Data from the World Health Organization indicates that 1.9 billion people on Earth are overweight, and approx. 600 million are obese. The causes of this epidemic are complex and it is impossible to point the finger at one offender.
For years, we were afraid of eating fat, but even though we eat less and less of it, the plague of obesity is growing as never before. A new suspect has emerged: sugar.
Sugar provides a lot of empty calories without any valuable nutrients. The list of it’s sins, however, are much longer. It sets us up for: atherosclerosis, tooth decay, diabetes – there are even ties to cancer. Additionally, it speeds up the aging of skin.
If you add to this the fact that artificial sweeteners may disrupt hormones that regulate appetite, you’ll get a long list of reasons on why you should get rid of white (brown too – they are not much better) crystals from the menu once and for all. I know, it’s not easy.
To soften the course of this revolution, I have prepared an ultimate guide to the ingredients which will provide you with a bit of sweetness in a healthier manner. You can use some of them to make a low sugar dessert to satisfy your sweet cravings.
Best for: famous as an addition to pancakes, but also great for all kinds of desserts and beverages, as well as meat, fish or vegetables.
What is it?: The syrup is obtained by evaporating water from the sap taken from the trunk of a maple.
Why I like it?: It contains minerals (manganese, zinc, iron, calcium, potassium) and phenolics – antioxidants to counteract diabetes. It is less caloric than sugar and honey. For those on a ketogenic diet, there is a low carb maple syrup available as well.
Note: be careful with fakes that have nothing to do with nutrient-rich unprocessed original.
Best for: pastries, especially wholegrain biscuits or gingerbread.
What is it?: The gelatinous residue formed during the processing of sugar cane. You can also stumble upon molasses produced from sugar beet. Sugarcane however is far more preferred.
Why I like it?: It’s rich in minerals (magnesium, iron, calcium) and vitamin B.
Note: Darker molasses contains less sugar. On average, it’s a little more caloric than maple or date syrup.
Best for: traditional cakes, marinades for meats, or sweet topping.
What is it?: Popular syrup in the Middle East derived from dates, also known as date honey.
Why I like it?: As a raw product, it contains minerals (potassium, iron, magnesium) and vitamin B. Contains a similar amount of calories as maple syrup, and a lot less than honey or sugar.
Note: Another healthy alternative to sugar is agave syrup, but most often it is heavily processed with no nutritional value, similarly to fructose.
Best to sweeten tea and coffee, sauces and salads. It can also be added to foods served at high temperatures.
What it is?: Sweetener discovered in the late nineteenth century, also known as birch sugar.
Why I like it?: It has a low glycemic index, so it does not increase insulin levels. It does not cause tooth decay. Studies have shown that chewing gum with xylitol helps prevent inflammation of the ear.
Note: In large amounts it can cause stomach problems, but you would have to eat quite a lot of it. Importantly, most Xylitol comes from GMO corn these days. Be sure to look for organic Xylitol derived from birch and, not corn.
Best for: It’s versatility. Perfect for baking (especially the brownies and muffins) or to sweeten porridge.
What is it?: It’s produced from the sap of coconut palm buds, which are then evaporated. This may take more or less the form of liquid syrup or crystallization may take place leaving crystal platelets.
Why I like it?: It has a lower glycemic index than sugar (35 to 60) and tastes great – similar to brown sugar in taste.
Note: It is unprocessed, so it contains minerals (zinc, iron, potassium and calcium), while other sugars have empty calories.
Best for: Sweetening all kinds of beverages – from tea to juices.
What it is?: The leaves from (or sweetener from powdered leaves) Stevia plants growing in Central and South America.
Why I like it: this natural sweetener contains no calories and does not cause a jump in blood glucose levels.
Note: it has a slightly bitter aftertaste that does not appeal to everyone – but if you can get used to it, it may successfully replace sugar. Works well with traditional pastries. But this is an individual matter: it may just be the taste you were looking for. Be careful with the amount – it’s approx. 250 times sweeter than sugar, so you only need a little to get the same effect.
Brown rice syrup
Best for: Baking, Chinese cuisine.
What it is: Arises when cooked rice is treated with enzymes which degrade starch. After The evaporation of syrup it comes up as thick with a bit of fiber and minerals.
Why I like it: because it has a lower glycemic index than ordinary table sugar.
Note: gives the dishes an interesting caramel-nutty flavor.
Best for: desserts, porridge yoghurts.
What it is: a source of fructose, sometimes called fruit sugar.
Why I like them: because of the added value. In addition to fructose, they contain a lot of valuable vitamins and antioxidants.
Note: Excess fructose is like any sugar, detrimental. The amount of fructose present is in moderate (compared to artificially sweetened products) quantities that there is no need to fear it – unless you eat it in large volumes.
The scale of sweetness
Sweetness is not one dimensional. Different types of sugar and sweeteners can be up to several hundred times sweeter than table sugar. It is suspected that the more sweet it is, the more it interferes with the hormones that regulate appetite. Here we will help you identify the main suspects. Check to see how many times sweeter sugar is than usual.
If sugar is considered 1 then:
Lactose – Sweetness level: 0.16
Present in milk and processed from lactose. This natural sugar has been added in meats, which we believe is an unnecessary addition.
Glucose – Sweetness level: 0.75
You can find it in honey or agave syrup. This simple sugar is fuel for the brain, but this does not mean that you should have to eat it: The body stores this as glycogen.
HFCS-42 – Sweetness level: 0.92
Additive for processed foods such as pastries, drinks or soups. Extracted from pure corn syrup which is 100% glucose, but then is mixed with fructose (58% to 42%).
Sucrose – Sweetness level: 1.1
Otherwise plain white table sugar. It combines equal parts glucose and fructose. It is obtained from sugar beet or cane. You will find it almost everywhere. 1 HFCS-55 is the main additive for drinks, pastries and soups. This is another glucose-fructose syrup, only with different proportions. It is sweeter due to the higher content of fructose (55%).
Fructose – sweetness level: 1.4
Found in fruit, honey or agave syrup. This natural, simple sugar can be present in our scale with values from 1.2 to 1.75, depending on the type of fruit. More about it here.
Honey – sweetness level: 1.5
Natural blend of glucose, fructose and maltose. It has antibacterial properties and health benefits (provided that it is not dissolved water hotter than 50℃).
Agave syrup – sweetness level: 1.6
It consists of virtually just fructose (up to 90%). Such a high concentration of sugar is not found in any fruit.
Aspartame (E 951), – the level of sweetness: 200
You will find it in products marketed as “light”. Aspartame aroused controversy, but now organizations dealing with food control consider it to be safe. Despite this, try to avoid it. Better safe than sorry.
Stevia – sweetness level: 250
Rarely found in the commercial (mainstream) products. Stevia is a natural sweetener from the leaves of a South American plant. One of the best substitutes of sugar, although it has a bitter aftertaste. It takes some time to get used to.
Saccharin (E 954) – a level of sweetness: 300
Sometimes used in tandem with aspartame. For some time considered to be carcinogenic, currently approved for use. Considered safe in small doses.
Sucralose (E 955) – the level of sweetness: 600
Products with this sweetener are often marketed as “light”. It is temperature-resistant derivative of saccharin, so it is added for example to baked goods. You can buy it under the trade name Splenda.
That’s all there is to know about sugar alternatives. Now you can get more adventurous in the kitchen, preparing desserts that are not only sweet, but also – healthy.