Sweeten Your Life without Sugar…
Since so many artificial sugars have been attracting suspicion as of recent, you may now be questioning that sachet of Splenda you add to your coffee or daily diet coke addiction.
Or- perhaps regardless of the stroke and cancer warnings, you fear the word “artificial” in itself.
But where does a health conscious, weight loss enthusiast turn to when she craves that much needed sugar hit?
In an attempt to conquer the nutritional vice that is fructose (ergo white table sugar) ‘natural’ sweeteners have taken off with a vengeance. Once confined to the realms of New Age Urban Hipsters, these supposedly natural sugars are a marketer’s wet dream, riding on the tail coats of those fit enthusiasts who want their world to be sickly sweet but without the sugar. Natural sweeteners are the perfect answer to this conundrum. Right?
And herein lays problem number one.
What is natural? In contrast to Organic Foods, there isn’t a certified Australian standard for natural vs unnatural food. Effectively, it’s a word that promises a lot, but can ultimately signify nothing.
The power of this promise is heavily based upon how Australian consumers define natural vs healthy. Given the relative ‘newness’ of these sweeteners – there are no finite understandings of the effects they will have on our body. Furthermore given our zealous relationship with sugar there is no way of knowing what effect large quantities will do to us!
The second issue is the one I slam myself up against a brick wall, with a lot of our clients. Sugar, in all its low G.I and reduced calorie wonder is still sugar, regardless of its form.
That being said, for those with severe fructose allergies (they do exist) or diabetes, a little natural sweetness can do wonders for the soul.
And with this in mind, the girls here at Hypoxi took the Sugar Free challenge this week in order to decipher the good from the bad in the race for a life sans sugar.
The deal: Agave Syrup now decks the aisles of all health food stores and is a similar taste experience to maple syrup. The syrup is actually extracted from the plant, agave which is in the same family as the cactus. In order to extract its sweet syrup, it needs to be processed, and funnily enough, once it has gone through this process it is pretty much identical to the much dreaded high fructose corn syrup. This is not so good – actually I would go as far to suggest it’s rather bad.
In its defence, agave does have a low g.i and is sweeter than white sugar, therefore you require less of it (ideally- although portion control when it comes to sugar is difficult). But what care I for stabilised blood sugar levels, when sugar and agave have the same number of calories, similar fructose content and no nutritional value?
Brown rice syrup
The deal: Brown rice syrup emerges when cooked brown rice is mixed with barley malt enzymes. (This doesn’t explain much now does it?) . The final product is 45% maltose and has absolutely no fructose in it, which means it hits your blood sugar at a much slower rate and won’t give you that energy crash that most sugars do. Additionally, the syrup retains trace elements of key minerals, so it isn’t a complete nutritional waste like most sugars are. Taste wise, I say it imparts a nice butterscotch taste. but with the main sugar in brown rice syrup being maltose, it is not as sweet as normal sugar. On the whole I like this as a transgression food for someone who is addicted to the sweet life but needs to make a sensible shift.
The deal: I have talked about stevia before. I am a huge fan. It’s only downfall in my humble opinion, is that it takes a while to master the right ratio for you. Why? Because it is so dam sweet! Stevia is my favourite as it is not really a sugar.
Rather it is an herb that is about 200 times sweeter than your average teaspoon of sugar.
As an herb, it has NO CALORIES and doesn’t affect blood sugar at all. This in itself makes stevia a diabetics dream. It has been used extensively in Japan for decades now- having replaced all artificial sweeteners in low calorie beverages with stevia. When baking with the stuff, you need to keep in mind that you are losing the structural quality of one cup of sugar and will most likely need to replace it with some other bulking agent, such as almond meal or coconut flour. Finally, the sweetness of stevia lingers long on your tongue and can be off putting for some. For me? I love that the sensation of sweet stays a few seconds longer than the average spoonful of sugar.
The deal: Coconut Sugar is essentially palm sugar – the stuff used liberally in Asian cooking. (think those glorious thai salads) . It is made by cutting the buds of coconut trees and gathering the sap. The sap is boiled until it thickens and becomes solid. In terms of nutrients, it is by far the most nutritious of all sugars as it is high in several minerals our body requires and is also very low G.I. My favourite part of coconut sugar is that it is the single most sustainable sugar in the world! Not bad. That being said, in regards to fructose content – it still isn’t fabulous – sorry. It is about 45% fructose so in my eyes, still pretty toxic.
In terms of the worst choice for these alternative sweeteners, I would categorically say Agave is out. Stevia, followed by Rice Malt Syrup are my preferred sugar sources as they are fructose free.
What about you?
How do you sweeten your life without sugar?