The 'no or low-sugar' movement has been around for a while now and everyone, ranging from holistic doctors to media personalities has their own take on the 'good' and 'bad' alternatives to sugar. However, it can be said with confidence that processed sugar is highly addictive and has zero health benefits. But which sugar alternatives are the better ones?
My personal take on sugar alternatives is simply this: go with the more natural, less processed sources. Look at the overall nutritional benefits.
There are many alternatives on offer that are highly processed and have no nutrients in them. For example, brown rice syrup. It contains no fructose, however, when the rice syrup reaches the small intestine and is broken down, it ends up being 100% glucose, the same sugar that raises blood sugar levels. The University of Sydney Glycemic Index Database rates brown rice syrup with an index of 98, which is very high. So basically, brown rice syrup is empty calories with not much nutritional benefit.
Another factor to consider is if you have any pre-existing health concerns such as candida, diabetes, PCOS, obesity or autoimmune conditions. These all pose further problems as sugar intake (natural or artificial) are only recommended in small amounts.
My top suggestions are as follows:
Raw honey: has been used for thousands of years within traditional medicine treatments largely due to its antibacterial properties against organisms such as Salmonella, Shigella, Escherichia coli and Helicobacter pylori (1.) Traditionally in Ayurveda practises, raw honey has been used for people with poor digestion, as a treatment for people with an irritating cough, to keep teeth and gums healthy and for skin disorders. A study which investigated the effects of honey consumption on people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes concluded positive effects on body weight and blood sugar levels, however, concluded that cautious consumption is recommended (2.) In summary, when it comes to raw honey, I prefer to not just focus on the 'fructose' level but take notes of all of the other health benefits associated with it.
Pure organic maple syrup: a beautifully flavoured natural, non-refined sweetener rich in trace minerals such as calcium. Make sure you buy organic as non-organic can contain formaldehyde traces from the pellets used in the trees to extend sap flow (3.) Stay away from maple flavoured syrup, as it is basically just white sugar, water and flavours.
Organic rapadura (evaporated cane sugar): made from organic cane sugar, the juice is filtered, fibre is removed and the remainder is crystalised. It retains all of its vitamins and minerals. It is rich in minerals, particularly silica.
Organic medjool dates: rich in fibre, iron, potassium, copper, magnesium, vitamin B6 and manganese. Compared to other dried fruits, medjool dates have the highest amount of antioxidants. One study showed that consuming medjool dates during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy has a 20% increased rate of going into labour naturally and experiencing a shorter labour (4 hours shorter on average) (4.). Dates have the potential to help with blood sugar regulation due to their low glycemic index, fiber and antioxidants, so eating them may benefit diabetes management (5).
If you have diabetes, POCS, obesity, candida or an autoimmune condition, try these options as they are low in fructose and can help reduce blood sugar levels.
1. Stevia: the leaves of the stevia plant has been used for centuries as a sweetener for diabetics. It has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. A little goes a long way - a tiny pinch can sweeten as much as a spoonful of sugar.
2. Yacon syrup: is extracted from the roots of the yacon plant. It’s a sweet-tasting syrup with a look and consistency similar to molasses. Studies have shown that it can help reduce constipation. There is also some evidence that it can help lower blood sugar levels (further investigations are being made). It is a great source of fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a type of fructan. Fructans are a category of soluble dietary fiber and help feed the good bacteria in the gut. (6).
My other tips about sugar:
Avoid fruit juice. Imagine how many oranges it would take to fit into a bottle of juice? Yes, it may be natural and only contain oranges, but the amount of fructose, as well as the lack of fibre makes juice not beneficial. Opt for smoothies containing the entire fruit.
When you treat yourself: go for the best quality version.
Remember that even though the sweeteners I recommend are 'refined sugar free', they should still be eaten in moderation.
1. Eteraf-Oskouei, T., & Najafi, M. (2013). Traditional and modern uses of natural honey in human diseases: a review. Iranian journal of basic medical sciences, 16(6), 731-42.
2. Bahrami, M., Ataie-Jafari, A., Hosseini, S., Forouzanfar, M., Rahmani, M. and Pajouhi, M. (2008). Effects of natural honey consumption in diabetic patients: an 8-week randomized clinical trial. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, pp.1-9.
3. Blereau, J. (2018). Wholefood for Children. Murdoch Books Australia.
4. Al-Kuran, O., Al-Mehaisen, L., Bawadi, H., Beitawi, S., & Amarin, Z. (2011). The effect of late pregnancy consumption of date fruit on labour and delivery. Journal Of Obstetrics And Gynaecology, 31(1), 29-31. doi: 10.3109/01443615.2010.522267
5. Rahmani, A. H., Aly, S. M., Ali, H., Babiker, A. Y., Srikar, S., & Khan, A. A. (2014). Therapeutic effects of date fruits (Phoenix dactylifera) in the prevention of diseases via modulation of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-tumour activity. International journal of clinical and experimental medicine, 7(3), 483-91.
6. Can Yacon Syrup Really Help You Lose Weight? An Objective Look. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/does-yacon-syrup-work