“I know it’s sweet, but it’s not sugar so it’s okay”. Are you guilty of saying that too?
Some people think that they can give in to their sweet cravings as long as the food does not involve sugar and uses alternative sweeteners. But are these sweeteners any good for you? How about natural sweeteners like honey?
Leading nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville spoke to Daily Mail where she reveals the good, the bad and the ugly…
Interestingly, fructose does not cause the release of insulin as sucrose and glucose do, so initially it was thought to be a healthy form of sugar. However, fructose goes straight to your liver, which has to metabolise it, in the same way as alcohol does.
Fructose interferes with your production of hormones like leptin, which should send you a signal telling you that you have eaten enough, and fructose can raise levels of a hunger hormone called ghrelin, increasing your appetite.
Fructose does not supply any energy at all to either your brain or your muscles; it is only stored as fat.
Dr Glenville’s view: “I would never use fructose as a sweetener. If it is naturally contained within the fruit then that is fine but I would not buy it as a white powder to add to food.”
Agave comes from the agave plant in Mexico, where traditionally the sap would have been boiled for hours to obtain the sweet syrup.
Dr Glenville’s view: “I would not recommend using agave as it could be up to 90 per cent fructose and there doesn’t seem to be a way of distinguishing whether the agave has been made in the traditional way or whether it is commercially produced.”
Honey is a natural sweetener but you should only use it sparingly.
Primarily made up of glucose and fructose, it is absorbed into your blood stream quickly, hence not ideal if you’re trying to control your blood sugar or lose weight. The fructose content can be up to 40 per cent in some honeys.
Dr Glenville’s view: “Not an ideal sweetener as it is a simple sugar and so will affect your blood glucose [sugar] quickly. If you are going to use honey, try to get organic if possible and use very sparingly.”
Although molasses is a good source of vitamin B6 and potassium and a very good source of magnesium and manganese, about half of the sugar content is made up of fructose and glucose in equal amounts and the other half sucrose. Dr Glenville says, “This has not been a sweetener that I have used, as it is a by-product of sugar extraction and, as a result, may have higher levels of the pesticides and other chemicals used in sugar cultivation and processing.”
Although low in calories and does not need insulin to be metabolised in the body so it is very useful for diabetics but requires a lot of refining. “I would not use xylitol as it requires far too much processing to be considered a natural product,” says Dr Glenville.
Like some other sugar substitutes, it is a very heavily-processed product with similar side effects to xylitol, which can cause diarrhoea because it stimulates bowel motion. Both sorbitol and xylitol can worsen IBS.
Dr Glenville said, “I would not recommend using sorbitol because of the negative effects on the digestive system and the fact that it is a heavily-processed sweetener.”
Maple syrup has had a bad rep but it actually contains 34 beneficial compounds, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is also recommended for IBS sufferers as it causes the least problems with digestion.
Maple syrup contains significant amounts of zinc and manganese and 15 times more calcium than honey.
It is made up of primarily sucrose and very small amounts of fructose and glucose.
But be careful, maple syrup labeled as ‘maple-flavoured syrup’ is not pure maple syrup and may not contain any maple syrup at all!
“I do use real maple syrup as a natural sweetener and I always buy organic where possible. I use it in cakes and to drizzle over the top of crumbles to give it a lovely browned effect,” Dr Glenville says.
Barley malt syrup
“Barley malt syrup is a good choice as a natural sweetener. It has a malty taste so does not work well, taste-wise, in all recipes but, as I mentioned, brilliant for using in flapjacks where the malt is an added benefit,” said Dr Glenville.
Brown rice syrup
Brown rice syrup doesn’t contain any fructose, and Dr Glenville says, “I personally would use organic brown rice syrup as a sweetener.”
Although pure stevia is more natural than artificial sweeteners, it still primes your body to expect a corresponding amount of calories for the sweetness.
When that calorie hit doesn’t happen, your body will send you off to get the calories from somewhere else, increasing your appetite and causing weight gain.
“You could use stevia as a sweetener as long as you use it in moderation and it is just stevia in the product. Not everyone likes the taste though,” Dr Glenville says.
Palm sugar is rich in nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium and calcium and has a low glycaemic index – great for weight loss.
Dr Glenville’s view: “A good natural sweetener and a nice alternative to sugar — can be used in cooking as well as drinks.”
Like palm sugar, coconut sugar is rich in nutrients such as the B vitamins, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, 17 amino acids, short chain fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants; plus it has a nearly neutral pH. It also contains inulin, which is a prebiotic and helps to feed beneficial bacteria.
“I have not used coconut sugar myself but it is supposed to taste like brown sugar and you would use it exactly the same as sugar. I would suggest buying organic coconut sugar,” Dr Glenville says.
Yacon is a sweetener made from the sweet root of the yacon, which is a member of the sunflower family, also known as the Peruvian ground apple.
It contains good amounts of a prebiotic, and vitamins and minerals. It is low GI, can help to lower glucose levels and is said to be fine for diabetics to use.
“I would recommend this as a sweetener. Choose an organic variety. It may not be suitable for people with IBS due to its high prebiotic content,” Dr Glenville says.