Refined Sugar Substitutes: what you need to know.

By Sarah Elizabeth John

Removing refined sugars from your diet is an incredibly positive step to reclaiming and rejuvenating your health.

Why?

Recent research indicates a very strong link between refined sugar and inflammation. 

What does this mean?

Inflammation is the direct precursor to chronic illness, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

What's more...

The removal of refined sugar from your diet can positively impact your mental capacity, reduce your cravings, enhance your satiety and thus contribute to weight management and even fat loss. 

So onto our discussion of the possible ways in which refined sugar is being substituted. Do know that we have included some options in this table that are NOT recommended by THI, we did however feel the need to tell you why.

 

Refined Sugar Substitute   

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Raw Honey and/or Manuka Honey

Unrefined and unpasteurised honey is not only packed with sweetness but also with nutrition. B vitamins, manganese and iron in particular are resplendent. What's more, honey is antimicrobial and antibacterial. Many commercially available honeys are heated which eliminates these beneficial health benefits, and are often diluted with high fructose corn syrup, so read the label.

Honey is about 20% sweeter than other sweeteners so the rationale is you will use less, more sweetness/more nutrition for your calorific buck. Be aware that honey is 40% fructose. Look for organic and locally sourced products too. Not suitable for vegans.

Rice Malt Syrup

Made from 100% organic brown rice, RMS is made by culturing rice with enzymes to break down the starches and then cooking it until it becomes mild flavoured, light caramel coloured syrup. The final product contains soluble complex carbohydrates, maltose and minimal glucose. Most importantly, RMS is 100% fructose free.

The carbohydrate content of RMS means it takes longer to digest and provides a steady supply of energy, thus avoiding the blood sugar spikes and sugar crashes associated with other higher fructose/faster sugar releasing sweeteners. This is key to satiety, hormonal control and weight management.

Note that rice malt syrup is heavily processed and thus not entirely in keeping with the whole food manifesto of THI. In this case you have to decide what is more important to you - low fructose or low processed.

For more information on the effects of fructose on your body "Sweet Poison" by David Gillespie is an invaluable resource.

Maple Syrup

Derived from the maple tree, maple syrup is simply sap that has been boiled to evaporate excess water to create a thick concentrated liquid. A deep, caramel taste with a dark colour that is amazing in baked goods. Pure maple syrup contains immune boosting health benefits and is an excellent source of manganese and zinc. It is 40% fructose.

100% maple syrup is a great low FODMAP alternative to honey (a low FODMAP approach is a way of treating IBS and symptoms of an irritable bowel, and has been found to reduce fatigue, lethargy and enhance concentration).

If you are vegan, check the source of your maple syrup, often the syrup has been clarified by use of casein (a milk protein). Can be expensive.

Dates & Date Sugar

As the name suggests, date sugar is made from dried dates. The fruit is simply dehydrated and then ground to a sugar like consistency. In doing so, much of the nutritional benefit is retained. Date sugar has a rich caramel flavour and is an ideal substitute for brown sugar.

Do know that date sugar does not melt and is rather difficult to dissolve, therefore making it unsuitable for drinks and some baking recipes.

Coconut Sugar & Coconut Nectar

An asian product, coconut sugar is made from the sap/nectar of coconut flower buds and has a deep caramel taste. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and has a very low GI (35). Do know however that coconut sugar is approximately 50% fructose.

Perhaps it's just me but I find coconut sugar a little tricky to bake with. The darker caramel colour affects the final colour of your baked goods (which can be a good thing if you're going for a rich, dark muffin). It also is a little difficult to dissolve. I always seem to be adding more to achieve the desired sweetness when I use coconut sugar in baking.

I read that coconut sugar is the most sustainable sweetener being produced in the world at present. That's a positive! Can be expensive.

Molasses

The by product of the refined sugar production process. Blackstrap molasses is a great source of calcium and iron. It is a quite a viscous product and its dark, smoky profile is best used in baking (think gingerbread or raisin cookies). It is also sweeter than refined sugar so be sure to adjust quantities accordingly when substituting in recipes.

Emphasis placed on buying organic here, many chemicals and additives are used in conventional production.

Fruit Sauces & Fruit Juices

Apple sauce, mashed banana, pureed dates and prunes, along with 100% juices are a great way to sweeten baked goods, bliss balls, smoothies etc.

Avoid concentrated juices as they do not have the nutritional content of fresh, or ideally squeeze your own. Look for organic, non sulphured dried fruits where possible. 

Stevia

Derived from the stevia shrub native to Latin America, stevia is a plant based sweetener and is entirely fructose and calorie free. Stevia does not affect blood sugar levels.

Stevia is a massive 300 times sweeter than sugar, almost TOO sweet so obviously you require much less. To some, stevia tastes slightly artificial in its excessive sweetness and can have a bitter aftertaste, even though it is derived from natural sources. Can be expensive and in some instances, highly processed.

Agave Nectar 

Derived from the agave plant (a Mexican cactus, the same succulent tequila is made from), this mild flavoured liquid sweetener rose to rapid fame until we honed in on the high fructose content. Agave is 90% fructose, higher than High Fructose Corn Syrup (a baddy!) itself.

What's more, the popularity of agave nectar has encouraged its mass production and some questionable manufacturing processes that include many chemicals. If you do choose to buy it look for organic.

Agave nectar/syrup It is NOT recommended by THI.

Yacon Syrup

Made from the root of the yacon plant which grows in South America, yacon has a high level of fructooligosaccharides (say what?!). Essentially this is a sugar polymer that our bodies are unable to digest. This is a positive as it means yacon syrup has minimal impact on blood sugar levels and has a low GI.

Yacon syrup is considered a prebiotic in that it aids the absorption of calcium (and other vitamins) and promotes healthy gut flora and thus good digestion. 

Aspartame, Saccharin & other artificial sweeteners

Widely used in diet beverages and found in products such as Equal and Splenda. Artificial sweeteners are not recommended by THI.

Sugar Alcohols (Erythritol, Malitol, Xylitol)

These sugar substitutes ending in "ol" are extracted from plants and/or made from starches. They are very low in calories compared to the other sweeteners in our table and have minimal effect on blood sugar. That said, these sweeteners are heavily processed and can have a stressful effect on your digestive system. They may also perpetuate cravings for more sweetness.

These sugar substitutes don't align with the whole food focus of THI so are not recommended.

 

*We are more than happy to make this table a work in progress. If there are any further refined sugar substitutes you'd like us to write about simply make a comment below.

What is YOUR choice of sweetener?

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Published:

December 05 2014

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