Got a Sweet Tooth? Me too, but unfortunately when I was pregnant with Abby, I developed Gestational Diabetes and have to cut down the intake of carbs. Meanwhile the baby started to have taste buds, which make me craving sugars even more..........
My husband started buying me some sugar free chocolates, raw cake and some claim to be healthier alternatives and I just thought sugar free chocolates? they are too good to be true! healthier alternatives? Are they actually healthier or more like a marketing term?!
After doing the online research myself and also trying different options, here it is - some healthier and more natural ways to indulge your sweet cravings white cutting out refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Just remember, everything in moderation!
Chocolate Swap: Cocoa vs Cacao, does it matter?
Cocoa and cacao can be easy to confuse. They are both made from cacao beans. You may have assumed they were different names for the same thing, cocoa and cacao are in fact used interchangeably to refer to the plant, pods and beans. When talking about cocoa powder vs cacao powder, however, there are differences you should be aware of. The difference is in how there are processed.
Cocoa powder is roasted at high temperatures, degrading nutrients but giving a sweeter flavour. Cacao powder is made by cold-pressing non-roasted cocoa beans, a technique used to process it without high temperatures to preserve the nutrients. Basically, the difference is cacao is raw, cocoa is not. This has an impact on both the nutrients and taste.
So, does this matter? Yes. Cacao is less process and nutritionally better for you and makes a fantastic addition to drinks and raw food creations. Cocoa, while more processed and lacking the same level of nutrients and antioxidants as cacao, is not too far off. It is sweeter and considered better for baking.
The bigger concern with cacao and cocoa is that they are often found alongside high levels of processed refined sugar or artificial sweeteners. Consider treats that use natural ingredients to sweeten them. See below for ideas on how to replace ‘sugar’ when sweetening your own treats.
Sugar Swap: replacing sugar with… sugar?
♥ Other sugary alternatives to refined sugar: Honey, Rice Syrup, Blue Agave
What is it? That sweet sugary syrup produced by bees. Sugar content is usually made up of equal portions of glucose and fructose.
Pros: Beautiful flavour! Low-moderate glycemic index depending on the blend, lower than sugar. (Floral honey has the lowest GI).
Cons: Not everyone may appreciate the honey taste, or the taste may not always pair well with all recipes. Still sugar, usually highly processed.
Verdict: Not all honey is created equal. The region honey is made from and the processing it undergoes are important factors here. I am a fan of honey but like to go for less process and refined honey. Usually, this means going for a raw honey that may be slightly creamy or crystallised rather than the super refined smooth liquid off the supermarket shelf. It is still sugar and should be used in moderation but the right honey is a great way to avoidmuchregular refined sugar!
•Rice Malt Suryp
What is it? A sweet syrup derived from brown rice. The sugar content in rice malt syrup is largely Maltose and Maltoriose.
Pros: Popular for those wanting to avoid fructose. No strong flavour for those who want a plainer sweetener.
Cons: Very high glycemic index score.
Verdict: I personally don’t consider rice malt syrup a great alternative sweetener. Mostly due to the fact it is still sugar, has a very high glycaemic index and seems to be highly processed.
What is it? Agave Sweetener is a sweetener derived from various agave plants, most commonly blue agave. The fluid extracted from agave is high in sugar.
Pros: Is considered to be a low-glycemic sweetener. This is because it has very little glucose compared to regular sugar. Glucose is what can cause blood sugar to spike.
Cons: Unfortunately agave sweetener has very little glucose as it is mostly fructose. It has a much higher fructose concentration than regular sugar and is even greater than high-fructose corn syrup. Part of this is because fructans in agave, which have been shown to help metabolism and insulin, are destroyed in the manufacturing process of agave sweetener and converted to fructose.
Fructose is high in calories and does not sait hunger. Consuming added fructose has been linked to obesity, heart disease and chronic illness. Fructose in fruit is not a concern as fruit has a high level of dietary fibre helping sait hunger.
Verdict: It is not much healthier than sugar and should be used exceedingly sparingly. The only benefit, apart from being less refined, is that it is a low glycemic sweetener and may be a slightly better alternative for diabetics who need to watch their blood sugar levels and glucose intake. The bottle of agave syrup I picked up to try also seemed to be highly processed with a very clear consistent liquid.
♥ Sweetening with Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are another alternative to refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. They are a hybrid between sugar and alcohol molecules and before you ask, no they will not get you drunk, they do not contain the required compound. They are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables and are able to activate the same receptors as sugar with fewer calories.
Unfortunately, the sugar alcohols on the market are produced industrially and highly processed. Some people may have allergies to certain sugar alcohols and they should be avoided by pregnant women as a precaution due to the lack of research on use during pregnancy.
Stevia, xylitol and erythritol are three sugar alcohols that have become popular to use as natural sweetness.
What is it? Stevia sweetener is named after the plant stevia rebaudiana. Two different sweet extracts referred to as Reb-A and stevioside are extracted from stevia and are both much much sweeter than sugar. Reb-A and stevioside are usually combined with other sweeteners such as erythritol and dextrose (sugar) and sold as a stevia sweetener. This makes it not a pure sugar alcohol. The blend may vary between brands. Raw stevia extract has not had much research on its suitability for consumption.
Pros: Popular choice, very sweet, virtually no calories. A long history of use in South America. Some studies suggest positive benefits on high blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Cons: May cause some digestive issues if consumed in large amounts. Some people are turned off by the aftertaste but this can vary by brand. Some people may have allergies to certain sugar alcohols and they should be avoided by pregnant women as a precaution due to the lack of research on use during pregnancy. Highly processed.
What is it? A sugar alcohol naturally found in some fruits and vegetables. Commonly used in sugar-free gum and natural toothpaste due to its minty flavour.
Pros: 40% fewer calories than sugar. Doesn't raise blood sugar and is knows to have some positive dental health benefits. Fresh minty taste!
Cons: May cause some digestive issues if consumed in large amounts. Minty taste may not be what you are after. Some people may have allergies to certain sugar alcohols and they should be avoided by pregnant women as a precaution due to the lack of research on use during pregnancy. Highly processed.
What is it? A sugar alcohol found in fruits and other natural foods. Commonly used in sugar-free products.
Pros: Contains roughly 6% of the calories in sugar and is about 70% as sweet. No impact on blood sugar or cholesterol. Taste wise it is close to sugar.
Cons: May cause some digestive issues if consumed in large amounts. Some people may have allergies to certain sugar alcohols and they should be avoided by pregnant women as a precaution due to the lack of research on use during pregnancy.
My verdict on sugar alcohols: If you want to cut back on calories I would say sugar alcohols are a reasonable substitute to try. Just be careful to not fall into the trap of rewarding yourself with extra sweet treats because of the lower calorie count. This has been shown to be highly counterproductive as most people end up consuming more sweets or other food than they would have if they had just gone with a single normal higher calorie sweetened treat as 'I was good before and went low calorie, that didn't really count'. Pay attention how you feel after and if you have any digestive discomfort perhaps try another alternative or reduce the amount you consume. For me, I am put off by how much sugar alcohols tend to be highly processed.
Butter Swap: Try recipes that use coconut oil instead of butter for a naturally sweet coconutty taste.
What is it? Coconut oil is the natural oil extracted from coconut.
Pros: Naturally sweet with no sugar and rich in fatty acids. Can help boost healthy cholesterol levels, more so than other saturated fats. Because the fatty acids are medium length chains they are harder to store as fat and easier to burn off than other saturated fats that contain long-chain fatty acids. Coconut oil has also been shown to help control blood sugar levels.
Cons: Coconut has a very distinct taste. Which I love! But it may not be for everyone or pair well in every recipe. If you have concerns over cholesterol the saturated fat in coconut oil may also be a concern.
Verdict: Coconut oil makes a great tasty replacement for butter and other less healthy oils. Its natural sweet flavour means you shouldn’t feel the need to then go and add extra sweetener. It should still be used sparingly as it is still a saturated fat, it is not a bad option as far as saturated fats go either. Tip: Store coconut oil in a cool dark cupboard and always upright as it can easily turn to liquid on a warm day. It will solidify again once it cools down.
My conclusion as a sweet lover and lover of all things natural.
I love sweets. Sweeteners that help me enjoy sweets and avoid refined sugar are certainly something I prefer to go with. The less refined and processed a product is the better I seem to be able to digest. I feel this is because your body knows how to deal with sugars in their more natural form. I have found this to be true with other ingredients too such as cacao. That said, I keep in mind even these less processed sweetening options are not super healthy and still need to be considered – yes, I am going to say it one more time – in moderation. I feel it is important to drive this point home as sugar can be hard to self-moderate as it contains a high number of calories that don't help us feel full so we have to be extra mindful when indulging in a sweet treat.
Avoiding refined white sugar and artificial sweeteners (such as acesulfame, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and many others) is the main goal here but keep in mind that doesn't make these alternatives 'health' foods just healthier more natural options to consider.