According to government guidelines, adults are not advised to eat more than 30g (roughly 7 cubes) of ‘free’ sugar a day (any sugar added to food or drink as well as those found naturally in honey or unsweetened fruit juices.) So how can we cut down? Sugar purists will argue that sugar is sugar – whether it’s found in a fruit or a cube but the stuff is literally in everything (even bread and tonic water) and we rather like to enjoy life so here are some healthy(er) alternatives:
WHAT: Totally natural in origin, this distinctively moreish syrup which has been eaten for centuries is harvested from the sap of maple trees where it’s boiled down and filtered.
PROS: It contains a decent amount of minerals such as manganese and zinc and has also been found to contain antibiotics.
CONS: It’s still seriously high in sucrose (about 2/3rds is sucrose) and it’s glycemic index is almost the same as table sugar.
WHAT: A similar consistency to honey, this sweet nectar once prized by the Aztecs, comes from several species of the agave plant (best known as the plant from which Tequila is made).
PROS: 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar but with a much lower glycemic index than sucrose.
CONS: Once touted as the healthiest alternative to sugar it now gets a bit of a bad rep for it’s high fructose content (even higher than the dreaded corn syrup).
WHAT: Used for thousands of years as a sweetener and for it’s healing properties, honey is produced by bees using the nectar of flowers. It contains 80% natural sugars, 18% water and 2% minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein.
PROS: Honey has been known to offer many health benefits as an antimicrobial, alkaline-forming food that contains natural vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants. Just make sure you buy it raw as when it’s been pasturised the enzymes responsible for activating the vitamins and minerals in the body are partially destroyed.
CONS: It has the same relative sweetness and chemical backbone of table sugar and therefore contains a similar number of calories.
WHAT: Produced from the sap of the coconut palm – once tapped, the trees can continue producing for years.
PROS: A much lower glycemic index rating than refined sugar, releasing energy much slower. It also contains amino acids, B vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron.
CONS: It still has a relatively high calorie and fructose content.
WHAT: A natural sweetener made from leaves of the stevia plant – part of the sunflower family native to Paraguay and has been used as a sweetener for centuries in south America and Japan.
PROS: 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose but contains no calories, sugar or carbohydrates and boasts a glycemic index of zero so is great for diabetics and weight watchers alike.
CONS: Some are wary of the chemical processing involved to produce the white powder form of Stevia as it relies on using methanol or ethanol to reduce the extract down to it’s sweetest part. There have been various studies (so far only using rats) that have linked it to cancer and fertility issues but so far there is nothing to suggest it has an adverse effect of humans.
WHAT: If the name sounds familiar that’s because it’s the stuff found in “sugar free” chewing gum. Harking from the Greek for wood ‘Xyl’, it’s found naturally in fibrous fruits and vegetables, some hardwood trees and is even produced in our own bodies. Those savvy Scandi’s have been using it for a while now with Beech trees being particularly plentiful in it (far better to harvest it naturally than producing it in a lab).
PROS: With 40% fewer calories than sugar, 75% less carbohydrates and low GI this is the dieter’s dream (oh and it’s also thought to inhibit the bacteria in the mouth).
CONS: Xylitol was approved by the FDA in 1963 and has no known toxic levels or serious side effects but excessive consumption can produce a laxative effect and intestinal gas. Xylitol made from GMO corn (the cheapest version) is extremely damaging to the environment. Oh, and it’s weirdly very toxic to dogs.
WHAT: As name suggests, this treacly syrup is made from little more than dried dates and is a 100% natural sweetener.
PROS: Dates have more potassium in them per ounce than a banana and the consistency is great for baking with.
CONS: A fully ripe date can contain up to 80% sugar which is great as a natural energy provider but it also has a relatively high glycemic index so is best avoided by diabetics. The unique consistency also doesn’t melt so you can’t stir it into tea and coffee.
Brown Rice Syrup:
WHAT: Derived by cooking rice with natural enzymes it has a mild taste similar to light honey.
PROS: A healthier alternative to refined sugar and contains B vitamins thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin K
CONS: With a high glycemic index (higher than refined sugar) and high calorie content this is probably not the best choice for those watching their waistlines.