This week we’re going to take a look at a ton of natural sugar alternatives. These substances are caloric and contain sugar in natural forms.
Natural sugar options can be complicated. On one hand, they’re sugar, and sugar is sugar no matter where it’s coming from, but on the other hand, some of them have benefits. Let’s take a look.
Most of us know of honey’s antimicrobial properties. It’s therapeutic uses are enough for me to keep a large jar of raw honey in my pantry. Raw honey has antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, and enzymes that processed honey doesn’t. Raw honey also has a much lower glycemic index than processed–30ish vs 75ish–and tastes much better (that’s just my opinion).
When someone has a sore throat in our house, they either get hot tea with honey in it or a special slushie with honey. It can be used for other purposes, too. I’ll be honest (and gross), I’ve even used manuka honey for a drawing salve for staph with good results.
Most of us can agree that maple syrup is delicious. I haven’t had it in a while, but it’s one of my favorite sugars flavor-wise. It’s got a moderate glycemic index, mid 50s. Nutritionally it’s got a few minerals. I usually steer clear of it, mostly because I still have lots of weight to lose and health to gain. If I were in great shape and super healthy, though, I would probably keep a bottle around.
Coconut sugar/Palm sugar
These seem to be pretty popular in the Paleo stratosphere. The GI is fairly low, 30s-40s, and the nutritional value is decent. Honestly, though, I tried it a few times and just wasn’t into it. I’m not even really sure why, but I certainly don’t think I’m missing out by avoiding a sugar that I didn’t enjoy using.
Molasses is the byproduct of extracting plain white table sugar from sugar cane. The good thing about this is that molasses contains all the nutritional value that table sugar doesn’t, including iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, copper and zinc. The flavor of molasses is pleasant, both complex and earthy. We keep a bottle of it around for homemade BBQ sauce, pulled pork, and other various recipes. We don’t use it often, but when you need it there’s not really anything great to substitute for it.
Okay, here it is: agave nectar is AWFUL! I remember the “health” world going crazy for it a while back, which is just nuts. It’s got nothing going for it nutritionally, the natural glycemic index of it is midline 50s, and processing techniques increase that. It’s 85% fructose–that’s higher than corn syrup, for goodness sake! Agave nectar is a prime example of the fact that not everything touted as “natural” is better or healthier. Like, honestly, there’s no reason to ever eat this stuff, it’s going straight to your liver.
Oh, man, fruits are so tough. On one hand, they’re delicious, but on the other, they’re sugar. I know that when I’m eating fruit I want more fruit (sugar addiction and craving cycles!) and my kids are the same way. Honestly, I let my kids have fruit about once a week. Usually we stick to whatever we can get high nutritional value from, such as berries. Dates have a great nutritional profile, too. We have been foraging for wild Texas persimmons and hackberries lately, which is great fun and the kids really enjoy getting to eat what they collect. I’m all about that nature stuff, y’know.
Yacon is a little known, fairly new thing. It doesn’t raise blood glucose, but contains fructose. Supposedly it tastes similar to caramel. The nutritional profile is supposedly pretty good. There’s not a whole lot out there about it yet. When I lose a bit of weight I’ll have to give it a taste–the fructose is obviously not ideal, but it’s low enough that I would consider trying it once.