Are you concerned about the amount of sugar that you are consuming?
In recent month's we've heard a number of reports in the news about the dangers of eating too much sugar and how it can have a negative impact on our general health. But did you know, there are many alternatives to sugar which are far safer to eat as they are derived from natural sources and contain no harmful chemicals?
I had been a bit concerned about my husband. He had been having some health issues through his mid-fifties which surprised us both – he's a fit and agile guy for his age. Then, our GP raised a few concerns about his family medical history as my father-in-law had previously died from bowel cancer. Our GP recommended that Dave took a good look at his diet and that's when we started to consider his sugar intake.
Dave has a terribly sweet tooth while I'm just the opposite. We needed to find safe ways for Dave to eat sugar. Here's what we came up with.
We really like to eat naturally and we don't believe that artificial sweeteners are good for you. Many of them contain chemicals and that's not what we want to put in our bodies! We don't know enough about these chemicals to risk loading our insides up with them. The most common artificial sweeteners include aspartame, acesulfame K, saccharin and sucralose. In fact aspartame and acesulfame-K have been linked to cancer. Avoid them at all costs!
We'd seen Stevia advertised on the television so we looked into that. Stevia originated in South America and has a natural sweetness. It is a medicinal herb that has been used for over a thousand years. Stevia has no calories – not a single one - and it has and no glycaemic impact so it is totally suitable for diabetics, weight watchers and eco warriors. According to research it has positive health effects and can actually help to lower blood pressure. It is a whopping 300 times sweeter than table sugar, so use it sparingly.
Another natural sweetener we like is Xylitol. You can find Xylitol occurring naturally in fruits and vegetables. With its low glycaemic index, it has negligible effects on blood sugar levels, so it is safe for diabetics and everyone else. It's also good for your teeth as apparently it reduces tooth decay and cavities.
Honey is one of our favourite natural sweeteners. Honey is processed well by the body and it has a slightly lower glycaemic index than table sugar. It supposedly reduces hunger cravings too. Honey contains complex carbohydrates, which means the body burns it more slowly. It is jam-packed with vitamins, and has antimicrobial properties. Raw, unfiltered honey is best. Use it in small amounts and go for the darker varieties (like buckwheat honey), because they contain more antioxidants.
Coconut Sugar is all the rage in the USA. It is created by heating sap from the coconut palm to evaporate its water content which reduces it to usable granules. Coconut sugar is nutritious and again has a low score on the glycaemic index. You can just use it like ordinary sugar and you'll find it at health food shops.
Date Sugar is created by drying dates until the fruit is completely dehydrated. The fruit is then ground to produce sugar which retains most of the nutritional benefits of dates. It's an ideal replacement for brown sugar, but as it doesn't dissolve so it's not useful as a baking alternative or in drinks.
Amazingly, it was recommended to us to use fruit juice in our baking. It has to be fresh juice not concentrate - and you do have to experiment a bit - but we made a fabulous orange cake by utilising this tip! Make sure you check the label to ensure the juice doesn't contain any added sugar.
Other options we have been given to try - but we haven't yet done so - include molasses, brown rice syrup and barley malt syrup. Molasses is a by-product of the sugar production process and has nutritional value. Blackstrap molasses is the most beneficial as it is a good source of iron and calcium. It's thick and viscous and perfect for baking.
Brown Rice Syrup is perfect for people who are coeliac or who have a wheat intolerance. The syrup is created by boiling brown rice and is gluten and wheat free. It's much more suitable for cooking with than adding to your favourite cuppa, but it can also be used as a condiment and drizzled over puddings.
Barley Malt Syrup looks and feels like molasses in texture, but has a malty taste. It's ideal for using in bread or home brewing. It has a very distinctive taste so not ideal for adding to drinks.
So there we have it. Nine options to eradicate both white table sugar and artificial sweeteners from our diet – we call that a sweet victory!
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