16. November 2022

Sugar or Sugar Alternative – What's the Better Option?

Stevia, maple syrup or date syrup are some of the most popular sugar alternatives and are being swapped out for regular sugar. We'll tell you how healthy they really are.

Sugar or Sugar Alternative – What's the Better Option?

Reduce sugar, replace or avoid it completely? 

Most people who value their health avoid industrial sugar and replace this with more nutritious sugar alternatives. Stevia, agave and co are more popular than ever, but how healthy are they? And do they taste good? We took a closer look at sugar alternatives to give you a better idea.

Contents of this article:

  • What is sugar?
  • Which types of sugar are there?
  • When does sugar consumption become unhealthy?
  • The most well known sugar alternatives
  • Sugar free throughout the day? Is that possible?
  • 3 delicious recipes with natural sugar alternatives

What is sugar?

Most of us use sugar daily. The sweetener is identified through its white, crystalline structure. Due to its neutral flavour it's a popular ingredient that is used in kitchens around the world. Sugar (or household sugar) is obtained from either sugar beets or cane - chemically, there is no difference between the two. It is a double sugar (disaccharide) formed by linking two simple sugars, glucose (grape sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar). On the popularity scale, there is a clear winner: 80% of the sugar traded worldwide comes from sugar cane. The largest worldwide producers are Brazil, Thailand and Australia. While sugar cane is only grown in tropical climates, sugar beet also grows in this country

Which types of sugar are there?

Sugar is a term that tends to group a variety of sugar types, which is found in foods naturally or used as an added ingredient z.b. Dextrose, fructose or lactose.

Let’s start with a sugar that most of us have in our kitchens: white sugar. White sugar is purified and crystallised sucrose that must be subject to certain purity requirements: sucrose must be of sound and mercantile quality and also have certain analytical characteristics. These purity requirements differ from one type of sugar to another. For example, refined sugar is a white sugar of the highest quality and is therefore somewhat purer than sucrose. In supermarkets, you can buy refined sugar in various grain sizes (e.g. coarse, medium, fine) or as pearl sugar and cubed sugar. Another type of sugar that is particularly popular and widely used is cane sugar (or raw cane sugar).

  • Dextrose is a water-soluble, finely crystalline substance that occurs naturally in fruits and honey. Industrially, dextrose is mainly obtained from the starch of foods such as corn, wheat or potatoes. At around 70 percent, the sweetening power of dextrose is significantly lower than that of white sugar.
  • Fructose is found - like glucose - in fruits and honey. Industrially, fructose is obtained from sucrose or the starch of foods. The sweetening power of fructose is around 20 percent higher than that of sucrose. 
  •  Lactose is obtained from milk products such as whey or whey concentrate. Lactose is a twofold sugar consisting of glucose and galactose.

The above listed sugar types are some of the most well known and popular sweeteners in the food industry. In addition to these three, there are a variety of other types of sugar (e.g. candy sugar, gelling sugar, vanilla sugar or preserving sugar, which tend to be used for specific purposes (e.g. cooking jam).

When does sugar consumption become unhealthy?

Sugar, as a carbohydrate, is a macronutrient in addition to fat and protein, which supports the performance and development of our body and brain. Sugar is an important energy source, which is a beneficial quality. Why does it have such negative associations then? Simple: because we consume too much of it. Industrial food production uses sugar frequently as an added ingredient. Tomato paste, pickles or cream cheese, all of these foods contain sugar. Many consumers are also not aware of this. This extra portion of sugar is what can be damaging to our body. Which type of sugar we consume, glucose, fructose etc. is irrelevant. Anyone who eats too much sugar over an extended period of time can cause significant damage to their health. Sugar can lead to diabetes, liver disease, gout and other vascular diseases as well as types of cancer.

According to the German Nutritional Society (DGE), a maximum of 50g (5 TB) of sugar should be consumed within a diet of 2000 calories per day. This is advised to stay within the parameters of a healthy diet. This daily dose includes regular household sugar as well as sugar found in foods, juices and sugar alternatives like agave or honey. Fruit is the exception which can be consumed in addition of the permitted daily dose.

The most well known sugar alternatives

Many of us are aware that too much sugar can make us sick. Why do we then have a hard time avoiding a tasty bread spread or bar of chocolate? Simple: sugar is addictive. Scientific studies have proven the addictive nature of sugar, same as drugs. But to completely cut out sugar is really difficult. Nowadays, there are sugar alternatives that boast a higher nutritional value. We’ll explain the different sugar alternatives and what they offer.

1. Stevia

Stevia is a sweetener made from the leaves of the South American perennial plant stevia rebaudiana. Stevia has been approved for use in Europe since November 2011. Stevia impressively possesses 200-300 times the sweetness of sugar. Nowadays, you can find it in a variety of products like yoghurt, sweets or lemonades. However, due to the complex chemical processes required to produce stevia, it cannot be counted among the "natural" sweeteners. Due to its sweetening power, stevia should only be consumed in moderation: 10 milligrams per kilogram of body weight should not be exceeded daily.

2. Xylitol

Did you know that the term "xylitol" is nothing more than birch sugar? This is a natural sugar alcohol that is obtained through fermentation processes and occurs naturally in plums, strawberries or in the bark of beech and birch trees. Nowadays, beech wood or the remains of corn cobs are mostly used for the production of xylitol. This sugar alternative has almost the same sweetening power as conventional household sugar (sucrose), but only about half the calories. All this doesn't sound bad at first, but unfortunately there is nothing "natural" about this sweetener. Several complex chemical processes are necessary to produce xylitol.

3. Date syrup

Natural sweetener with valuable nutrients? Yes, this can be found in date syrup! The production of date syrup only uses dried dates. These are pitted, soaked in water, boiled and then filtered and concentrated until a dark syrup is produced. This makes date syrup easy to make at home as well. Since date syrup consists of nothing but dates, it has a high fructose content - but is also packed full with the minerals such as magnesium, potassium, iron and folic acid, as well as vitamins A and D. On top of that, it has a delicious flavour. Date syrup is found in our delicious raw cakes – take a bite and enjoy a mouth watering and nutritious snack!

4. Agave syrup

Agave syrup is obtained from the core of the Mexican agave plant and somewhat resembles honey due to its liquid consistency. Whether for baking, marinating or sweetening desserts and drinks, agave syrup is very mild in taste, which makes it a real all-rounder ingredient in the kitchen. The disadvantage of this natural sweetener, however, is that it has an extremely high sugar content, about 30 to 40 percent more than sucrose and fructose. Unfortunately, agave syrup doesn't have much to offer in terms of nutrients either.

5. Coconut blossom sugar

Coconut blossom sugar is a big trend at the moment. It's produced from the flower juice of the coconut palm. Due to its low glycemic index, coconut blossom sugar barely affects your blood sugar levels, so your energy levels don’t go on a rollercoaster ride. In addition, it is high in iron, magnesium and zinc. It contains relatively low levels of fructose. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks too. The coconut palm is planted and harvested in Southeast Asia - until the sugar alternative lands on our supermarket shelves, it first has to travel around the world.

6. Maple syrup

Maple syrup is a sweet, liquid sugar alternative that is particularly popular in North America, often used with pancakes. This ‘liquid gold’, which originally comes from Canada, is produced through the sap of the sugar maple tree. For 1 litre of syrup, 40 litres of sap are required. Maple syrup is rich in potassium, iron and magnesium and low in fructose. Nice to know: the lighter the colour of the maple syrup, the better the quality.

Sugar free throughout the day? Is that possible?

A complete avoidance of sugar would mean cutting out foods like fruits and vegetables. These do contain sugar (in the form of fructose) but in addition, are also rich in valuable nutrients. Generally speaking, the sugar content found in berries, fruits and vegetables is totally safe for your body. Even a bar of chocolate from time to time is completely fine. Unfortunately, most of us can attest to the fact that it's usually quite hard to stick to just one single chocolate bar. Sweets contain absurdly high amounts of sugar, and instil a craving to eat more and more. Cravings are usually preprogrammed. To break this addictive cycle - the reward centre of your brain also plays a big role here - you have to break old habits.

Does this mean avoiding sweets and sugar forever? Not necessarily but you should make an effort to avoid added sugar from your diet. This requires a lot of strong will, time and research. You can start by reading ingredient lists. Most industrially processed foods contain sugar. Either to increase the shelf life of the product, or to intensify the flavour. Sugar, similarly to salt and oil, is a flavour enhancer. Even products labelled as ‘sugar free’ often contain a bit of sugar.

In addition, the food industry often doesn’t include the term ‘sugar’ on ingredient lists, but hides it behind convoluted terms. Did you know that ingredients that end in “-ose” (e.g. Maltose, Dextrose) or “-dextrin” (Maltodextrin) are nothing more than sugar? Other terms like “malt” (barley malt extract) “syrup” (e.g. Glucose-fructose syrups), sweet whey powder or sweeteners from fruits and juices are nothing other than sugar. Incidentally, the WHO also considers these types of sugar to be harmful to your health, as they all have an extremely high sugar content.

Thankfully, not all tomato paste or pickles contain added sugar. There are a variety of producers that have jumped on the sugar free train and only work with natural sugar alternatives (e.g. coconut blossom sugar or date syrup). This includes us! Have you tried our raw cakes yet? These are free of refined sugar and only include date syrup as a sweetener.

3 delicious recipes with natural sugar alternatives

Avoiding regular sugar doesn’t have to be too difficult. Our vegan recipes are a great example of this and include apples, bananas, maple syrup, coconut blossom sugar and dates. The result? Deliciousness

1. Banana-Pancakes 

Ingredients: 

1 very ripe banana

180 ml unsweetened plant-based milk

1 tbsp maple syrup

130g flour

1 tbsp baking powder

Coconut oil for the pan 

Preparation: 

  1. Mash up the banana with a fork or blender. Place in a bowl and add the plant based milk and maple syrup. Mix well.

  2. Combine the baking powder and flour and then add to the banana-milk mixture. Stir well.

  3. Heat a pan with coconut oil, scoop a portion of mixture and fry until golden brown. The mixture should yield 2 pancakes.

    2. Cake with apple puree

    Ingredients: 

    300g apples 

    200g flour

    1 tbsp baking powder 

    1/2 tbsp baking soda 

    50g ground almonds 

    1/2 tbsp cinnamon 

    1/2 tbsp vanilla extract 

    50g coconut blossom sugar

    150ml plant based milk

    ½ tbsp apple vinegar 

    150g unsweetened apple puree 

    1 TB coconut oil 

     Preparation: 

    1. Peel the apples, pit them and cut into cubes

    2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, almonds, cinnamon, vanilla extract and coconut sugar in a bowl. In a second bowl, combine the plant based milk with vinegar, apple puree and coconut oil. Mix well.

    3. Now combine the flour-mixture with the milk mixture, stir until you have a creamy consistency. Fold in the apple pieces. Pour the dough into a small pan (20 to 22 cm) and smooth it out.

    4. Bake the cake at 175°C for 40-45 minutes. The finished cake should be fairly moist at its core but definitely thoroughly cooked. 

    Nice to know: if you're trying a different recipe that asks for regular sugar, you can swap this out with apple puree! The rule is for 100g of sugar, you need 50g of apple puree and the other 50g a sugar alternative like coconut blossom sugar.

    3. Date energy balls

    Ingredients: 

    120g dates e.g. Medjoul

    50g blanched and ground almonds 

    1/2 TL Vanille-Bourbon-Aroma, flüssig

    1 pinch of salt

    2 TB cacao powder 

    Coconut flakes

    Preparation: 

    1. Combine all the ingredients in a mixture except for the coconut flakes

    2. Create little balls out of the mass and then roll these in the coconut flakes. The ready energy balls can be eaten directly or stored in the fridge for later!

      Nice to know: A recipe asks for sugar but you want to use dates? 100g of sugar can be replaced with 125g of dates.

      In conclusion, sugar is found everywhere and is therefore hard to avoid. Replacing regular sugar (sucrose) with more nutritious sugar alternatives. The best options are the ones that don't require intense chemical processes. Maple or date syrup are some of the best alternatives both in terms of flavour and nutritional value! Certain fruits like very ripe bananas are also a great way to swap out regular sugar.

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