Thursday, October 21, 2021

Natural alternatives to sugar…are they really healthy?

Table sugar- The lure of the sweet white powder is addictive, one most people can’t resist. At the same time, most people have now become health conscious, realizing that sugar probably isn’t a very healthy ingredient to consume…hence, they search for a healthier, natural alternative to table sugar.

There are various alternatives out there…from natural to artificial sweeteners. Obviously, the word natural has a vast appeal, with people preferring to substitute their sugar with one of these. The question is, are they really a healthier choice? Can you afford to indulge in them? Let’s take a look at a few popular substitutes…

1. Jaggery

Having a small piece of jaggery after dinner is a common household practice. Though sugar and jaggery are both made from sugarcane, jaggery is less processed, more natural.

Pros: Jaggery is known to have a plethora of health benefits: it is rich in nutrients, especially iron. It is said to be a natural digestive when consumed after meals. In Ayurveda, it is considered a powerful anti-allergic. It is also known to boost your immunity.

Cons: Calorie wise, there isn’t much difference between sugar and jaggery. If you are trying to lose weight, Jaggery won’t help much. 

2. Stevia

Leaf extract from the tree Stevia Rebaudiana is used to make this sweetener. These leaves are about 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, so you need a very small quantity to satisfy your sweet tooth. 

Pros: It has practically zero calorific value, making it a good option for people on a diet. There are some studies showing it may lower cholesterol and help control blood glucose levels.

Cons: It has a slightly bitter taste, people may not like it. In raw form, it could be harmful to your health, causing kidney and heart problems if had in large quantities. 

3. Honey

Honey, for long, has been used in households as a natural sweetener. In some parts of the world, it is the first food fed to a child (not the safest thing to do!) Honey is made by bees, from the nectar of flowers. They mix it with enzymes to produce the thick yellow liquid we call honey. It can be enjoyed raw, as well as processed.

Pros: Honey is known to have anti-bacterial properties, as well as trace amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and enzymes. Having a higher percentage of fructose than sugar, it can be used in smaller quantities without compromising on the taste.

Cons: It has a higher calorie count than sugar, putting people at risk of obesity. It can also be dangerous for an infant, less than 12 months old, causing a condition called infant botulism. Use with caution.

4. Dates

The fruits of the date palm, these are used in practically all “healthy” desserts today, from cookies to cakes, pies and ice-creams. A lot of people enjoy dates in their raw form.

Pros: Dates are packed with nutrients – potassium, B6, iron. They also help in controlling the blood glycemic index. Their fiber content is also quite high.

Cons: They are very high in sugar, which can be bad news for a diabetic. Also, their calorie value is high, so eating too much could be harmful. In moderation, though, they are a good and tasty alternative.

5. Maple syrup

We all are familiar with maple syrup, most often used over pancakes. Made from sap of maple tree, it is one of the most natural and unprocessed forms of white sugar. It can also be added to cakes, used in regular cooking.

Pros: Not only is it very rich in antioxidants and nutrients, especially magnesium, it also has a low glycemic index- it causes less spiking of the body glucose levels. Being sweeter than processed sugar, it can be used in lesser quantities.

Cons: Consumption of maple syrup in large quantities can cause high blood sugar, ultimately leading to obesity. It should be had in moderation.

6. Coconut sugar

Made from the sap flowing in coconut palm trees, it is called coconut palm sugar. It is vastly popular as a sweetener in vegan diets, as it is unprocessed and natural.

Pros: A product made from the coconut palm, it retains the nutrition the tree provides- potassium, iron and zinc. It also contains inulin, which results in a low glycemic index

Cons: It has a very high calorie value, almost the same as table sugar. Also, it has a high fructose content, which could cause metabolic syndrome in obese people. If coconut sugar is your sweetener of choice, use it sparingly.

It’s true some of the substitutes are a little better than sugar, but at the end of the day, they are sweet…they will alter your sugar levels, they will change your glycemic index, they will add to the calories. Having them in small quantities is fine, but large quantities of any product could be detrimental to your health. Whichever alternative you choose or prefer, use it in moderation.

Dr Nandini Saini
B.H.M.S,  D.B.Sc , Diploma in Aesthetics. (GCTA, Australia) Practicing homoeopath and aesthetician with an experience of over 15 years

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