We all know that sugar definitely falls on the “not good for us” side of the line when it comes to nutritional value. Your store-bought, standard sugar is heavily processed, high in calories, low in nutritional value, damaging to your teeth, and can be a contributing factor in obesity and Type 2 diabetes. But sugar cravings can be hard to kick, so where do we start? As with any habit change, the first few weeks are always the toughest – but as you increasingly eliminate sugar from your diet – you’ll find you crave it less and less. Why? Because your body doesn’t need it.
If you’re not ready to go into a full sugar cleanse just yet, a great place to start is by looking for sugar alternatives. There are lots of options on the market that have been sold to us as ‘healthier’ or even ‘healthy’ sugar swaps – but it’s important to be aware of what you’re actually getting. While some pass the bar on actually being better for us – others aren’t always dramatically different in calorie content and nutritional value.
We’ve put together a quick guideline to the most popular sugar substitutes on the market so you can make a more informed choice when shopping for sugar substitutes. Keep in mind, that these alternatives do still count towards your daily recommended allowance of sugar, which experts advise should be no more than six teaspoons per day.
This is derived from the sap of the Mexican agave plant with a mellow honey-like flavor. This substitute has been deemed as ‘healthy’ due to it’s low glycaemic index (GI). However, more recently nutrition professionals are backpedaling a bit, saying agave’s GI rating is misleading as it contains high levels of fructose (another form of sugar commonly found in honey and fruits). This doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy – but it’s all about understanding what is in the food you’re consuming and how much sugar you’re actually taking in. Of course, too much of anything is usually not a good thing – so when it comes to agave, moderation wins again.
Concentrated pomegranate juice syrup (with no added sugar) tastes like pomegranate (surprise, surprise!) with a slightly intensified sour edge. This alternative contains loads of enzymes, minerals, and B Vitamins but sadly the heat from the concentration process is likely to remove Vitamin C and other antioxidants found in pomegranate fruit. If you’re looking for a salad dressing substitute, it’s a great alternative to store-bought balsamic vinegarettes.
This is a natural sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It is extremely sweet in taste (estimated to be 30-200 times sweeter than sugar), but amazingly, doesn’t contain any calories and won’t raise your blood sugar level. However, this alternative is highly processed – so keep that in mind before making the full switch. Since stevia is still relatively ‘new’ to the scene, there aren’t a large number of studies displaying the long-term health effects.
So this isn’t really a sugar alternative, because it’s actually real sugar. Unrefined sugar cane residue e.g. demerara, turbinado and Barbados has a mellower, deeper flavor than your typical white sugar. It is slightly less processed and may contain some cane nutrients too. However, the sucrose content is exactly the same as sugar; so don’t be fooled into thinking that raw equals healthy! This substitute wins out over refined sugar as you skip much of the processing stage, and we like it for good old-fashioned baking.
The bees’ sweet nectar! The flavor of honey depends on the bees’ diet but it’s a mainstay if you’re looking for deliciously sweet sugar alternatives. Raw honey contains amino acids, minerals, and enzymes and is believed to have a handful of health benefits – particularly if you pick up some manuka honey. The best part is manuka honey doubles as an amazing ingredient to add to any DIY face masks – as the antibacterial properties help keep your skin clean and less prone to breakouts.
The crystallized sap of coconut palm has a subtle caramel-like taste, and it’s more sustainable and less processed than its white sugar cousin. Also, it contains a fiber called inulin, which slows the digestion of the sugar, thus lowering its GI rating. Keep in mind that this substitute doesn’t have any of the health-benefits found in real coconuts. It works well in a Thai green curry.
This black treacle by-product of the sugar-refining process has a deep taste with a bitter edge. It contains antioxidants, Vitamin B6, and loads of essential minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium, and selenium. Seek out Blackstrap to get molasses in its most natural form. It works really well in ginger biscuits or drizzled over cooked shredded wheat or oatmeal.
Condensed maple tree sap has a deep and smoky taste. It contains a third less sugar than granulated sugar and it is high in manganese (for metabolic, nerve and brain function) and the immune system’s favourite, zinc. Make sure you get 100% pure maple and avoid ‘maple-flavour syrups which are full of sugar, defeating the point! Whenever we want to sweeten up a protein smoothie, we like to drizzle just a bit of maple syrup in.
You’re probably thinking, huh? If you’re a lover of baking (or just baked goods) look to swap out sugar for no-sugar-added applesauce. The natural sugars present in applesauce will sweeten up baked goods so you won’t even know there is no real sugar in there – plus it’s amazing at keeping cakes and cookies deliciously moist.
Share your favorite sugar swaps and how you cut back on sweet tooth cravings in the comments below!