With an influx of sugar alternatives hitting our supermarket shelves, how do we know which one to choose or if in fact, they are better replacements for naturally occurring sugar?
We know for the sake of our health that we should be limiting our sugary food choices. But when faced with time restraints and the convenience of pre-packaged processed foods, it’ not until closer inspection do we understand just how much sugar is included.
Once touted as ‘sweet poison’, sugar sends our blood sugar levels on a roller-coaster, promotes dental decay, childhood obesity and is plain unhealthy for long term health. While we are becoming more aware of the dangers of artificial sweeteners (equal, splender etc) with studies showing their link to cancer, what are our other choices?
There is no such thing as a ‘good’ sugar, but some alternatives are better than others due to their lower glycaemic load and nutritional benefits (compared to common table sugar).
White Sugar Alternatives
Rice malt syrup
Brown rice syrup is a natural sweetener produced from fermented cooked rice by treating it naturally with enzymes from sprouted barley. It has a low glycaemic value and is fructose free, which means it does not cause a sugar rush or a sudden spike in blood sugar after consumption.
Brown rice is a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron and manganese, which are carried over to its by-products like brown rice syrup and when used in baking it adds a lovely crisp texture.
Natvia is a natural sweetener made from Reb-A stevia and erythritol. Reb-A is the purest and sweetest part of the stevia plant, and erythritol is naturally occurring nectar in fruits, such as melons and grapes. It has no calories and zero GI which makes it a great choice for diabetics.
It is very sweet and can easily tip over into the bitter side of things if you dare put in a little too much. Substituting with half rice malt syrup with stevia aids in reducing any chances of bitterness overload.
Hailing from Southeast Asia, monk fruit, was popular amongst Buddhist monks who were the first to cultivate it back in the 13th century. Considered the healthiest sugar-free alternative, monk fruit can taste up to 200 times sweeter than standard table sugar—thanks to chemical compounds called mogrosides, which give the fruit its characteristic sweetness.
Found in the baking aisle, sitting alongside bags of sugar and other natural and artificial sweeteners, monk fruit comes in a powder form and tends to have less of a bitter after taste than its cousin, stevia. With zero calories, zero sugar and zero carbohydrates, monk fruit can be added to just about anything, such as porridge and baked goods, or in drinks, such as coffee and tea – just use sparingly!
If you are considering using stevia or monk fruit that have zero calories, be wary they can still have a downside and perpetuate the desire for sweets. By circumventing the normal appetite signalling system, so appetite-regulating hormones aren’t triggered – and potentially leave you feeling unsatisfied.
Pure maple syrup is high in antioxidants, zinc which boosts the immune system and consists mainly of sucrose, which makes it about 50% fructose. However, unlike refined sugars, it contains significant amounts of vitamins and minerals. Similar to maple syrup, blackstrap molasses is a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the daily value of each of those nutrients.
Maple syrup is great as a topping for pancakes, yoghurt, or oatmeal and is also suitable in baking, with reactions similar to that of honey.
Honey is loaded with an array of vitamins and minerals, including B2, B6, iron, and manganese. Its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties ward off colds. Honey is as natural as it gets. It’s still 40% fructose, however, so you need to make sure you exercise portion control as it is actually higher in calories than sugar.
Honey’s sweetness is a master of tea. It holds up great in baking as a replacement for white sugar, though it retains its distinct honey taste. Look for raw honey, which is less processed and thus retains more nutrients.
Sweet Strawberry Slice – No Added Sugar
+ 2 cups strawberries, chopped
+ 1/2 cup water
+ 2 tbs stevia/ monk fruit granules
+ 1/2 lemon, juiced
+ 1/2 tsp of vanilla bean paste (or vanilla essence)
+ 1/2 tsp ginger powder
+ 1/4 cup chia seeds
+ 1/4 cup dried goji berries (optional)
For the crumble
+ 1 cup almond meal
+ 1 cup brown rice flour (or wholemeal if not worried about gluten)
+ 2 large apples, chopped and pureed (may have to add a tiny bit of water or juice to puree)
+ 2 tbsp stevia/ monk fruit granules
+ 1/3 cup rolled oats
+ 1/3 cup shredded coconut.
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
- In a medium pot over low-medium heat, combine strawberries, water, stevia, lemon juice, vanilla and ginger. Cook for about 10 minutes, or until the strawberries are cooked down and can be mashed with a fork or spoon.
- Remove from the heat. At this point, check the sweetness of the mixture. If it is not sweet enough, add more sweetener.
- Add in the chia seeds and goji berries and allow them to thicken. Here you will have to play by ear and give the seeds time to absorb the excess juice. If it is still too watery just add more chia seeds until it is a thick consistency. It is best it is kept a little runny as it tends to dry out more in the oven.
- Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the flours, coconut, apple puree and xylitol. Mix until a crumbly consistency is reached.
- Spoon 2/3 of the mixture into an 8×8 pan (sprayed with non-stick cooking spray) and press the mixture onto the bottom to form a crust.
- Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned.
- Add the rolled oats to the remaining 1/3 of the mixture and stir until combined. Set aside (this will be your crumble topping).
- Once the crust is browned, pour the thickened filling on top and spread evenly.
- Add the crumble topping, evenly distributing.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the top is browned.
- Allow cooling for about 1 hour in the pan. Cut into squares and enjoy!