We all know sugary treats are the best buds to our taste buds. Regardless of the situation, there is almost an innate tendency to reach out for a sugary treat. Whether you’re down in the dumps or celebrating that big promotion, there’s usually a slice of cake, a tub of ice cream, or a syrupy sweet beverage that completes the picture! The delicious sugar rush or the temporary comfort of sweet treats in a stressful situation is hard to resist.
More often than not, it is processed sugar that reaches our systems by way of delicious sweet treats. Processed sugar is notably addictive, and an increase in empty dietary calories can adversely affect health, including an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, several heart diseases, tooth decay, and accelerated aging, among others.
Despite its many health risks, processed sugar is also challenging to cut from the diet. As such, it is important to find alternative solutions that deliver a similar level of satiety while safeguarding health. Enter natural sugars!
Honey has been used as a sugar substitute for centuries! In its raw form, honey contains vitamins, minerals, and abundant antioxidants. It has multiple health benefits and is generally easier to digest as the bees partially break down sugar. Carbohydrates within honey constitute glucose, fructose, maltose, and sucrose, which increases the number of calories in one tablespoon to as much as 64 calories and the glycemic index to 58. A versatile ingredient, honey lends itself beautifully to sweetening a wide range of foods and beverages.
With the rising popularity of veganism and eating plant-based foods, coconut sugar is on the uptake. Made from coconut palm sap, this sugar alternative is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Coconut sugar also contains inulin which is a prebiotic fiber, beneficial for digestive health. A 75% similarity in composition to table sugar and glycemic index between 50-54 means coconut sugar also causes spikes in blood sugar levels. Moreover, to avail the goodness of the beneficial compounds, a large amount must be consumed, which may not be the most feasible choice, healthwise. Thankfully, other plant-based sweeteners exist, such as monk fruit and Stevia.
Indigenous to Southern China, monk fruit or ‘Luo Han Guo’ is a green melon. Sweeteners derived from this melon are 150-200 times sweeter than table sugar, with no calories and zero glycemic index. The sweetness is derived from ‘mogrosides’; sweet compounds present in the fruit are typically blended with other ingredients for practical use.
Monk Fruit has been approved to be used as a sweetener by the FDA since 2010 and has the status GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe). However, it can be allergic to certain groups of people, and symptoms like rashes, rapid and weak pulse, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and swollen tongue can sometimes be observed.
Stevia has emerged as the preferred natural sugar alternative, packed with a host of documented health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antimicrobial, zero calories, zero allergens, etc. Native to Paraguay, Stevia is derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, which yields sweet compounds called steviol glycosides. These naturally-derived compounds are 200-300 times sweeter than sugar and do not spike blood sugar thanks to the zero glycemic index.
High-purity steviol glycoside compounds have been deemed GRAS by the FDA since 2008, in addition to approval by the EU FSA, WHO’s JECFA, and FSSAI. Like monk fruit, steviol glycosides are blended with other food regulatory body-approved ingredients to ease the use of sweeteners made from the extract.
Moreover, properties such as a long shelf-life, high-temperature tolerance, versatility, and pH stability further contribute to Stevia’s popularity and easy adaptability in almost all processed foods.
When looking for a suitable sugar alternative, plenty of options are available in the market, with personal preferences dictating your final pick.