Sugar has had a really bad year. We have been told that it is;
– as addictive as cocaine
– as toxic as smoking
More shocking is how much sugar is hiding in so-called healthy foods; check out this shocking video I made a while back on hidden sugars.
It’s easy to avoid the obvious sugary foods like cakes and biscuits. Not so easy when it comes to other foods. The trick is to read the label on everything you buy – from salad dressings to cereals and drinks. You’ll be amazed how much sugar is in there.
The ideal solution is to retrain your sweet tooth. This can happen amazingly quickly once you start to avoid sugar. Your taste buds really change and after a while you will get a heightened sensitivity for sweet foods. You really won’t need them any more.
But if you can’t go cold turkey just yet, there are some alternatives to sugar that aren’t so damaging to your health.
Unfortunately, like everything, there is the good, the bad and the ugly, and some in between. There is a lot of debate around most of these foods, so this is not a definitive list, just my current opinion!
Good – These natural sweeteners have been shown to have some health benefits:
1, Stevia – the new kid on the block, stevia has been getting some good press due to its zero calorie and low GL status. It is extracted from the Stevia plant and ground into a powder or liquid extract.
Some research is showing that stevia even has health benefits (lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels)- BUT you need to be using the right kind. Truvia and other processed stevia products are to be avoided.
Look for green leaf stevia powder or good brands like Sweetleaf Stevia. As with any herb, some people may not tolerate stevia, so be aware of any side effects.
2, Xylitol – a popular sugar alternative for years, xylitol is a sugar alcohol, very low calorie and has no effect on blood sugar levels. Evidence shows it is beneficial for dental health and may improve bone density.
It’s a great one to use for baking, as it cooks well and tastes similar to regular sugar. Again look for non GMO, birch derived products, like Total Sweet. For some people xylitol can cause digestive issues, so again be aware of this when trying it.
3, Erythritol – another sugar alcohol, erythritol is very low calorie and doesn’t affect blood sugar. There are no known side effects at normal doses. A brand that I like is Sukrin Gold.
4, Yacon Syrup – this is a new one for me. This sweet tasting syrup has actually been studied for its weight loss properties! It comes from the juices of the yacon plant in South America and looks a bit like molasses (or treacle).
The difference being that it is made up of mostly FOS (fructooligosaccharides) which is a type of prebiotic soluble fibre- it feeds the friendly bacteria in our gut, leading to many health benefits, including potential weight loss. FOS can be tricky for people with sensitive guts, so get advice from a medical professional if you have any concerns.
Bad – but OK in moderation
The following sugar alternatives are more natural and less bad than refined sugar, but they are still to be treated as sugar;
1, Molasses –molasses (or black treacle) are a by-product of the refining of sugar cane or beets. They are sold in health food shops as a healthy sugar alternative due to the mineral content (they contain iron, magnesium and calcium) but they also contain 11g of sugar per tablespoon, so moderation is key.
2, Brown rice syrup – this is made from the breakdown of starch in brown rice to digestible sugars (mainly glucose). While there is no fructose in it, it has very few nutrients and has a high GL so can disrupt blood sugar. Use with caution.
3, Raw honey – honey is 80% sugar, mostly fructose, which some say is the worst type of sugar for us. But unrefined raw honey is a natural product that contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes, and has been used for centuries as a medicinal product. If you can get local, raw honey, even better.
4, Maple syrup – maple syrup is made from the sap from the maple tree and has some mineral content and antioxidants. But it is also mostly sugar (sucrose) so again consume in moderation.
5, Coconut sugar – this is made from the sap of the coconut plant. It does contain some minerals and fibre and has a lower GL than regular sugar, but it is high in fructose, so again you need to use it in moderation.
Ugly – These are the ones to avoid!
1, Agave nectar – long touted as the healthy sugar substitute, agave nectar is made from the sap of the agave plant (commonly used to make tequila).
In its natural state, it probably has some health benefits, but by the time it has been processed into agave nectar, these have been lost and you end up with a whole load of highly refined fructose syrup! Yes it is low GL, but fructose is way more damaging than regular sugar, so avoid avoid avoid! Read more about fructose here.
2, Refined sugar – nothing to say for refined sugar – just empty calories, no nutrients and a whole load of associated health problems.
3, Corn syrup – High Fructose Corn Syrup (or Fructose Glucose Syrup in the UK) is a mass inexpensive sugar substitute added to many processed foods (watch out for cereals, soft drinks, yoghurts, Ribena, ice cream, cakes, biscuits). Labelled the ‘devil’s candy’ in the US for its many health dangers.
4, Artificial sweeteners (Sucralose, Splenda, Nutrasweet, Aspartame, Saccharin etc) – these may be zero calorie, but they are chemicals. Evidence is showing that some are neuro-toxic and may even increase our appetite and weight!
So take your pick of the sugar alternatives. Find one you like and use it in moderation. After all, once you have ditched your sweet tooth and sugar cravings, you won’t need much of any of them!
If you need help quitting sugar, losing weight or balancing your hormones, please contact me for a free 20 minute consultation.
The information presented in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or doctor or other health care professional.
Johnson R et al., (2007) Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. American Society for Clinical Nutrition.
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Mauricio García-Aguirre et al. Strategy for Biotechnological Process Design Applied to the Enzymatic Hydrolysis of Agave Fructo-oligosaccharides To Obtain Fructose-Rich Syrups. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2009 57 (21), 10205-10210
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