In 2012 Sarah Wilson shone a spotlight on sugar and the adverse effect it can have on our health. Whilst her program “I Quit Sugar” was criticised for being too extreme – it created a negative cloud around high fructose fruits, honey and some dairy products – there was some method to her madness.
Australians are eating in excess of the recommended amount of sugar per day. The World Health Organisation suggests that healthy adults that sit within the healthy BMI range can consume about 50g (equivalent to about 12 tsp) of sugar each day. No more than 10% of our diet should come from free sugars (glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose) but research suggests that currently 35% of an adult’s total daily calories are now coming from high sugar foods and drinks.
A diet high in sugar can lead to weight gain, which in turn increases the risk of chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, type II diabetes and heart disease.
Most health experts agree that quitting sugar isn’t necessary and cutting out healthful foods such as fruits and dairy may also deplete the body of beneficial nutrients such as fibre and calcium.
However, whether it is for reducing sugar, a variety in taste or for health reasons prescribed by a health professional, many people are considering options other than the traditional table sugar for the sweet spot of their day.
At Go Vita Ballarat we have a variety of different sweeteners for various purposes including stevia, coconut sugar, xylitol, erythritol and monk fruit sweetener. See below for the pros, cons and uses of these sweetening options.
We also have rapadura sugar, glucose powder, fructose powder, rice malt syrup, barley malt syrup, coconut syrup, agave and local honey.
Stevia is a plant based, natural sweetener with zero calories, making it a popular option for people who need to avoid sugar. It has shown to have no effect on blood sugar levels. Stevia is a South American shrub that has traditionally been used as a food and tea sweetener. Derived and processed from the stevia leaf, this sweetener comes in leaf, tablet, powder, granulated and liquid form.
Stevia is 300 times sweeter than white sugar and as such, if used in baking just one teaspoon is the equivalent of one cup of sugar.
PROS: Natural, no calorie alternative. Considered safe for most people.
CONS: Not equal substitute – need to use a converter from sugar to stevia. Some people notice a bitter-sweet aftertaste.
USES: Baking. To sweeten tea and coffee. Can be added to smoothies, sprinkled on yoghurt, oats or cereals.
Coconut sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar is derived from the coconut palm tree. It is a brown and granulated similar to brown sugar.
Unlike regular table sugar, coconut sugar has been found to contain iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. It also contains inulin which may be the reason it has a slightly lower glycaemic index (GI) than regular sugar. Despite the additional nutrients, coconut sugar is just as high in calories as regular sugar.
It can be used in place of regular sugar with 1:1 ratio. Because of the earthy, caramel taste that coconut sugar has it is great in all sorts of baking, as well as for sweetening hot drinks like tea, coffee, chai and cocoa.
PROS: Higher nutrient profile than regular sugar. Slightly lower GI. 1:1 ratio to regular sugar. Sweet caramel taste.
CONS: Similar calories as regular sugar.
USES: All sorts of baking but especially cakes, cookies, bars and slices, as well as sweetening drinks.
Monk Fruit Sweetener or Monk Fruit Extract is a natural sweetener that is around 100-250 times sweeter than regular sugar but contain zero calories.
Even though the Monk Fruit contains fructose and glucose, these are separated during the processing to the extract. The sweetness of the extract comes from antioxidants.
Often manufacturers will mix monk fruit sweetener with inulin or erythritol to reduce the intensity of the sweetness.
Research has shown that monk fruit sweeteners do not raise blood sugar levels and are therefore often recommended to people with diabetes.
PROS: Doesn’t impact blood sugar levels. Zero calories. No known negative side effects.
CONS: Some people notice an unpleasant aftertaste. Need to experiment with when baking depending on if it is straight monk fruit sweetener or mixed with erythritol.
USES: In coffee, tea and hot drinks, mixed into oats, porridge or other breakfast cereals, in baking (ration depends on other ingredients and taste preference) or blended into a smoothie.
Xylitol is found naturally in small amounts in a number of fruits and vegetables. It has a very similar taste and look to regular sugar but it has fewer calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels.
Because it is so similar to sugar taste and texture, it can be used in baking in the same ratio; however it can absorb more liquid than sugar so you may need to increase liquid ingredients slightly.
Just like sugar, Xylitol can be used in baking and to sweeten drinks. Xylitol has also found to boost dental health and help to prevent tooth decay. You can make your own natural mouthwash using Xylitol. Find the recipe here.
PROS: Lower in calories than sugar. Doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. 1:1 ratio for sugar in baking etc. Can be beneficial for oral health.
CONS: HIGHLY toxic to dogs. Store safely out of reach of dogs. Call a vet immediately if your dog ingests any xylitol. May need some experimentation for baking.
USES: Use as you would regular sugar in baking and sweetening coffee and tea.
Erythritol is found naturally in many fruits such as grapes, peaches and pears as well as fermented foods such as soy sauce, wine and cheese.
Erythritol comes in either granulated or powdered form. It is slightly less sweet than regular sugar, contains zero calories, doesn’t impact blood glucose levels and has a zero glycaemic index.
Erythritol has been used widely in Japan since the 1990s in lollies, chocolate, yoghurt, jelly, jams and beverages. It is very similar to Xylitol (though less sweet) and may be preferred in baking as it doesn’t absorb as much moistures a xylitol does.
PROS: Can use a 1:1 ratio in baking. Zero calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels.
CONS: Erythritol can sometimes make baked treats taste “cool” if left for too long – eat within a day or two. Some people experience bloating, wind or stomach cramps if they eat too much Erythritol.
USES: Use in baking (be aware of "cooling" taste), to sweeten hot or cold drinks.
Sugar in excessive amounts is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle and should be consumed in moderation. Similarly, sugar substitutes (or foods that contain sugar substitutes) should also be eaten in moderation and in conjunction with a well-balanced diet.
If you are incorporating sugar substitutes in your diet as a result of health concerns or personal preference, the staff at Go Vita Ballarat can help find the right (sweet!) solution for you.