Natural sugar substitutes are very popular as we rush to quit sugar and improve health but are they all a good choice?
Widely available, honey is the original sugar and now one of the most popular sugar substitutes. Honey is approximately 80% sugar so can easily act as a sugar substitute in many recipes and dishes. As a natural product it derives its flavor from many different plants so can add interesting tastes to cooking. New Zealand is particularly known for Manuka Honey which is used not only as a food but also as a healing ointment and medicine. Manuka honey is highly regarded for its exceptional anti-bacterial properties and is most commonly used for healing wounds and ulcers.
The bottom line – A good substitute for sugar that will provide interesting flavor and texture BUT it is still 80% sugar so use in small amounts.
2. Agave Syrup
Agave syrup comes from the agave plant, a native of Central and South America and Mexico in particular. Is generally 1.5 times sweeter than sugar. Because of it’s low glygaemic index, compared with refined sugar it has been suggested it is a better choice for people with diabetes. This is NOT the case. Agave nectar is very high in fructose, about 85% compared with sucrose which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. There is currently a lot of research into the possible harmful health effects of excess fructose from processed and manufactured foods.
The bottom line – Not a magic bullet for diabetes, use sparingly. You are best to get fructose from whole foods like fruit where it comes in small amounts packaged with lots of valuable nutrients.
3. Coconut sugar
Made by heating the sap of coconut plan until the water in the sap has evaporated leaving behind a sweet granulated “sugar”.
Coconut sugar is 70-80% sucrose while refined sugar is 100% sucrose. Sucrose is made of glucose and fructose so if you are intending to eliminate fructose coconut sugar is not for you. While it does contain small amounts of other nutrients found in the coconut palm including fibre they are only present in very small amounts.
The bottom line – It is still a sugar so use as you would refined sugar – small amounts where the sweet taste matters.