Healthy sweeteners – The Sensible Alternative To Sugar
By Anthony Mayatt, Sep 9 2015 10:47AM
If you’re anything like me, you probably suffer from a seemingly insatiable sweet tooth – hardly surprising when your body is hard-wired to crave sugar, a natural source of energy that stimulates the release of feel good chemicals in your brain. If you follow the news then you’ll already know that too much sugar is bad for you. But why is that exactly? And what can you do to satisfy your cravings for something sweet, healthily?
The problem with excessive sugar consumption
I’m not going to sugar coat it – too much sugar is bad for you. Although sugar is a valuable source of energy, you’re likely consuming far more of it than your body really needs. These days sugar is increasingly concealed in foods that you wouldn’t expect, especially processed foods such as soups, sauces, bread, salad dressings and more obviously in soft drinks and readily available sweet treats. A trend that has contributed to a tripling of the world’s sugar consumption over the last fifty years.
Refined sugar or ‘table sugar’ is typically high in calories and has been chemically bleached, a practice that strips it of its beneficial nutrients and leaves it difficult to digest. According to the NHS, ‘it is generally accepted that excessive sugar consumption is bad for health’ and can lead to weight gain and obesity, as well as a number of lifestyle diseases including heart disease, the leading cause of death in the UK, and type 2 diabetes, which affects more than one in 16 Brits.
Are artificial sweeteners the answer?
In a word – no! Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame found in diet drinks, are a poor substitute for sugar and, in my opinion, best avoided. They can actually intensify your sugar cravings and have been linked to a number of dangerous and well-documented side effects.
Superfood sweeteners – the sensible sugar substitute
So how can you limit your sugar consumption without sacrificing your sweet tooth? Well, in addition to avoiding processed food and drinks that are high in added sugars, I recommend swapping your standard white sugar for a healthier superfood sweetener. Unlike artificial sweeteners or refined sugars, superfood sweeteners have not been processed in any way, and are loaded with naturally occurring nutrients, such as fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Healthy sweeteners that get my thumbs up include:
Raw honey? Isn’t all honey raw? In fact, no. Most honey has been pasteurised, that is, heat treated at around 70C to make the final product clearer and smoother. Raw honey is honey in its most natural state and is bottled straight from the hive, sometimes with a little warming (nowhere near 70C) to allow it to flow easier. It’s high in antioxidants, vitamins and phytonutrients and propolis (a substance bees collect from trees) makes it antibacterial and antifungal. Thicker than usual honey, raw honey is perfect on toast or in hot drinks.
Also known as ‘Incas Gold’, lucuma powder is a 100% natural sweetener made from the Peruvian lucuma – a fruit that’s traditionally associated with fertility. It contains a wealth of valuable nutrients, including fibre, B vitamins and minerals, and thanks to its low GI rating, is also suitable for diabetics. Lucuma powder benefits from a supremely sweet flavour, coupled with a rich, creamy texture, which I particularly enjoy in smoothies and desserts.
Agave nectar is a delicious natural sweetener that’s extracted from the Mexican agave plant - the same plant that Tequila comes from! Again, it has an extremely low GI rating and is pleasingly low in calories, making it ideal for those of you who are watching your weight. With a yummy flavour that’s similar to a blend of honey and maple syrup, agave nectar is the perfect addition to smoothies, raw chocolate and baking.
And one I’m still unsure about:
Stevia is the generic name given to a sweetener made from compounds called steviol glycosides extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant using water and alcohol extraction techniques, making it a fairly processed product. There is still debate over the absolute safety of stevia products so it’s well worth doing your own research. Despite containing zero sugar or carbs, it has a very sweet flavour and, with a glycaemic index (GI) rating of 0, is suitable for diabetics (although as always, check with your doctor first). Stevia extract is available in both powder and liquid form and can be used in exactly the same way as table sugar.
So there you have it, plenty of kinder alternatives to sugar as we know it. What do you use, sugar?
Hannah is Content Manager for Monitor My Body, an online health and fitness company working with fab people like Anthony at Breathe Fitness to help get the nation fit and eating right. Visit them to find out more about their new organic range of superfoods.
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