With more and more people watching their weight and calorie intake, sugar can easily be ‘evilized’ with many people choosing to switch to other sources of sweetness. A small amount of sugar in the diet isn’t bad for us.. there are naturally occurring sugars such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk, and then there are added sugars (sucrose) which is table sugar.
Sucrose is found in many processed goods such as cakes, sweets and biscuits and is known as ’empty calories’ as all table sugar provides is that.. calories and nothing else. Per teaspoon of sugar provides around 20 calories, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a lot.. it can however add up e.g. 5 cups of tea a day with 2 sugars = 200 kcal / day = 20lb weight gain in a year (~1.5 stone!). Sugar also causes tooth decay, especially when eaten frequently during the day. There is no evidence to suggest that sugar is addictive in humans however sugar does to many people taste good, which in turn stimulates feel-good hormones (endorphins).
Sugar-alternatives have become more and more popular over the years with both natural and artificial ones available. Here’s my personal favourites of the natural sugar-alternatives:
- Stevia – Made from a herb, stevia is up to 40 x sweeter than sugar but has zero calories and won’t affect blood sugar levels. I love stevia in hot drinks and also baking (check out my breakfast cookie recipe!).
- Stevia Drops – Stevia drops are not only calorie free but come in lots of different flavours. I have vanilla and it tastes great in porridge, Greek yoghurt, coffee, rooibos tea, smoothies and shakes. What I have learnt though is that *less is more*.
- Xylitol – A natural sugar alcohol which can actually prevent tooth decay. It contains 40% fewer calories than sugar and 75% less available carbohydrate. It also has a GI* of only 7 (out of 100) meaning it won’t spike blood sugar levels. Use in tea coffee or baking (check out my pumpkin muffin recipe!).
- Agave Nectar – A low GI* sweetener derived from a plant, it’s super sweet and so you need less. It tastes great in porridge, tea and baking where honey or syrup is used.
- Manuka Honey – Manuka honey in particular has some fantastic health benefits. Its antiseptic properties make it great for sore throats and it can also help to improve digestive health (it boosts the growth of good bacteria) and is crammed with antioxidants.
- Sweet Freedom – Made from 100% fruit sweet freedom has 25% fewer calories than sugar and has a low GI*. It tastes lovely in porridge, tea and baking.
*GI = Glycaemic index. The GI is a ranking of how quickly a carbohydrate will effect your blood sugar levels. Glucose has a GI of 100 and so will effect blood sugar levels very quickly. In general, the more processed a food, e.g. white bread, the higher the GI. Sugar actually has a medium GI and foods which are high in soluble fibre such as oats, beans, fruit and vegetables tend to have a lower GI. Milk and milk products also have a low GI and adding protein e.g. meat/fish and fat e.g. nuts/seeds (GI of 0) will lower the overall GI of a food/meal.
There has been a lot of negative press about artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose, however sweeteners added to foods and drinks in the UK have all passed thorough safety tests and have received approval from the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) for human consumption, the US Food and Drink Administration (FDA) have also deemed them safe. Rumours persist however about the hazards of artificial sweeteners, with aspartame in particular targeted: In order to exceed the acceptable daily intake (ADI) for aspartame, an adult weighing 60Kg would have to drink at least 14 cans of a diet soft drink per day (you’d probably have no teeth left at that rate either!). You can read more about the safety of aspartame [HERE]. Artificial sweeteners can be a useful tool for individuals who are trying to lose weight and for those with diabetes as they are calorie free and do not raise blood sugar levels. I would advise however limiting your intake of anything artificial as your liver will still have to break it down. If you do use artificial sweeteners regularly try to cut down on your intake, use a natural alternative, or use different types- for example use one type at home and one at work. You should also be aware that some sweeteners, such as aspartame have been linked to headaches in sensitive individuals.
If you’re watching your weight then choosing lower calorie/low GI natural sugar-alternatives could be useful, however cutting down on all added sugars/sweeteners will help to reduce your reliance/cravings for sweet foods, which will be good for your weight.. especially if you justify having that side portion of chips because you ordered a ‘diet Coke’ (!).
*Stevia drops were supplied to me free of charge to try however this review is 100% honest and of my own opinion. I was not influenced in any way by the free samples supplied and do not promote these products more than other products that I have not reviewed. This blog post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclaimer page for more information.