Beat your refined sugar cravings with natural alternatives
HOW HARMFUL IS SUGAR?
- Before sugar enters the bloodstream it is separated into glucose, which is found in every living cell, and fructose, of which serves no purpose in our bodies
- Sugar is high in fructose can overload the liver, turning the fructose into fat
- As sugar causes an excessive dopamine release into the brain, it is highly addictive
- It plays a harmful role in tooth decay, as the bacteria uses the energy in sugar to form together to create plaque
- Too much sugar can cause insulin resistance, which can lead to obesity and type II diabetes
For those with a sweet tooth, it can be hard to stay away from harmful sugary treats - especially when it seems like there's no equally delicious alternative. But whether it's comes from fruit, tree sap, or even more unusual sources such as brown rice, there are natural alternatives to refined sugar. We look at the most popular natural sweeteners and their health benefits. For those that want to cut down on refined sugar, there are natural alternatives that have health benefits.
Produced by bees using the nectar of flowers, honey is one of the most popular natural sweeteners, and has been used this way for centuries. Opt for raw honey which is lauded for its multiple health benefits including iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin, while also promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Manuka honey, although it tends to be slightly more expensive, is championed for its anti-bacterial properties and ability to help heal infection. Honey, particularly dark unpasteurised varieties such as buckwheat, has higher traces of nutrients and antioxidants. Calories: 1 tablespoon - 22 calories
MAPLE SYRUP The sap taken from maple trees is heat-treated, causing much of the water to evaporate, leaving the concentrated sticky syrup. While it is a lot less sweet than honey, it retains its taste even in heat, which makes it great for incorporating into cooking. The syrup can be used in the same ratio as sugar, and according to research, ensuring it is in its pure form, contains over 54 antioxidants. Opt for darker varieties, which are known to contain higher traces of antioxidants. Calories: 1 tablespoon - 50 calories
Created from dehydrated, ground dates, it goes through minimal processing and tastes slightly sweeter than white sugar and therefore less needs to be used. Crammed with fibre, vitamins, and with energy-boosting qualities, the slightly thicker consistency makes it great for use in baking. Since it doesn't melt, the brown powder can't be used as a direct alternative for sugar; so don't think about stirring it into a tea or coffee. Calories: 1 tablespoon - 43 calories
Stevia has been used for over a thousand years in South America and the powdery sweetener, which tastes just like white sugar, is extracted from a plant. The rise of the all-natural alternative has been meteoric due to the fact it fact that it is 30 times sweeter than sugar and so less is required, has no calories, no carbohydrates and does not raise blood sugar. Studies have also shown that Stevia is linked to alleviating health problems such as high blood pressure, and is shown to be an anti-inflammatory effect. Calories: 0
COCONUT PALM SUGAR The latest coconut by-product to gain popularity, the sugar is made from heat-treating the sap from the flower buds of the coconut palm tree, until the liquid has evaporated. It comes in generally all forms, solid and liquid, but its preferred use is often in granule form, due to similarity to normal table sugar. Unlike normal sugar, coconut palm contains several nutrients including iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. While having a low glycemic index - i.e. how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels - many balk at its high calorie and fructose content. It is great for use in curries and savoury sauces. Calories: 1 tablespoon - 45 calories
MOLASSES Also known as black treacle, the thick dark syrup is a by-product created when sugar cane is processed to create refined sugar. A versatile alternative, molasses can be used in sweet baking for breads, cakes and biscuits, as well when making savoury food such as chutney and sauces. According to studies, the dark syrup has shown to provide relief from menstruation problems, obesity, diabetes and even acne. While regular molasses come from the first boiling of cane sugar syrup, blackstrap molasses come from the third. Opt for blackstrap, as a tablespoon, will provide you with 20% of your recommended daily intake of calcium and 40 per cent of the recommended iron intake. Calories: 1 tablespoon - 47 calories
AGAVE NECTAR Agave nectar is extracted as the plant from which tequila is made and has a pleasant taste. As it is sweeter than normal sugar, only a small amount is needed. However, although it has a low glycemic index - so it won't boost blood sugar levels - it has a high fructose content which is known to have a negative effect on liver function and can play a part in promoting obesity. Calories: 1 tablespoon - 60 calories
FRUIT SUGAR Crammed with vitamins, minerals and fibre, fruit is a simple alternative to pure refined sugar and is recommended for consumption five-times daily anyway. For a sweetener, fruit sugar looks like table sugar, but is much sweeter. Although there are the same amounts of calories as normal sugar, the fruit variety has a low glycemic index and so will not cause blood sugar levels to spike. Calories: 1 tablespoon - 24 calories