Healthier Sugar Alternatives – Do They Exist?
- Apr 22, 2022
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Take a moment and think about this: how many high-sugar foods do you eat in a day? Protein bars, cereals, smoothies, juices, lattes, kombucha…not to mention obvious ones like cookies and cake. Many of these foods are part of our daily diet, even among the “healthiest” nutritionists and dietitians. While it may seem unfathomable to cut out all these foods in the name of health, we have some good news for you: sugar is not the enemy! Cutting out all these delicious foods is not necessarily healthy. There are so many options for sugar these days, and healthier alternatives do exist.
Why sugar-free options are not the solution
If you have a way of getting that sweet taste without consuming sugar, would you make the switch? You may be familiar with some popular artificial sugars (sugar-free options), such as maltitol, erythritol, aspartame, Nutrasweet, Sucralose, Splenda and Acesulfame K. When they first came out onto the market, sugar-free alternatives were all the rage. After all, they provided that sweet taste without any calories. They were deemed safe for diabetic patients and those who were cutting sugar out of their diet for health reasons.
The truth is, sugar-free options are called “sugar-free” because they are made from artificial substances that your body does not recognize. Your body cannot digest it, so it passes straight through the digestive system. And while these artificial sugars do not stay in the body, they can wreak havoc while passing through the digestive tract. These toxic compounds have been linked to changes in the gut microflora, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, increased inflammation and even insulin resistance.
Healthier sweeteners to try
On the other hand, natural sugars are easy for your body to digest, and are often filled with other minerals and vitamins that are nutritious. Yes, this means that your sugar can be healthy too!
Also known as coconut palm sugar, coconut sugar is made from the sap of the coconut plant. It contains many minerals like zinc, iron, calcium and potassium, as well as polyphenols and antioxidants. Unlike white sugar, coconut sugar has a low glycemic index and will not cause a huge blood sugar spike.
Best options: Ecoideas Coconut Sugar Organic 454g, One Earth Coconut Sugar 1.5kg
Unpasteurized (raw) honey is a powerhouse of nutrients. It is traditionally used for its medicinal effects for wounds, colds and infections. Raw honey is antibacterial and antifungal – you can use it to kill pathogens, topically or internally. It works great as a cough fighter or to soothe sore throats. Even if you’re not sick, adding a teaspoon to your cup of tea tastes delicious!
Best options: Dutchman’s Gold Raw Honey 1kg, One Root Raw Wildflower Honey 1kg
Pure maple syrup is another natural sugar that contains many minerals. It is a rich source of manganese, riboflavin (vitamin B2), copper and calcium. You can bake with maple syrup, or add it to your coffee every morning. However, please note that commercial pancake syrup and pure maple syrup are very different. When looking for a good quality maple syrup, check the ingredients and make sure “maple syrup” is the only ingredient in the list. Bonus points if it comes from a farm!
Best options: Canadian Heritage Organic Maple Syrup 250ml, Benefits by Nature Maple Syrup Organic 1L
Incorporating sugar into a healthy lifestyle
Sweets and desserts may be the first foods that people tend to cut out when starting a new diet. But once you cut out all sugars, this diet is very difficult to maintain. Temptations are everywhere. Donuts at work, birthday celebrations, your best friend’s baking…there will be countless others.
It is for this reason that cutting out all sugars is not a long-term solution. Sugar can be part of a healthy lifestyle – it’s all about which options you are choosing!
Grace Tien is a women’s health holistic nutritionist. She helps her clients optimize their nutrition habits so that they can get rid of afternoon slumps and live each day full of energy. Grace specializes in nutrition for healthy periods, you can find out more at @gracetien.ca on Instagram.