Written by Deborah Mitchell for thehealthyshopper.ca
The health hazards of refined sugar (sucrose, which is a 50:50 combination of fructose and glucose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS; typically, 55% fructose and 45% glucose) have been widely published but frequently ignored. After all, most people have a sweet tooth to some degree, and it can be a challenge to avoid all the sources of refined sugar and HFCS because they are in so many foods and beverages, even some that are touted as being healthful.
The not-so-sweet side of sugar include its contribution to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay, promotion of cancer growth, immune system suppression, hormone imbalance, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease, among others. If we want to keep on enjoying the sweeter side of food but limit our exposure to the dangers of refined sugar and HFCS, what are our choices?
Here are 7 sugar swaps you can make a part of your lifestyle.
1. Coconut sugar. You’ve heard of coconut water, coconut oil, coconut flour, and there’s also coconut sugar! Although you can use coconut sugar 1:1 as a substitute for refined sugar in a recipe, you will get a lot less sugar but all the sweetness. Coconut sugar consists of about 70 to 79 percent sucrose plus three to nine percent each of fructose and glucose. This caramel-colored sweetener also is much lower on the glycemic index than refined sugar.
2. Fruit. If you’re looking for something to satisfy your sweet tooth, why not go all natural and direct to the source—fruit! Fresh whole fruit (organic preferred) and dried (nonsulphured) deliver vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber along with sweetness.
3. Honey. This nectar from bees can be a nutritious, natural sweetener when used in moderation and if you choose pure, raw, unfiltered products. Ultra-processed honey, which is what you find on most grocery shelves, has had all of its pollen removed, which means you can wave goodbye to honey’s medicinal properties, including infection and allergy fighting abilities. Look for locally sourced honey when shopping.
4. Maple syrup. In moderate amounts, 100 percent pure maple syrup is a wise sugar swap. It contains 24 different antioxidants and the following minerals (per tablespoon): 0.7 mg manganese (33% Recommended Daily Value, or DV), 0.8 mg zinc (6% DV), 13.4 mg calcium (1% DV), 40.8 mg potassium 1% DV), 0.2 mg iron (1% DV), and 2.8 mg magnesium (1% DV).
5. Monk fruit. From southern China comes monk fruit (luo han guo), a gift from nature that is about 300 times sweeter than sugar when in its pure form and about half that sweetness when used in food products. Along with being super sweet, monk fruit boasts antioxidants and vitamins, which may be the reason it’s credited with treating sore throats, diabetes, and other health challenges. Calorie counters will love the fact that it is a zero-calorie sweetener. You can find monk fruit as a powdered sugar substitute combined with dextrose or erythritol (a natural sugar alcohol).
6. Stevia. This super sweet sugar swap grows in Brazil and Paraguay, where people have used the leaves for hundreds of years as a sweetener as well as a treatment for stomach problems and burns. Stevia (Stevia ebaudiana Bertoni) is about 200 times sweeter than refined sugar and has no calories. These sweet benefits may come at a price, however, as there is some concern about stevia causing low blood pressure and interacting with a variety of medications, such as anti-inflammatories, anti-fungals, calcium channel blockers, and others.
7. Yacon. This South American root contains sugars called fructooligosaccharides, which the body does not absorb as it does refined white sugar. This difference results in a lower calorie content and a sweetener that does not cause a spike in blood glucose levels. Its taste has been described as being like molasses, caramel, and honey. Yacon is available as a syrup or dried.