While our body innately needs sugar to function, it comes in many forms. Sucrose, glucose, lactose and fructose are some of the main forms of sugar and they all vary in their sweetness levels and nutritional values. Whether the sugar we consume is naturally derived or processed, it makes a huge difference on the impact it has on our bodies, and in turn, on our health.
Having a diet high in processed sugars brings risks, from tooth decay to adding unwanted pounds to our waistlines. Opting for naturally sweet sugar alternatives such as plant-based sweeteners or using fruits in your recipes is a great way to control your overall sugar intake. If you can, using whole foods also adds to the nutritional value of your meal and gives the benefit of added fibre.
Luckily, there are plenty of healthy alternatives to traditional sugar, so here are five to consider using next time you do a meal prep.
Derived from plant fibres, xylitol is one of the easiest substitutes to make as it can be used as a straight swap for sugar in many recipes. Benefits of this alternative are that it doesn’t cause tooth decay and won’t give you a sugar rush thanks to its low glycemic index.
Some recipes may require a little alteration of the amounts if a yeast-based raising agent is being used, so make sure you’re accurate with your measurements. While it is a little more expensive than sugar, xylitol is readily available in many health food stores. Be sure to keep it away from dogs though, as it’s highly toxic if ingested by canines.
This sugar substitute is made from a plant native to South America and is some 200 – 300 times sweeter than sugar. This means you only need a little to replicate sugar in a recipe, and it also doesn’t spike blood sugar levels or contribute to dental issues either. Some people do report a funny aftertaste with Stevia, but it’s still well worth a try to help reduce your sugar intake. Many brands have no calories either, so it’s a great option for diabetics or those watching their weight.
With a low glycemic index and a sweetness similar to that of brown sugar, which caramelizes beautifully, coconut sugar also contains minerals such as zinc, iron and potassium, making it a brilliant sugar substitute. Typically, 1 cup of coconut sugar is equal to 1 cup of standard sugar, but be sure to check your recipe for the exact amount you need.
One of the best natural sweeteners are dates. They are high in fibre which makes them great for aiding digestion, plus they’re full of nutrients like magnesium, calcium and vitamin K. You can chop them up or put them through a food processor with a little water to make a paste to sweeten smoothies, or use date syrup to bring a healthy sweetness to many different recipes.
You’ve probably heard of mashing bananas to use alongside sugar in recipes like banana bread, but other fruits can work just as well. Mango puree and applesauce can be used to reduce the amount of sugar needed in a recipe, while boosting its nutritional value. Sweet vegetables like carrots can also be used to sweeten, thanks to their naturally high sugar content. While these substitutes may not work for every recipe as the texture can be a little tricky to perfect, it’s good fun experimenting with them to help reduce your sugar intake and still enjoy sweet treats.
Thanks to the wonder of the internet and plenty of people creatively composing sugar-free or health-focused recipes, there are an abundance of recipes these days which have options for sugar alternatives. Try out a few different recipes and substitutes to find what works for you, and have fun cooking and baking your delicious healthy dishes.