Is there a healthy sugar you could use instead of the old staple? Can you replace what’s labelled as pure evil, so it’s not as addictive and harmful to your health?
These questions come to us naturally considering how easy it’s for a sweet tooth to rule our lives. But for starters, let’s realise that our bodies are sugar-burning (carbohydrate) machines. The brain, muscles, our every cell runs on the energy from sugar.
Yes, I’m talking about the health promoting complex carbs but when you look at sugar from this angel, the negativity surrounding it, starts losing its edge. White sugar has no vitamins or minerals, it is pure energy and when you eat small amounts as part of your diet, it’s not the end of the world. The issue starts when it takes over your life, which can easily happen… no argument.
Sugar has a friend
Have you ever noticed that you never eat sugar by itself? It’s always mixed with some version of fat. When you look at croissants, pastries, biscuits, chocolate bars, these irresistible treats are far from being pure sugar. After all, if you really craved only sugar, you’d keep going to the cupboard for spoonfuls of sugar just because you feel like it.
WHO says the amount of free sugar (added to drinks, sweets, baked goodies etc.) per day should be less than 10% of your daily calories. This means you can have 2 – 3 tablespoons of added sugar (30 – 45 gr) daily.
It’s not difficult to stay within this limit. The trick is to stick with natural plant foods and watch for hidden sugars in some unusual places. These would be flavoured yogurts, fizzy drinks and juices, ketchup and condiment sauces and ready to eat veg burgers. When you keep away from the processed stuff and occasionally enjoy a home-made sweet treat, you’ll barely get over the 2 tbsp mark.
For example you can try these Vanilla-Cinnamon Muffins. One muffin has less than 10 gr of sugar yet it perfectly satisfies the sweet tooth. In the recipe you use cinnamon and vanilla flavour which naturally highlight the sweet taste without adding calories. You can see more tips in How to turn your sweet tooth into an advantage.
When judging the quality of the sweetener, go by the ‘whole food’ trade mark. The closer to the origin, the more nutrition you get and you also turn the empty calories into some nutritious energy.
So what takes the lead? It’s date sugar. These candies from nature are dried and pulverised into a powder and voila, the healthiest sugar is born. And since it’s essentially whole food, you’ll also get the fibre, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese and all the vitamins naturally found in dates.
The second place goes to blackstrap molasses. Molasses is extracted from raw cane sugar which was made either from the sugarcane plant or sugar beet. It’s minimally processed and being close to the whole food, it’s rich in Magnesium, Calcium and vitamin B6. It has a very specific, dense flavour though, so the best is to use it in small quantities in sweet tasting breads.
Is brown sugar better?
When it comes to direct swaps of white for brown sugar, you need to remember one thing.
Brown sugar is in fact refined white sugar coloured with molasses to add some nutrition. Depending on how much of molasses they add, you get a range of brown sugars from golden castor, darker demerara to muscovado sugar. The simple rule is: the darker the sugar, the more molasses and the more nutrients it has. Again, this also applies to the flavour. That’s why when you taste light brown and dark brown sugar, the taste is quite different.
Other options you can use are maple syrup, agave nectar, rice or corn syrup. All these sweet nectars may seem much healthier than the old white staple, but they affect your biochemistry in a similar way. They are highly processed, and contain the same number of calories, 4 Kcal /gr. Nutritional benefits are minimal and if you overdo it, you can put on weight or fall into the sweet tooth trap regardless of what you use.
You may also feel like using one of the latest hits – stevia. Even though it’s a sweetener derived from a plant, it works on the same level as any artificial sweetener. It offers sweetness with almost zero calories. But as you can read in the post here, it can easily backfire.
Sometimes we may be so focused on a detail that we miss the wood for the trees. And the same it goes with the type of sugar we use in our diet. When you realise that the amount of sugar you add to your food every day should be really small (about 2 tbs), whether you get any nutrients from it or not, it isn’t going to make you healthy or sick.
After all you should nourish your body from all the other food you eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That’s what’s going to make the real difference in how you feel every day. More than whether you use date sugar or a spoonful of white sugar in your tea.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. Share with me in the comments below
What’s your favourite sweetener and why?
Enjoy some plant happy sweetness on a side of your regular meal 🙂