I am advised to give up sugar as I am overweight and diabetic. But I crave for sweet things. What are the healthy alternatives to sugar? Sugar has become an inseparable part of our diet. But it is important to know that eating too much of it is harmful to health.
Nowadays, many people are switching over to sugar substitutes. They are food additives that duplicate the effect of sugar in taste, usually with less food energy. Some sugar substitutes are natural while some are artificial. Artificial sweeteners provide intense sweetness without calories. Natural sweeteners, though they provide calories, are denser in nutrients than sugar and are low in glucose.
Commonly used sugar alternatives whenever you crave for a sweet treat, opt for any of the following options:
It is a natural sweetener which is almost 300 times sweeter than sugar, and therefore required in smaller quantities. When consumed, it doesn’t lead to a rise in blood sugar or cause an insulin spike. This makes it an excellent alternative to sugar.
Sugar alcohols are low-calorie sweeteners. They are also known as polyols, and are used as sweeteners and bulking agents. In spite of their name, they neither contain sugar nor alcohol, and are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. The calories in sugar alcohols are almost half as compared to sugar. Since sugar alcohols are slowly converted into glucose, they require very little insulin to be metabolised. Hence, there is no sudden increase in the insulin levels.
Home-made foods usually don’t contain sugar alcohols but many of the processed foods do.
Xylitol, a type of sugar alcohol, is found in sugarless chewing gums. Another type, erythritol, is mostly used in baked goods and confectionaries. And the sugar alcohol, isomalt, is mainly used in soft candies, chocolates, jams and ice creams.
Raw honey is unheated, unpasteurised, unprocessed honey. It acts as an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agent. The basic sugars present in honey are fructose and glucose. It contains vitamins like B1, B2, B3, B6 and most of the minerals.
It is produced from native Mexican plant blends. The main sugars present in agave are fructose and glucose, fructose being in higher amounts than glucose. Therefore, it does not affect the blood sugar level.
It is a natural sweetener and is a healthier option than processed table sugar. It contains nutrients like calcium, potassium, zinc and manganese. Maple syrup can also be used to sweeten drinks, in desserts and as a topping for pancakes.
(Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and the founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre. )