. It is best to discuss with a physician before switching to coconut sugar seeing as it has the same amount of calories as sugar.
Brown sugar is often used as an alternative to white sugar. However, there is no health benefit attached to it. The common misconception associated with brown sugar is that it is healthier and less processed than white sugar. Attributing brown and white colors to unrefined and refined foods respectively is only true for brown and white rice.
The brown color in brown sugar comes from the addition of molasses and not because brown sugar is less refined. Brown and white sugars are the same health-wise. However, brown sugar has more flavor than the white variant due to the molasses and as such, is better for baked goods.
Monk Fruit Extract
Much like stevia, monk fruit extract is a low-carbohydrate sweetener. It is extracted by fermenting the pulp of the monk fruit which results in a sweet flavor. It is rich in antioxidants and antimicrobial elements. Despite being 300 times sweeter than sugar, it has zero calories and doesn’t affect blood sugar. This means you only use very little quantity.
Cons: It can trigger gastrointestinal issues in some people. It has an aftertaste and an intense flavor which may overpower the natural taste of certain foods.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that serves as a good sugar alternative. Its taste is similar to sugar and unlike other sweeteners; it does not leave an unpleasant aftertaste. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar yet without the calories. Due to its heat-stable nature, it is perfect for baked goods and beverages.
Cons: Sucralose has no nutritional value, unlike most sugar alternatives. Studies have shown that sucralose alters blood sugar levels and is linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It also disrupts some gastrointestinal activities.
Birch Sugar (Xylitol)
Xylitol is extracted from birch wood or corn. It contains fewer calories than sugar (30 per tablespoon), a lower glycemic index of 7, and has zero fructose. Because of this, it has none of the adverse health effects associated with sugar. It reduces tooth decay and helps your body absorb calcium better. It has the same level of sweetness as sugar, therefore it is easier to use in foods and beverages.
Cons: If taken in excess, it can cause gastrointestinal disorders. It is also toxic to dogs so dog owners should be wary of using it or better still, steer clear entirely.
Substituting sugar with alternative sweeteners has become more necessary than optional due to numerous health risks associated with sugar. Choosing the perfect sugar alternative largely depends on personal preference. You have to consider the taste of the substance, your health status, your lifestyle (vegan) and if you prefer natural sweeteners to artificial sweeteners.
If you prefer natural alternatives, know they are best used in their organic, unprocessed form. Sugar alternatives should be used sparingly and in small quantities just like you would normal sugar.
If you are intolerant to sugar or have to cut back due to health reasons, seek the advice of your physician or dietician before introducing an alternative into your diet.