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A Closer Look at Sugar Alternatives

October 29, 2013 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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In recent years, there has been a growing market for so-called 'natural' sugar alternatives like evaporated sugar cane juice, brown rice syrup, honey, stevia and agave nectar.

Sugar alternatives are marketed as being better than sugar because they may be less refined, and contain small amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Some may also raise your blood sugar more slowly than granulated table sugar (have a lower glycemic index).

They also tend to be more expensive than sugar - but this isn't part of the marketing.The main ingredients in sugar alternatives are sugars.

This is what makes them sweet. 'Sugars' is the general term for carbohydrates that have just one or two sugar units. Examples include glucose, fructose, maltose and sucrose. White granulated sugar is nearly pure sucrose. Sugar alternatives typically contain mixtures of fructose, glucose and sucrose as well as small amounts of some other components.

So, is it worth the extra money to replace your sugar with 'natural' sugar alternatives?

The bottom line: Sugar alternatives are mostly made up of sugars and are therefore only recommended for use in limited amounts - just like granulated table sugar.

They may have small amounts of added vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients, but food is by far your best source of nutrients. If you like, enjoy sugar alternatives in moderation for their unique flavours and textures.

If you're concerned about the impact of sugar or sugar alternatives on your blood sugar levels, try eating smaller amounts of food that are high in sugars, or eating them as part of a meal.

When you're buying groceries, look at the 'sugars' line in the Nutrition Facts table on prepackaged food and beverages - less is best. The ingredient lists on 'natural' prepackaged food and beverages often contain sugar alternatives, which can disguise the amount of sugars in the product.

If you have questions about sugar or sugar alternatives and your health, call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1. Our Registered Dietitians can help.

Photo: iStockphoto

Recommended Resources:

• Canadian Sugar Institute: Types of sugars
• National Post: From agave nectar to coconut sugar
• EatRight Ontario: The Truth About Sugar - FAQs

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