So you’ve decided to cut down on sugar – great! But what are you going to use instead? There is a wide range of sugar alternatives available, depending on what suits your tastes and lifestyle. As I mentioned in my last blog post, one thing to consider when replacing sugar in your diet is the glycaemic index (GI). This is a measure of how carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels, with a high GI (>70) meaning foods are digested quickly and sugars released rapidly into the bloodstream. Low GI (<55) means foods break down and glucose is released more slowly. It’s best to choose low GI foods where possible.
So with that in mind, lets look at some possible sugar alternatives.
Honey contains 75% sugars, of which 40% are glucose and 31% fructose (fruit sugar). This means it is quickly absorbed into the body and can quickly increase blood sugar levels. It has a medium GI of around 55, depending on the source and contains small amounts of minerals and antioxidants. To find out more about the health benefits of honey, see our page here. Honey is a good substitute for sugar in drinks and on cereals, as well as in baking.
Whole food powders, including lucuma, mesquite and maca (Peruvian ginseng) powders, are becoming more and more popular. They are made from freeze-dried whole fruits and ground root vegetables and have a sweet taste and distinctive earthy flavour. They are relatively low in sugar – maca contains 31% sugars, mesquite 44% and lucuma 15% – are a good source of minerals and have a low GI. Unfortunately, they are currently rather expensive, working out at £4-5 for 100g in the UK (US$6-8 for 3.5oz), but as you are planning to cut down on your sugars anyway, this is no bad thing!
Coconut sugar is 95% sucrose with the remainder fructose and glucose. It is less refined than conventional sugar and contains some minerals and B vitamins. However, it’s best feature is its low GI of 35.
Stevia is a herbal sweetener that comes from South America. It has no effect on blood sugar levels, zero GI and tastes 300 times sweeter than sugar, however it does have a slightly bitter aftertaste if used in place of conventional sugar. If you are using it in home cooking, you can mix it with another sweetener such as honey or maple syrup to mask this aftertaste. Stevia can be bought as a refined white powder or as liquid drops.
Maple syrup contains 67% sugar, mostly sucrose, and has a medium GI of 54. It also contains trace amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and is a good choice for baking.
There are many other sugar substitutes available, including brown rice syrup, molasses, sorbitol, agave syrup and panela (dehydrated cane juice). The important thing to remember though is not to simply swap one kind of sweetener for another – it’s best to try and cut down your intake as well!