These days we are surrounded by so many low-fat and low-sugar products that promise to help you lose or manage your weight. But things are finally changing and we are more aware that low-fat diets are not the way forward as they’re high in artificial sweeteners that are labelled calorie-free but loaded with chemicals and additives that are detrimental to health. It’s great to cut out refined sugar but make sure to swap it with alternatives that are naturally derived, minimally processed and still contain some minerals and vitamins in them. Still use them in moderation though as even if they’re healthier options, they’re still sweeteners that add flavour but shouldn't be seen as a main source of dietary nutrients.
Here’s our 5 favourite ones:
Maple syrup is derived by boiling the sap of maple trees into a concentrated and sweet syrup.
It is rich in manganese, zinc, calcium and vitamin B2. Manganese and B2 are used by enzymes that are needed for energy production and antioxidant defences; zinc is involved in immune system function as well as skin and tissue health; calcium is an important mineral for bones, muscles and nerves.
Great to use on pancakes and waffles but also works perfectly in baking (because it’s liquid you’ll need to reduce other liquids by about a quarter), homemade granola and pies, as a sweetener in salad dressings or marinades for roasted vegetables, drizzled on yogurt or porridge in the morning.
Coconut sugar is made from the coconut palm that is heated to evaporate its water content and reduced to usable granules.
It has a much lower GI index than sugar and it’s rich in iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. It also contains inulin, a fibre that may slow glucose absorption and consequently slow the release of energy in the body without creating the “highs” and “lows” associated with white sugar.
It’s similar in taste to brown cane sugar so it’s great for baking and it doesn’t affect the consistency like maple syrup or molasses. Use it also in teas, coffees and hot drinks. Add some to hot chocolate and it will give it a beautiful caramel flavour.
Stevia is made from the leaves of the stevia plant that are dried to form a powder while liquid stevia is the whole-leaf extract. The powder form often contains other ingredients and fillers so check the label.
While it doesn’t have any particular nutritional value, the great thing is that it doesn’t affect blood sugar at all having a glycaemic index of zero making it a great alternative for people dealing with diabetes and weight loss as it is also calorie-free.
Stevia is about 100 times sweeter than sugar so when used in baking two tablespoons of stevia powder is about the same as one cup of sugar. Of the liquid form, use only few drops.
It can also be added to teas, coffees and smoothies as well as yogurts and ice creams.
Molasses is a thick syrup produced as a by-product when the sugar cane plant is processed to make refined sugar and many of the nutritional benefits are left in this thick syrup.
It provides a significant amount of calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, potassium, vitamin B6 and antioxidants that support healthy skin structure, hair and nails. Make sure to get organic unsulfured molasses to rip all the benefits.
It’s quite thick and viscous and it’s best used in baking (think cookies, muffins, loaves and pies) or drizzled over toast with almond or peanut butter or on porridge for breakfast. But try it as well in glazes, sauces and marinades to complement savoury dishes.
Dates, date syrup and date sugar
Dates naturally taste very sweet and are a great way to sweeten desserts like puddings, bars and raw energy balls with nuts and coconut.
They contain vitamin B6, vitamin A, potassium and calcium.
Date sugar retains all these nutrients and comes from dates that have been dehydrated, then ground to produce the sugar. It doesn’t melt completely so don’t use it in tea or coffee however, it is great for baking. Use just 2/3 the amount of brown or white sugar called for in your recipe as it’s a bit sweeter.
Date syrup is extracted from dates using a soaking and squeezing process. It still contains many of the nutrients of the fruit and the resulting sugars are likely to be absorbed slowly into the body.
Date syrup has a thick consistency similar to molasses so use it in similar recipes. It’s delicious drizzled on ice cream or paired with tahini for a delicious and nutritious spread.