Considering that research has shown how sugar triggers the reward system in the brain and provokes a stronger response than some drugs, including cocaine, it’s no wonder so many of us are looking for alternatives. But not all sweeteners are made alike – we’ll be giving you the rundown on the nutritional and fructose content of all the major sweeteners.
One of the big reasons the addictive nature of sugar threatens our health is because excess consumption can lead to anything from obesity and diabetes to autoimmune conditions and mental health illnesses like anxiety and depression. Even your run-of-the-mill headaches, irritability and afternoon slumps can be down to unstable blood sugars caused by – you guessed it – sugar.
While many sugar alternatives are less likely to have these effects, a sizeable amount of them have a fructose content comparable to regular sugar. This is a problem because fructose is one of the biggest disease-drivers of sugar, and it’s all to do with the way we metabolise the stuff. Unlike glucose, which is absorbed into the small intestine, fructose cannot be broken down further and, as such, requires the liver to metabolise it. If we consume too much fructose, we can overwhelm the liver and as a result, conditions ranging from heart disease to fatty liver disease may develop.
With studies finding a link between obesity and excessive fructose intake, it’s not so surprising to hear that rates have tripled since 1975 – especially considering the added sugars in household staples like bread, cereal and flavoured yoghurts.
Regular sugar is made up of around 50% of fructose, so we’re on the hunt for a sugar alternative that performs better. We know it can be daunting to find a suitable alternative, with some just as bad as regular sugar. So, we’ve compiled a list of common sugar alternatives and what you need to know about them – including their fructose content – to help you make an informed decision for your health.
Honey is one of the most common sugar alternatives, often used on cereal, toast and in smoothies – though you can use it for any sweetening purposes. Its uses date back to ancient Egyptian times, and for good reason. Some kinds of honey pack in a hefty antibacterial dose – one of which is known as Manuka honey. This native New Zealand powerhouse has been referred to as liquid gold for its healthful properties. But it’s not all good news with honey – it’s important to remember it’s still made up of sugar, including fructose.
Fructose content: 40% fructose.
Coconut sugar is a kind of palm sugar, originating from the sap of the coconut palm. It’s available in liquid and granulated forms in most supermarkets or health food stores. While coconut sugar boats some nutritional qualities – like potassium and magnesium – it still provides a dose of fructose – so remember, everything in moderation.
Fructose content: 35-40% fructose.
Muscavado belongs to a group of refined sugars which have a higher molasses content, meaning they retain more nutritional perprties – like antioxidants, iron and selenium. Muscavado is especially high in antioxidants when compared to sugar and sugar alternatives, plus it makes for a delicious popcorn topping, along with making for a rich-tasting dressing for your salad.
Fructose content:Muscavado is usually made up of less than 4% fructose.
Rice malt syrup
Rice malt syrup is a syrup made from brown rice, which has a pretty high glycaemic index of 98. But it’s able to be metabolised by our whole bodies, meaning it won’t overwhelm the liver like fructose. This is why rice syrup is one of our favourite sugar alternatives.
Fructose content:0% fructose – that’s right, rice malt syrup is 100% free of fructose!
Dates and date paste
Dates are a stone fruit with high levels of potassium and magnesium, coming in at 20% and 14% of the daily intake, respectively. This fruit is also high in fibre, which research shows contributes to blood sugar management. Date paste is another alternative you can use, with its consistency it can easily be added to salad dressings, soups and even brownies. While it has a higher fructose content, eating the dates whole will reduce the effect it has on your liver – this is because of the fibre content which slows our absorption of fructose.
Fructose content: Dates are made up of around 32% fructose.
This sugar alternative is thick and syrupy, and believed to have benefits for period pain and anaemia, though these claims remain unproven. They’re made during the sugar production process, where the sugarcane is boiled and then filtered. It’s then boiled again twice, giving it a darker appearance. It’s also more nutritious than table sugar, with 20% of your daily iron intake in just one serve. Let’s see how it measures up on the fructose scale.
Fructose content:Blackstrap molasses attribute 25% of their content to fructose.
Stevia is a popular natural sweetener and is derived from the stevia plant. It’s known for its intense sweetness, coming in at between 50 and 300 times as sweet as regular sugar. It can be used for baking due to its heat stability. But, when switching sugar for stevia in a recipe, use a quarter of a teaspoon of stevia in place of 1 cup of sugar. For less additives, opt for green stevia – this indicates it’s in its pure form.
Fructose content: 0% fructose.
Erythritol is an artificial sweetener which is manufactured by fermenting glucose. It’s around 60% less sweet than table sugar, but it still makes for a good substitute when baking due to the equal ratio. It’s milder sweetness also reduces your taste for intense sugary foods. If you’re prone to digestive issues, erythritol can cause issues like constipation – this is because our bodies lack the enzyme which metabolises this sugar alcohol.
Fructose content: 0% fructose.
Allulose has a very similar taste and texture profile to regular sugar, minus the calories. It’s also less overwhelming to the liver, with some studies showing this sweetener can be actually beneficial to the liver and reduce visceral fat. It also has a 1:1 measurement ratio to sugar, meaning you can easily swap it with sugar in your favourite recipes.
Fructose content: 0% fructose, though it has the same chemical formula as fructose, it’s arranged in such a way that prevents us from absorbing it in the manner we would absorb fructose. The result? Less strain on our livers.
Monk fruit sweetener
Monk fruit sweetener comes from the fruit of the same name, which has been referred to as the “Buddha Fruit”, with this name credited to the monks who harvested it in 13th century China. It’s a zero-calorie sweetener and is over 100 times sweeter than table sugar. While the fruit itself contain fructose and glucose, the sweetener in its dehydrated form is stripped of its fructose and glucose content – while still retaining its antioxidants. Research shows that it may lower blood-sugar levels.
Fructose content:0% fructose.
Maple syrup is a Canadian staple which has spread around the globe, most commonly used to top pancakes. Bit that’s not all it’s good for – it works for all manner of dishes, from savoury to sweet. With its stronger taste, you can use less than you would with table sugar. Just be sure that you opt for pure maple syrup, many brands use added ingredients which affect the nutritional profile of this sweeteners.
Fructose content: 4% fructose.
As you can see, the fructose levels of sugar alternatives vary greatly – along with their nutritional profiles. If you’re looking to learn how to eat sugar in moderation or are struggling with kicking a stubborn addiction, we’re here to help. We invite you to join us for the 8-Week Program.
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- 8 weeks of expert-crafted meal plans and shopping lists.
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