Sugar has been a main headline of 2017, mainly refined sugar in its zero-nutritional value. This has led to the increased amount of sugar alternatives. Agave syrup? Brown sugar? Xylitol? There are so many sugar alternatives on the market, but what substitute to use can often be confusing as in some cases socalled ‘healthy’ sugars can be worse than regular sugar.
So, what should we reach for and which alternatives should we steer clear of all together?
Agave Syrup has been labeled as a healthy alternative due to its low glycemic index (GI). Generally, the higher the GI rating of a food, the greater the blood sugar spike – the worse it is for your health. Regular sugar is typically 50% fructose but agave can be as high as 90% fructose. Although fructose won’t raise blood sugar levels in the short-term, it can contribute to insulin resistance causing major increases in long-term blood sugar, and increasing risk of type 2 diabetes.
Agave syrup should therefore be avoided given that gram for gram, it is compares significantly worse to regular sugar.
Brown sugar is produced by taking refined white sugar and mixing in molasses. Molasses contain absolutely no nutrients that the body can benefits from, and are actually about 50% sugar with an insignificant amount of minerals. Simply put, brown sugar is regular sugar diluted with a less concentrated sugar. Therefore, brown sugar cannot be considered healthier than white sugar, even though some marketers would like us to believe so.
Similar to agave syrup, coconut sugar is very high in fructose (35-45%). Coconut sugar is seen to be ‘less unhealthy’ than regular sugar due to the smaller amount of fructose, and tiny amounts of fibre. Nonetheless in this case ‘less unhealthy’ does not make it healthy.
Unlike many other sugar alternatives, honey can still be obtained in its natural form. A typical batch of honey is 82% sugar by weight, half of which is fructose, trace amounts of vitamins, minerals and various antioxidants. These antioxidants found more so in darker honeys than lighter ones are associated with improved health and lower risk of disease.
The glucose and fructose content varies greatly with the different types of honey available to purchase. Honey in its natural form is less unhealthy than regular sugar and a superior choice over most other sugar alternatives; just remember to check the labels! However, due to its high fructose content honey isn’t considered healthy and should not be consumed regularly.
BROWN RICE SYRUP
Brown rice syrup is a sweetener derived from brown rice. Despite brown rice being highly nutritious in its whole food form, brown rice syrup actually contains no nutrients, with the exception of trace elements of calcium and potassium. When brown rice syrup is digested it is broken down to 100% glucose, the same sugar that raises blood sugar levels.
Brown rice syrup also has an extremely high GI (98), much higher than table sugar (GI of approx. 70). Therefore, consuming brown rice syrup is likely to lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar, and so should be avoided altogether.
Maple syrup is different from refined sugar as it contains key minerals and antioxidants. 100 grams of maple syrup contains the following % of your recommended daily allowance (RDA); Calcium (6%), Potassium (6%), Iron (7%), Zinc (28%), Manganese (165%). However, maple syrup contains around 70% sucrose, leaving the mineral content effectively irrelevant.
In comparison to regular sugar, an identical amount of maple syrup cuts total sugar content by a third.
Xylitol is categorised as a sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols have the ability to stimulate the sweet taste receptors on the tongue. While xylitol can be found naturally in fruit and vegetables, it is largely processed as a refined sweetener.
For example, it is a common ingredient in sugar free chewing gums and unlike sugar, it contains no fructose and has insignificant effects on blood sugar. Studies show xylitol to reduce tooth decay and cavities by 85%, and has been seen to increase the production of collagen and protect against osteoporosis. Therefore, xylitol is an excellent alternative to regular sugar.
Stevia is a green, leafy plant known for its strong, sweet flavour, generally found in either powder or liquid form. Some suggest 1 teaspoon of stevia extract powder can have a similar sweetening power as a whole cup of sugar.
Taking stevioside (one of the sweet compounds in stevia) as a supplement can reduce blood pressure and help lower blood sugar levels. Stevia has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, diuretic and immunomodulatory effects.
Being 100% natural with zero calories, stevia is considered the healthiest of all sweeteners available.
THE END RESULT
Ultimately, sugar is always going to be sugar, but there are indeed pros and cons to most sugar alternatives. While some are better than regular sugar, others are significantly worse. Be wise with your choices, and remember every little helps when providing nourishment and health to your body!