Is there such a thing as a healthy sugar alternative?
Listed below are a couple of healthier alternatives to sugar. It is important to remember that while these alternatives to sugar may have some nutritive value, in excess they will have the same negative effects on health as ordinary sugar.
Raw honey starts out as flower nectar, which bees collect. The nectar naturally breaks down into simple sugars and is stored in honeycombs. The honeycombs cause the nectar to evaporate, creating the thick, sweet liquid we know as honey.
Although honey has a lower glycemic index than sugar, (the glycemic index of sugar is 60, whereas honey is 50) it remains a carbohydrate which will still have an impact on blood sugar.
The glycemic index measures how closely a food item resembles glucose, whereas a glycemic load measures the impact of carbohydrates in a meal on the blood sugar levels.
Honey has a glycemic load of 10 or 11 per teaspoon. If we put that into perspective, an entire meal should not comprise more than a glycemic load of 10.
Honey is, however, a natural sweetener and so has more nutritional value than sugar and other sweeteners, but it remains a carbohydrate so will have an impact on blood sugar.
Honey is also sweeter than sugar so if it is being consumed as an alternative you need much less to achieve the same level of sweetness and should only be used in moderation.
Much of the honey available is processed and so contains sugar or syrup, which is not ideal. It is preferable to source good quality honey to ensure a pure product.
Honey is a source of vitamins, minerals & antioxidants and it has anti-inflammatory properties.
Coconut sugar has a GI value of around 54 so, as with honey, will impact blood sugar in the same way as sugar.
While sugar contains empty calories, coconut sugar has some nutritional value because it retains some of the nutrients found in the coconut palm. These include iron, zinc, potassium as well as polyphenols and antioxidants. It also contains fiber in the form of inulin, which can slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream.
This syrup is derived from the agave plant which is a succulent that produces a sweet sap that is extracted through pressure cooking to make a syrup. This syrup has higher amounts of glucose and despite its lower GI value of 17 should be treated the same as any other sweetener.
Agave has a lower GI value due to its high fructose content. Fructose has been linked to higher risk for diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, and memory loss.
From a nutritional perspective, agave has small amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium, but these are insignificant compared to our daily needs.
When used as part of a healthy, balanced diet, these alternatives, used in moderation, are certainly a better choice.
Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 25 February 2021 to learn more.
Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am