These sweet herbs and spices are great sugar alternatives
Sugar-related illnesses are on the rise and there is nothing sweet about it. According to the World Health Organisation’s inaugural global report on diabetes, the number of people worldwide suffering from diabetes has quadrupled since 1980, with a staggering 422 million adults estimated as living with the disease in 2014.
The ill effects of sugar doesn’t stop here. Heart disease, dementia, dental cavities, weight gain, dysbiosis and a fatty liver are just a few of the widespread conditions which the overconsumption of sugar contributes to.
Look for these names on the label
According to Dr. Robert Lustig, a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology at UC San Francisco, the food industry often “hides” the sugar contained in food and drink by listing it under alternative names. Here are the most common names to watch out for:
- Fructose is a simple sugar found in fruits. In its natural form (fruit) there isn’t much cause for concern as it is accompanied by nutrients and fibre.
- Glucose (blood sugar) is a simple sugar found mainly in milk and dairy products.
- Dextrose is a simple sugar derived from starchy plants, namely corn, but is essentially the same as glucose. Biochemically the two are identical.
- Sucrose is made up of a combination of simple sugars – 50% glucose and 50% fructose. It’s often referred to as “table sugar” and is what most of us would sprinkle on our porridge.
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is approximately 55% fructose and 45% glucose.
- Agave syrup is often falsely advertised as a healthy and natural alternative to table sugar. However, Agave is typically highly processed and can contain around 80% fructose. The end product does not even remotely resemble the original agave plant.
- Ethanol (drinking alcohol) is not a sugar, per se, although beer and wine contain residual sugars and starches, in addition to alcohol.
- Sugar alcohols like xylitol, glycerol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, and erythritol are neither sugars nor alcohols but are becoming increasingly popular as sweeteners. They have less calories than sugar but can cause problems with bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence.
- Honey is about 53% fructose, however, in its raw form it is completely natural and has many health benefits when used in moderation.
Regardless of the name used, added sugar is added sugar. It affects the body in roughly the same way regardless of its origin. To curb the rise of sugar related illness it’s essential that we start looking at some alternatives.
A sweet alternative
Sweet spices and herbs such as stevia, cinnamon, vanilla and licorice are great alternative sweeteners, which may have a negligible effect on blood glucose levels.
- Stevia rebaudiana (aka Stevia) is a plant. The sweetness is contained in the leaves and the active compound, steviol, has up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar.
- Cinnamon has a natural sweetness that can satisfy sweet cravings when added to teas and recipes. It’s not only sweet, it also offers an aromatic spicy and warming flavour.
- Vanilla gives a smooth, luscious quality to foods. It’s full, round and heavenly smooth, lending a naturally sweet, delicate and distinctive flavour.
- Licorice (not the candy) is a plant with the botanical name Glycyrrhiza glabra. Glycyrrhiza is the Greek word for sweet root; “glukos” translates to sweet, and “riza” translates to root. It is 30 to 50 times sweeter than sugar.
In their natural state these herbs and spices are not only tasty, they also offer nutrients and therapeutic health benefits. The only concern with these alternatives is the processing they undergo when they are used in the manufacturing of processed food and drink. For example, stevia is available as a natural, green leaf powder and a highly processed white powder or clear liquid. The consequences of this kind of processing will need further investigation but it is a better starting point than the highly processed alternative sugars being snuck into our diets as non-sugars.
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