What are the natural alternatives to sugar?
For those of us with kids Halloween can be a truly daunting occasion! The sugar overload can lead to all kinds of crazy behaviour, not to mention not being terribly good for general health.
Whilst there are now plenty of sugar-free sweet options on the market, it's good to understand what that really entails. Unfortunately, sugar-free often means the product is full of artificial sweeteners, which have also been associated with health issues.
But there is hope! We have put together our top 10 natural alternatives to sugar that you can bake with, put in your tea, sprinkle on your strawberries or do whatever you would like with! Pick and choose the ones that are right for you and your family: not all of these alternatives have fewer calories or a lower glycaemic load than processed white sugar, but many are more sustainably-produced, less refined and higher in nutrients.
Stevia is a herb that has been used as a sweetener for centuries in South America. It contains almost no calories and has no glycemic impact, which means it is also suitable for diabetics. You can bake with it, but it is much sweeter than sugar so it's worth checking up on quantities before you add it. You could apparently even grow your own, if you were really into cutting down the food miles!
Find it at www.naturallygreen.co.uk
Xylitol is a natural, lower-calorie alternative to sugar, and is derived from the fibres of plants such as berries, mushrooms, birch bark and corn husks. This sugar alternative is also naturally produced within our own bodies - although that's not so useful for baking cookies with! It has two-thirds the calorie count of sugar and can be used for sprinkling, baking, in tea or coffee and pretty much anywhere you would use traditional sugar.
Find it at www.planetorganic.com
Coconut sugar comes from the sap of the coconut palm; this is heated to evaporate the water content, which reduces it to granules. It's comparatively nutritious and can be used anywhere you would use normal sugar. Coconut sugar has the taste of rich brown sugar, which makes it particularly good for baking with.
Find it at www.healthysupplies.co.uk
Date sugar is made from dried dates; the fruit is dehydrated and then ground to produce sugar. Contains all the nutritional value of dates (which is pretty useful given that that includes iron, vitamin A and some dietary fibre) and makes a great alternative to brown sugar. This option isn’t great for tea and coffee or baking as it does not dissolve too well, but it's great for sprinkling.
Find it at www.healthmonthly.co.uk
Honey is always yummy as a sugar alternative and can be used in tea and coffee, for baking, on cereal and in sandwiches! Packed with vitamins and antimicrobial properties, it's always best to buy locally produced organic honey if it's available. It is higher in calories than sugar but you use less because it tastes sweeter.
Our favourite local honey is Paynes Southdowns Honey.
Maple syrup is available from most health food stores and is a marvellously pure substance that comes virtually unprocessed straight from the tree!
Try to buy organic and check for added chemicals because some maple syrup varieties have had extra, cheaper ingredients added: go for the 100% pure brands.
Delicious on pancakes, cereal, fruit, in flapjacks and lots more!
Fruit juice can be used as a sugar alternative to sweeten cakes and biscuits when baking. Best to use pure undiluted fruit juice though and not the ones labelled "from concentrate" as those ones tend to be high in sugar.
Also make sure it is not sweetened with artificial sweeteners. A good organic freshly-squeezed fruit juice is best.
Molasses is a by-product of the sugar production process; it's the stuff that remains underneath the sugar crystals that are formed from when making ordinary sugar. Blackstrap molasses is absolutely full of nutrients, in particular iron and calcium. It is great for baking with and has a delicious rich flavour, particularly good on porridge or cereal.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is made from boiling brown rice, this syrup has a lovely butterscotch flavour. Best used for cooking or drizzling on pancakes and cereal. Although this syrup is more heavily processed than some sugar alternatives, it still retains much of the nutritional goodness found in brown rice.
Find it at www.auravita.com
Barley Malt Syrup
Barley malt syrup has an expected malty taste as you would expect! It is ideal for baking in bread or anything else that suits the flavour, including making a home brew!
Not as sweet as sugar but easily digested as it has a low glycemic index.
Find it at www.goodnessdirect.co.uk