Hello all! It has been almost two years since I started going sugar free and I absolutely love it! The toughest part was the first starting month, but after that my body happily got used to being without refined sugar. I have written all about the necessity of going sugar free in my article which you can access here, which details the health issues involved in consuming refined sugar and the need to completely remove it from your diet.
I have been meaning to post a series of follow up articles on the various sugar alternatives available and the ones you should also avoid. This article is about my 4 favourite natural sugar alternatives which I use regularly for my breakfasts, meals and desserts. I have done a lot of research on the various types of sugar alternatives and there is a lot of myths and un truths about the benefits of various sugar alternatives like honey or rice syrup. Today I only want to share my choices and preferences with you. However I do want to emphasise that any sugar alternative still is a source of sugar and must always be used in moderation and not as an equal substitute. These sugar alternatives are the current best options for myself. Please feel free to read up on the subject and make your informed choices.
Dates are my favourite natural sugar alternative. A lot of people believe that because it has a high fructose content and has high glycemic index, it is not a healthy alternative but this is far from the truth. Dates are packed with magnesium and vitamins which can help reduce the blood pressure levels and has great anti-inflammatory benefits. It helps reduce the risk of cardio vascular disease, Alzheimers, arthritis and other inflammation based disease. They are also rich in iron which helps reduce anaemia. Dates are also packed with potassium and soluble as well as insoluble fibre making this great for gut health and giving relief with constipation.
I find this a perfect sweetener for my healthy energy balls and snacks. I also love to add it to my breakfasts, base of my cheesecakes, baking, for my raw dessert recipes as well as in condiments like chia jam and chutneys. I like using Medjool dates for my smoothies and raw desserts and the Deglet Noor dates for baking or cooking. Perfect for a health boost of energy, dates are my number one favourite, natural sugar alternative.
2] Xylitol :
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in vegetables and fruits. It is a refined sugar alternative taken from the birch tree sap. Since this is processed it does not have the natural vitamins and minerals found in naturally occurring sugars but it has 40% less calories then table sugar. Commercially it has been used in toothpastes and in medicines to prevent ear infection in children. Although it is sweet, it does not get converted to acids in the mouth and hence does not cause tooth decay. It has a lot of benefits for oral health and preventing tooth decay. It is also a good pre-biotic, this means it encourages good gut health and prevents the growth of yeast or unhealthy bacteria. Xylitol is very dangerous for dogs and must never be given to them in any form.
I like xylitol because it is a perfect substitute for refined sugar gram for gram. It has a very low GI, 7 in comparison to 60-70 for regular refined sugar and hence prevents the problem of blood spikes. It is also low in calories. Xylitol is pretty expensive and I use it mainly when I need to keep my desserts or raw confectionary white or do not want a change of colour. It does not caramelise on heating but it does reduce well and can be used for making crystallised fruit or sugar free pralines. It can cause bloating in some people, especially if eaten in excess and you may need to slowly ease into by adding it in small portions into your diet. Everyone’s body differs and you need to test and decide what suits you best. This is my second favourite sugar alternative.
3] Vegetable & Fruit purée :
I love adding vegetable and fruits into my desserts because not only do they help sweeten the dessert they also add a good dose of minerals, vitamins and nutrients. I enjoy using sweet potato purée to make cakes, ice creams and energy balls. In fruit, I enjoy using both cooked and raw apple purée as well as ripe bananas.
I also tend to use carrots, beetroot and pumpkin as sweeteners in desserts and smoothies. I also enjoy using a variety of fruits as natural sugar alternatives such as pineapple and pear.
Of course for baking you need to balance the amount of fruit purée and fat. I usually also need to add other sugar alternatives. These however work perfectly for raw desserts like cheesecakes, smoothies, juices and energy balls.
4] Coconut Sugar :
Coconut sugar is made by boiling and dehydrating the sap of the coconut palm. I like it because it has a low G.I. It also has a good amount of nutrients like zinc, potassium and calcium. Further it has inulin which can slow down glucose absorption hence making it have a lower GI than table sugar.
However it is not the healthiest sugar alternative because it is made up of sucrose which is 50% fructose. If you haven’t already read my article here about the problems with high fructose, it briefly means that it get directly metabolised by the liver and excess is converted into fats.
I like to use it sparingly, especially when I need to balance the flavour in savoury foods or I need fine textures in my baking or raw chocolates. It has less sweetness then regular table sugar. It has a mild caramel flavour. I find this better than raw honey or pure maple syrup as a natural sugar alternative.
As always sugar alternatives are not food substitutes and you can get healthier options by eating whole fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts, meat and fish. However eating a small portion of nutrient dense desserts lightly sweetened with these natural sugar alternatives will not be a cause of concern. In fact they can be great mood and energy boosters and bring joy on occasions!
Which is your favourite natural sugar alternatives? What works best for you while cooking? Let me know in the comments below!