Hey sweet stuff, let’s talk sugar.
Whether you’re addicted to candy, want to clean up your diet or simply want to learn more about healthy sugar alternatives, I’ve got you covered.
Is Sugar Bad?
Whether refined or unrefined too much sugar of any kind isn’t great for you because it:
- contains empty calories (unrefined sugars do contain some nutrients but only at trace levels)
- causes weight gain
- can cause insulin resistance, leading to type 2 diabetes
- raises cholesterol
- irritates the gut
- causes tooth decay
- accelerates skin ageing
BUT…I believe in everything in moderation. Everyone needs a little sweetness in their life now and then. Furthermore, there are two kinds of sugar: refined sugar and unrefined sugar.
These guys are the sugars you should try to avoid as your body breaks them down rapidly causing blood sugar levels to rise. Refined sugar typically comes from cane sugar or sugar beets, but are called many names (which makes ingredients lists tricky to understand):
- Beet sugar
- Cane sugar/juice
- Ethyl Maltol
- Malts (barely malt/malt syrup)
- Syrup (caramel/corn/golden)
*agave is highly processed & nutritionally speaking, is no different to high fructose corn syrup. However, agave inulin does posses health benefits as has fibrous and pre-biotic effects that support gut health.
These guys retain trace nutritional benefits such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants so you’re not just getting empty calories. Your body breaks some of these unrefined sugars down at a slower rate, especially fibre rich fruit. If you can, buy raw, organic versions.
- Blackstrap molasses
- Coconut palm sugar
- Fruit (apple sauce, dates, overripe bananas)
- Monk fruit
- Stevia leaf
- Honey (especially raw and manuka)
- Palmyra jaggery
- Maple syrup
- Yacon syrup (acts as a prebiotic)
- Inulin syrup (acts as a prebiotic)
I choose not to use sugar alcohols such as xylitol and erythritol as they can cause digestive disrupt and in large quantities have a laxative effect.
What About The Sugar in Fruit?
Yes, fruit contains sugar. No, you shouldn’t worry about it and you definitely shouldn’t avoid fruit. Fruit is natural, it’s full of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and it tastes delicious!
In fact, the high fibre content of fruit acts as a buffer to slow the release of sugar into your bloodstream, preventing spikes in blood sugar levels. Plus, fibre helps you feel full and promotes healthy bowels.
Just be wary of concentrated fruit juices and fruit smoothies as they tend to have the skin and pulp of the fruit removed, leaving all the sugar but very little of the fibre.
What Are Some Healthier Sugar Swaps?
- Caster sugar ➔ coconut sugar, date sugar
- Brown sugar ➔ coconut sugar, or coconut sugar + a tiny bit of blackstrap molasses
- Corn syrup ➔ maple syrup, honey, date syrup, coconut nectar
- Low calories sweeteners ➔ stevia leaf, monk fruit, fruit
- Toffee sauce ➔ medjool dates blended with nut milk
- Additional sugar for extra sweetness ➔ banana, apple sauce, dates, few drops of stevia
I use bananas as the sweetener in my smoothie bowls and breakfast muffins. For my smoothie bowls I use frozen overripe bananas (spotty brown skinned bananas) and for my muffins I mash up ripe bananas.
The Healthier Sugar Substitutes I Use
COCONUT SUGAR: my favourite sugar for baking. Contains B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, some short-chain fatty acids, polyphenols, antioxidants, a prebiotic fibre known as inulin. And it tastes like caramel!
GI (glycemic index) rating: 35/ 100 (FODMAP friendly)
HONEY*: my favourite all-rounder. Contains antioxidants, raw and manuka options also provide anti-microbial properties. Flavour varies depending on the flowers the bees have fed on.
GI rating: 50/ 100 (HIGH FODMAP 50% fructose, 50% glucose)
*the glycemic index varies between honeys, as standard honey averages at 80g sugar per 100g and raw varieties averaging at 58g per 100g
MAPLE SYRUP*: best for making raw vegan treats, pancakes and granola. Contains traces of calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, selenium and up to 24 anti-oxidants.
GI rating: 54/ 100 (FODMAP friendly)
*Grade A is lighter & milder, grade B is darker & higher in nutrients. Maple flavoured syrup is NOT the same!
STEVIA*: very low GI (glycemic index), low in calories, may lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s naturally a lot sweeter than standard white sugar so a little goes a long way. I prefer other sweeteners flavour wise but it’s good for those times when I’ve over indulged on sugar, and I like it as the sweetener in my protein powder.
GI rating: 0/ 100 (FODMAP friendly)
*whole leaf stevia (green powder) is the purest form, but powders and liquid forms can be more convenient. I love this one [use code ELLEFRIZZ10 for 10% off]
BLACKSTRAP MOLASSES: thick, sticky and reminiscent of treacle, this sweetener contains iron, calcium, magnesium, selenium, copper and B vitamins. I don’t use this as a sweetener per say, more as something I use sparingly to add depth of flavour to marinades, dressing or ginger cookies.
GI rating: 55/ 100
DATES: if you love chewy caramel, you’ll love medjool dates. Their impressive nutrient profile has been linked to improved digestion, vision, growth and development, cholesterol, blood pressure and bone health.
They’re best eaten raw, dipped in nut butter/ raw chocolate, or blended into raw snacks like bliss balls.
GI rating: 42 – 55/ 100 depending on date variety
YACON SYRUP: extracted from the tubers of the yacon plant, this sweetener is rich in prebiotic fibre to feed good gut bacteria. It has a sweet malty taste, akin to caramel.
GI rating: 1/ 100 (making it great for diabetics)
The Glycaemic Index
The glycaemic index (GI) is used to assess the amount of sugar (carbohydrates) in a food item and its effect on blood sugar levels. Food is scored on a scale from 0 to 100; 100 being pure sugar that will rapidly raise blood sugar levels, and 0 being a food very low in sugar that will keep blood sugar levels stable.
➩ 0 – 55 = low GI
➩ 56 – 69 = medium GI
➩ 70 – 100 = high GI
Tips & Notes
⋆ Add a pinch of Ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is one of my favourite spices that has the ability to help stabilise blood sugar levels.
I’m rather partial to a banana dipped smothered in raw chocolate sauce (cacao + cacao butter/coconut oil + coconut sugar/honey), with a pinch of cinnamon.
⋆ Although unrefined sugar is a better option, any nutritional benefits are minimal and sweeteners should only make up a small percentage of your diet. Having said that, you should NOT feel guilty for enjoying a sweet treat.