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Finding healthy alternatives to refined sugar

Did you know that the average American consumes around 130 lbs of sugar every year? The average adult consumes around 22 teaspoons per day and the average child 32 teaspoons of sugar per day. Consuming excess sugar can lead to a wide range of health issues including diabetes, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, mood swings, and fatigue. Besides soothing our taste buds, sugar has an addictive effect on our brain chemistry which causes us to need more and more to satisfy our cravings. In addition, excess consumption of sugar can accelerate the aging process. As we age, it’s important to reduce the amount of sugar we consume by eliminating processed and packaged foods, monitoring sugar content in our condiments, and replacing refined sugar with alternatives that will not have as drastic an effect on our blood glucose levels. Below are seven options, for sugar substitutes that can be used in a variety of dishes as healthy alternatives to refined sugar and offer a guilt-free experience.

  1. Molasses (Blackstrap or Dark)

Obtained by boiling raw cane sugar until it becomes a thick, dark syrup. Blackstrap molasses is the result of a third boiling which concentrates its nutrients and deep rich flavor.

  • Rich in antioxidant capacity
  • Rich in calcium, iron, potassium, manganese,  and vitamin B6
  • Calories – 22 per teaspoon
  • Glycemic Index: 55 – 60

 

  1. Maple Syrup

Produced by boiling the sap from maple trees. Beware of imposters! Some so-called maple syrup is simply corn syrup with maple flavoring.

  • Moderate antioxidant capacity.
  • Darker varieties tend to be richer in antioxidants.
  • Contains manganese, calcium, potassium and zinc.
  • Calories: 14 per teaspoon
  • Glycemic Index: 54

 

  1. Coconut Sugar (Coconut Palm Sugar)

Coconut sugar is derived from sap collected from the coconut palm flower. The sap is heated until most of the moisture is evaporated. The color and texture is similar to that of raw sugar.

  • Contains iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium, in small amounts
  • Calories: 16 per teaspoon
  • Contains the fiber inulin, which may slow glucose absorption
  • Glycemic Index: 55

 

  1. Medjool Dates

This natural sweetener is a good source of energy due to its high sugar content.  This is somewhat balanced by its high fiber content, making the date a good source of complex carbohydrates.

  • High in antioxidants
  • Calories: 2 dates (~40g) is about 100 calories
  • Good source of dietary potassium
  • Glycemic Index: 42 – 46

 

  1. Stevia

Stevia is a natural extract of a plant in the daisy family (Asteraceae) and has been used in South America & Asia for hundreds of years as a sweetener. It is 100-300 times sweeter than sugar so you need very little to sweeten. A zero glycemic index score means that eating stevia will not raise your blood sugar. Stevia contains no carbohydrates and no calories and accordingly has a glycemic index of zero. Stevia may lower your blood glucose so you may want to be careful if you are a diabetic and watch your blood sugar levels after using this additive.

  • Calories: 0
  • Glycemic Index: 0

 

  1. Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found in most plant material and is often extracted from birch wood. It is not converted in the mouth to acids that cause tooth decay. In fact, it is actually added to products to prevent tooth decay.  It is sweet like sugar, but has fewer calories.

  • Calories: 9 per teaspoon
  • Glycemic Index: 7 – 12

 

  1. Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is made from the heated, filtered sap of the blue agave plant. High in fructose, agave nectar does not rapidly raise blood glucose. Although worth mentioning, agave can become unhealthy when consumed in large amounts. It should be used sparingly, as excessive consumption of fructose may adversely impact liver function and contribute to insulin resistance.

  • Calories: 60 per tablespoon
  • Glycemic Index: 17 – 27
  • Fructose content is high, which may contribute to insulin sensitivity.  
  • It may be harder to digest due to fructose content

 

References:

Coconut Sugar – A Healthy Sugar Alternative or a Big, Fat Lie? (2018). Retrieved May 27, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/coconut-sugar#section2

Harvard Health Publishing. (2015). Glycemic index for 60 foods – Harvard Health. Retrieved May 28, 2018, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/glycemic-index-and-glycemic-load-for-100-foods

Phillips, K. M., Carlsen, M. H., & Blomhoff, R. (2009). Total antioxidant content of alternatives to refined sugar. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(1), 64-71.

The Ultimate Ranking Of The 9 Most Popular Natural Sweeteners. (2015). Retrieved July 02, 2016, from http://www.prevention.com/food/healthiest-natural-sweetners.

The University of Sydney. (2017) Glycemic Index. Retrieved May 27, 2018, from http://www.glycemicindex.com/index.php

Walton, A. G. (2012, August 30). How Much Sugar Are Americans Eating? [Infographic]. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2012/08/30/how-much-sugar-are-americans-eating-infographic/#7d05307d4ee7

Xylitol: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-996/xylitol

 
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