Are sugar alternatives really a healthy option? We’re sorting fact from myth…

We’re all familiar with the dangers surrounding a diet high in processed and refined sugars, but what about the alternatives

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.

4. Stevia

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.

6. Agave

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.

7. Honey

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.

8. Xylitol

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.

Do you use a sugar substitute? Have you tried any of the substitutes on this list?

  1. I try to steer clear of all sugars – except those actually in the fruits I eat. Seems from your list that stevia is the only natural sweetener that does not contain sugars.
    We have just finished our red plum and nectarine harvest. We have found that they both poach very well in their own juices, with just a very small amount of water, and need no sugar at all. Freeze and keep well.

    • that sounds nice if I cook them I use no sugar but simmer them in orange juice, but I suppose I should not do that because of the natural sugars in the oranges..see you have me thinking Robert 🙂

    • It bothers me when they refer to the sugar in fruits, they should always be part of a healthy diet. 🙂

    • I know what you mean Lee, I don’t add sugar to the apples they are nice and sweet, but some fructose in fruits upset stomachs I’ve heard.

  2. Before we all became obese we had quite limited amounts of sugar in our diets. Perhaps if everything wasn’t so sweet we would all revert to eating reasonable quantities of food.

    • I’m sure the present “lite” fad for low fat (processed) food isn’t helping either. The fat is taken out and the flavour goes with it. In place of the fat the manufacturers add more salt and sugar to restore flavour.

  3. Only use raw sugar for years now and you only need a tiny bit compared to other sugars . Artificial anything is no good for you .

  4. we have sugar in our pantry (white and brown) but i can’t remember the last time we used it. Maybe when a visitor wanted some sugar in their tea/coffee

  5. I am a type 2 diabetic & my diabetic person has said natvia is as good as sugar substitute ,, & my sugar levels are good every 3 months ,,,,

    • Margaret  

      Yes I have type 2 and use Natia and have found it very good

  6. I’ve had a small bag of white sugar for anyone that visits who takes it on cereal or tea and coffee. It hasn’t been opened yet.Many years ago I took 6 spoons of sugar in my tea and coffee! I went cold turkey and could not drink a cuppa with sweetener in it now! It surprises me how many of our friends and younger ones do without sugar in their beverages these days. In cooking I will use the odd spoon of honey. I worry about the long term effects these other sugars may have,I suspect one day they’ll find they are just as bad as sugar.

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