White sugar doesn't have any nutritional value but supplies us with extra calories. That's why more and more people are looking for healthier and natural ways to replace it. There are sugar alternatives that you can easily buy online and enjoy your meals and drinks with a little bit of sweetness that is less harmful. This list includes dates, erythritol, agave syrup, maple syrup, organic coconut sugar and stevia.
Dates are fruits of the date palm tree. In the Western countries mainly dried dates are consumed, that are available as: whole, pitted or chopped dates. The most popular varieties are Medjool dates and Deglet Noor dates.
Dried dates are sweet and chewy with a caramel-like flavour. You can also easily buy date syrup made of heated dates mixed with water and blended into a sweet nectar. Both whole dried dates and date syrup are a great alternative for sugar in cooking and baking.
Nutritional value of dates
Dates consist of fructose, which is a natural type of sugar found in fruits.
Dried dates are much healthier than normal sugar. They are high in important nutrients such as fibre, vitamin B6, and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, manganese and copper. Organic dates are packed with antioxidants: flavonoids, carotenoids, phenolic acid that help fight inflammation and prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Dates have a low glycemic index. The fibre in dates can help to control blood sugar levels and prevent them from sugar spikes. However, since they are dried fruit, they quite high in calories.
Erythritol is a natural sweetener that tastes exactly like sugar but it has no calories. It can be used just like white table sugar in drinks, and for cooking and baking. Erythritol contains 70% of the sugar sweetness but only 6% of its calories.
How is erythritol made?
Erythritol belongs to sugar alcohols that are used as sugar-free sweeteners (such as sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol). They can stimulate the sweet taste receptors on your tongue. Most sugar alcohols are found in small amounts in fruits and vegetables.
Erythritol is different from the other sugar alcohols as it contains fewer calories and doesn’t cause any side effects. Most of it gets absorbed into your bloodstream and it's excreted with the urine.
Erythritol acts as an antioxidant and helps the blood vessel function in people who suffer from type 2 diabetes. It is also a great sugar alternative for those who want to lose weight.
Unlike table sugar, erythritol doesn't feed the bacteria that cause cavities so it helps to stop the growth of bacteria in the mouth.
3. Coconut sugar
Organic coconut sugar is the less-processed type of sugar. Sometimes called coconut palm sugar it is made in a natural way from the dehydrated sap of the coconut palm tree.
How is coconut sugar made?
Liquid sap is collected from a cut made on the coconut flower. Then, it is heated until the liquid evaporates. The result is a brown granulated product. Don't confuse it with palm sugar which is made in a different way.
Nutritional value of coconut sugar
Coconut sugar contains very small amounts of minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, zinc, plus polyphenols, antioxidants and fibre. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index and slow down the absorption of glucose. This is thanks to inulin.
Coconut sugar consist of sucrose (70-80%) which is indeed fructose. Similarly to normal sugar, coconut sugar is high in calories. Although coconut sugar's nutritional profile is slightly better than of normal sugar, consuming too much of it is not very healthy and may lead to many serious diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
4. Agave syrup
Agave syrup or agave nectar, is a plant-based sweetener made from a different species of plant called agave (Agave Tequillana, Agave Salmiana, Agave Americana). Agave has a mild sweet and neutral flavour which makes it a great sugar substitute for delicate dishes. It is also one and a half times sweeter than white sugar, so you can use less of it when replacing sugar.
How is agave syrup made?
To make agave syrup from the Agave Americana and Agave Tequilana, the leaves are cut off the plant (the plant is seven to fourteen years old). The juice is then extracted from piña - the core of the plant. Later the juice is filtered and heated until it becomes a thick liquid.
In case of Agave salmiana, the syrup is made differently. As the plant grows, it starts to develops a stalk called a quiote. The stalk is cut off before it fully grows, creating a hole in the middle of the plant. This hole fills with a liquid called aquamiel. The liquid is collected daily and heated up.
Agave syrup may have different colours from light to dark brown, depending on the degree of processing.
Nutritional value of agave
Agave syrup composition depends on the species from which the syrup was made. In A. tequilana, the syrup contains up to 60% fructose, 20% glucose, and little bit of sucrose. In agave syrup made from A. salmiana, sucrose is the main sugar.
Agave syrup also contains very small amounts of vitamin C and B vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, potassium, and selenium but the serving size provides little benefit from these micronutrients.
5. Maple syrup
Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple tree. Maple syrup is graded based on its colour and taste. It is used as topping and sweetener for tea, coffee, porridge, oatmeal, waffles and pancakes.
How is maple syrup made?
The sap is collected from drilled trunks of the tree. Then the sap is heat up to evaporate most of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup.
Nutritional value of maple syrup
Maple syrup consists mainly of sucrose. It is rich in antioxidants when compared with other sweeteners and it has a lower glycemic index.
Stevia is a plant-based sweetener that is intensely sweet. Indeed, it is 50 to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
It can be used as sugar alternative in baking or in any way you want to replace sugar. It has mild, a bit bitter flavour, similar to licorice.
How is stevia made?
Stevia is made from Stevia rebaudiana, a plant from chrysanthemum family.
Many stevia products are made from a highly refined stevia leaf extract called rebaudioside A (Reb-A) which is about 200 times sweeter than white sugar. They are sold in form of powder, granulated or liquid (stevia drops).
You can grow stevia plants at home and use the leaves to sweeten meals and drinks.
Nutritional value of stevia
Stevia sweetener has no nutritional value and no calories so it doesn't impact blood sugar levels.
It is a good sugar replacer for those with diabetes and those trying to lose weight. However, as a nonnutritive sweetener its impact on an individual’s health may depend on the how much of is consumed, and the time of day it is consumed.
European Food Safety Authority has concluded that stevia products are safe for consumption within the moderate daily intake, both for healthy adults and children.