When we think about sugar, we usually associate it with negative health impacts like diabetes, weight gain and energy-crashes. But sugar is actually a vital component in our diets, and not all sugars are created equal!
For example, naturally occurring sugar is found in many healthy fruits and vegetables, including berries, sweet potatoes and legumes and acts as critical fuel for the body. But ‘added sugar’, which you’ll recognise as that white grainy substance you add to your morning coffee, has very little nutritional value. Too much of it can increase your risk of numerous health conditions and, unfortunately, we often underestimate the quantities of it in pre-packaged foods and canned drinks, meaning we tend to consume more than we think.
The good news is, you can use a number of healthy sugar alternatives in your general cooking and baking to create delicious meals without compromising on taste. Here are our top 5.
Extracted from the leaves of a South American shrub called Stevia rebaudiana, Stevia is a commonly used sweetener that acts as a healthier sugar alternative. It contains zero calories, making it ideal for anyone on a diet, and has even been shown in studies to lower blood pressure! Now, it’s important for you to know that two different sweet compounds can be extracted from the stevia plant. These are ‘stevioside’ and ‘rebaudioside A’. While both are healthy alternatives to refined sugar, they have slightly different tastes, so you may want to experiment a little to see which one you prefer. The good news is, both are readily available in major stores and not expensive to buy.
At the moment, the world is just a little bit obsessed with coconuts. And it’s no surprise. Coconuts (in all their varieties) can contain many anti-oxidants and micronutrients that help us thrive and feel great. Coconut sugar is one of these, but should be used with care. While it does contain more nutrients than refined sugar (including zinc, calcium and potassium), it has just as many calories and fructose levels and so is not the first choice if you’re trying to lose weight. If you’re not currently watching your waistline and simply want a delicious and slightly healthier alternative to refined sugar, coconut sugar is for you!
Xylitolis a sugar alcohol which comes from corn or birch wood and provides a similar flavour and texture to sugar. Per gram, it only contains 2.4 calories, which is 40% less than regular refined sugar, so it’s perfect if you’re trying to shift a few pounds. It also has zero fructose and no negative impact on your blood sugar levels, and improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium, making it a much healthy sugar alternative. Many health food stores, supermarkets and online retailers sell xylitol.
Honey is one of those feel-good cupboard staples that is easy to find and cheap to keep in regular stock. It also works as a fantastic sugar alternative and has a number of health benefits, including many anti-oxidant properties. One study has shown that eating honey for a mere 8 weeks can significantly reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol levels and blood triglycerides in people with diabetes! Another has shown that honey can contribute to a reduction in inflammation. Now, in terms of its usefulness as a sugar alternative, you should know that honey does contain fructose (a type of sugar) but that it is less harmful on your body’s metabolism and blood sugar levels than refined sugar. So, while honey will give you that warm fuzzy feeling, you won’t get as much of a ‘crash’ as that experienced after eating white sugar.
Maple syrup features in many of our Luxe Fitness recipes, including these absolutelyirresistible strawberry shortcakes. And there’s a reason for that! The syrup, which ismadefrom the sap of maple trees, is loaded with minerals, including calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and manganese. Furthermore, it boasts as many as 24 different types of antioxidants! Now, don’t get too excited. Maple syrup still contains high levels of sugar, but it has a lower glycaemic index than regular refined sugar, so is still the healthier option.
At Luxe Fitness, we offer protein powders in many different flavours, including cookies and cream, strawberry shortcake, salted caramel and red velvet cake. So, another option when creating sweet meals for yourself is to add in a scoop of your favourite powder and enjoy the delicious goodness in a healthy and guilt-free way!