Sweet Solutions: Natural Sugar Substitutes

Do you have a love/hate relationship with sugar?  During the holiday season I definitely have that kind of relationship with the sweet stuff.  It’s the time of year where sweets are everywhere and I have to admit I’m that person baking up sweet and evil temptations.  I love the holidays because it means lots of cooking and especially baking, but if you are a someone who can’t have sugar it can be torture.  Even if you don’t have blood sugar issues it is best to keep sugar consumption at a minimum to avoid the not-so-sweet side effects.  Excess sugar consumption has been linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, memory problems, weight gain and even an increased risk to breast cancer!  If that doesn’t scare you into lowering your sugar consumption I don’t know what will!

How much sugar is too much?

Unfortunately, this answer isn’t going to be the same for everyone. Different factors must be taken into account such as age, activity level and health. Some people can eat a little sugar without harm, while others should avoid it at all costs.  Natural sugars are not the source of health problems; the added sugars are responsible for the negative consequences of excess sugar in the diet. The AHA had this to say:

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than half of your daily discretionary calories allowance. For most American women, that’s no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. 

There are so many sugar substitutes out there these days that it can sometimes be difficult to choose a healthy one.  There has been a lot of controversy lately even about some natural sugar substitutes such as agave.  Here are my top five natural sweeteners:

Xylitol

Xylitol is a naturally-occurring sugar alcohol found in certain fruits and vegetables and is a low-calorie sweetener.  Although it’s classified as a carbohydrate, it has a low glycemic impact due to its slow absorption in the digestive tract, and its caloric impact is around 1/3 lower than other carbohydrates.  Many studies have shown that consumption of Xylitol (combined with proper oral hygiene) significantly reduces the incidence of new dental cavities.  A word of caution, make sure you use a Non-GMO derived xylitol as many on the market are made from genetically modified corn.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut Sugar is a minimally processed natural sugar made from the boiled and dehydrated sap of the coconut palm.  It has a low glycemic impact and a mild sweetness and flavor similar to brown sugar. Coconut sugar ranks just 35 on the glycemic index, while regular table sugar ranks between 60 and 75.

Honey

Honey is sweeter than sugar packed with vitamins and has antimicrobial properties.  It does have more calories than normal sugar but because it’s sweeter you use less of it.  Whenever you purchase honey it’s always best to buy it local and raw.  You never want to buy highly processed honey.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup isn’t just for pancakes and comes in not only liquid form but dehydrated as well. Pure maple syrup has a glycemic index of 54.  In 2011, the University of Rhode Island identified 54 beneficial compounds in maple syrup, five of which have never before seen in nature. These compounds were said to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Date Sugar

Date sugar is made from dehydrated dates that are then ground into small pieces. It is a whole food, high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.  It has a rich sweet flavour that makes it an ideal alternative to brown sugar.  Unfortunately it doesn’t melt and is difficult to dissolve, making it unsuitable for use in drinks.

photo credit: Mikko Luntiala via photopin cc

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