In recent years, sugar has finally been vindicated as the leading cause of inflammation, which can be directly linked to the longer term development of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
In addition to chronic disease prevention, the shorter term benefits of a refined sugar free approach include increased satiety, decreased cravings, enhanced mental acuity and quite significantly, fat loss!
In addition to gluten free, refined sugar free eating is one of the first places you should start to improve your overall health. Read on to learn more about the best refined sugar free substitutions, the natural way!
Rice malt syrup
Rice malt syrup made by culturing rice with enzymes to breakdown the starches and then cooking until it becomes a syrup. The final product contains soluble complex carbohydrates, maltose and a small amount of glucose. Rice malt syrup is fructose free. This offers important health benefits, as fructose suppresses the release of our three major satiety hormones (insulin, leptin and cholecystokinin) and instead of being utilised by the body like other forms of energy, it goes straight to the liver where it can be converted into fat. Additionally, fructose contributes significantly to inflammation, the leading cause of chronic disease. Consuming a low fructose diet is therefore important for both weight management and chronic disease prevention.
Unlike honey, rice malt syrup is also suitable for vegans. You can find Pure Harvest Organic Rice Malt Syrup in the health food section of your local supermarket. In baking, simply use ¼ cup in replace of sugar, and as an equally delicious fructose free substitution to honey.
Medjool dates are tree fruit that originate in the Middle East and North Africa. When compared to standard dates, they are larger in size, sweeter and richer in flavour, and retain a juicy flesh even when dried.
Medjool dates are often referred to as nature’s lollies. Eat them on their own to satisfy your sweet tooth, include in a smoothie, or blend with nuts, seeds and protein powder to make homemade protein balls.
A word of warning though – Medjool dates are very high in both fibre and carbohydrates, so one or two a day is plenty! Stock up on these from your local supermarket, green grocer or health food store.
Natvia is a natural sweetener made from Reb A stevia and erythritol. Reb A is the purest and sweetest parts of the stevia plant, and erythritol is a naturally occurring nectar in fruits, such as melons and grapes.
The health benefits of nativa are that it is not only refined sugar free, but all natural, gluten free and fructose free. Natvia substitutes 1:1 for sugar and is the perfect way to create a low carbohydrate version of your favourite sweet treat.
You can find natvia in the baking aisle of your local supermarket.
Produced by bees, honey is as natural as it gets and quite commonly used by those following a hunter gather, Paleo or primal approach to nutrition. It is important to note however, that honey is 40% fructose, so please make sure you exercise portion control here. Similar to rice malt syrup, ¼ cup is sufficient in baking, particularly as once you’ve kicked your sugar habit you’ll find less sweetness is more than enough. If you’re replacing honey for sugar directly in a standard recipe, you may need to decrease the liquid requirement by three tablespoons, to take into account the moisture that honey attracts. In gluten free baking, keep the liquid requirements the same, as gluten free flours often absorb at higher rates.
Always opt for raw honey if you can, as the valuable nutrients and enzymes are retained. Shop at your local markets or health food store and check the health food aisle of your local supermarket.
Maple syrup is sap from maple trees that is boiled until much of the water has evaporated, so that what is left is a thick and concentrated syrup.
Real maple syrup is a low-FODMAP alternative to honey. FODMAP is an acronym that stands for Fermentable, Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols; or a collection of short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in foods naturally or as food additives. A low-FODMAP approach is important to treat both Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and symptoms of an irritable bowel, and has been found to reduce symptoms of fatigue, lethargy and poor concentration.
As with honey, start with ¼ cup and in standard baking, lessen the liquid by three tablespoons. An important note – some maple syrup can be clarified with the milk protein casein, so if you are following a vegan approach, please ensure you check your source.
An Asian sweetener crafted from the sap of coconut flower buds, coconut sugar has a deep caramel, molasses like taste. When compared to refined sugar, coconut sugar is rich in vitamins and minerals, however it is 50% fructose and therefore best kept for the occasional use. To ensure sustainable and chemical-free farming practices, please always purchase an organic brand.
A general rule is that it can be used as a direct substitute for sugar, however it is always best to start with less and train your taste buds to eventually desire less. Coconut sugar can be purchased from your local health food store or online bulk food supplier.
The verdict: Rice malt syrup is our preferred refined sugar free substitution, as it is completely fructose free, provides the required additional liquid for gluten free baking and gives a fantastic not-too-sweet flavour in any recipe. As with any nutritional change, start small and by implementing consistent changes, you’ll be rid of the white devil in no time!
Do you have any other sugar free substitutions to share? I’d love to hear them!