We’re all familiar with the dangers surrounding a diet high in processed and refined sugars, but what about the alternatives you see lining the supermarket shelves these days?
Many nutritionists encourage people to eat substitutes such as Stevia, coconut sugar, agave, date sugar and xylitol, on the premise they give you the sweet hit you’re craving without the damaging side effects of sugar.
But are these alternatives really all they’re cracked up to be?
Dietitian Chloe McLeod says people often fall into the trap of thinking they can eat all the sugar alternatives they want without any consequences.
“Just because it’s not table sugar, it’s still a source of sugar – it’s just a different type,” Ms McLeod told The Huffington Post.
“I think a lot of us use the alternatives and think, ‘that must mean that it’s healthier so it’s okay’.
“Just being aware that [they] do still contribute to your overall sugar consumption for the day is very important.”
When using a sugar alternative, it’s important to take note of the amount of fructose and sucrose in the product.
Fructose is a natural form of sugar that is found in fruits and vegetables. It is often added to juices as a flavour enhancer and is metabolized through the liver. Sucrose is often referred to as table sugar and is separated into glucose and fructose in the body. The glucose is used for energy, while the leftover fructose is converted into fat.
Almost all sugar alternatives contain both fructose and sucrose, and understanding the balance between them is an important part of using these sugar substitutes.
So which sugar alternative is right for you? Take a look at this list and tell us: which ones have you tried?
1. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is made by boiling down the sap from maple trees and is a tasty substitute to sugar. It is 66 per cent sucrose and 30 per cent fructose, and is a great choice for people with food intolerances as it’s gentle on the stomach. It is also an excellent source of zinc and manganese. Due to its high levels of sucrose it’s important to consume it in moderation.
2. Rice Malt
This sugar alternative is made by fermenting brown rice. It has a very low fructose level and can be a healthy option when used in moderation. You can find it in most supermarkets in the health food aisle.
Stevia is an excellent alternative to sugar as it contains no glucose or fructose, meaning it has no effect of blood sugar levels. It is low in calories and extremely sweet, meaning you only need a little bit to get that sweet hit.
5. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is sourced from the sap of the coconut plant. It contains a small amount of fibre and has a lower glycaemic index than regular sugar, but contains a high amount of fructose. It is a great alternative to sugar, especially in baking. Nutritionists warn to watch the amount of coconut sugar you consume though due to it’s high fructose levels.
Agave is derived from the same Mexican succulent as tequila. It is 90 per cent fructose, so experts say you should be careful about the amount you consume as a lot of this can be converted into fat.
Raw honey has many health benefits and is packed full of minerals, vitamins, proteins, and amino acids. Is is a great substitute, but relatively high fructose levels (40 per cent) mean it should be consumed in moderation.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that can be a great alternative to regular sugar. However, when consumed in large amounts it can have a laxative effect and cause gastric problems and bloating.