OCT 13, 2021

Alternative sweeteners - How healthy are dates, stevia and co?


Disaccharides are organic chemical compounds from the group of carbohydrates that have a sweet taste. Probably the best-known disaccharide is sucrose, a crystalline food known to most of us as household sugar and obtained mainly from sugar beet, sugar cane and sugar palm, which is why it is also called cane or beet sugar.

Sucrose serves as a sweetener in the human diet, as does isoglucose, a sugar syrup made from corn or wheat starch that is often added to processed foods such as soda, baked goods, dairy products or canned foods, or fructose, which is found primarily in fruit and fruit juices, as well as in vegetables and honey. Through these various sources, consumers consume an average of about 95 grams of sugar per day; that's almost twice the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended maximum of 50 grams of sugar per day.

Excessive sugar consumption can cause or promote various diet-related diseases, mainly because the sweetener increases blood sugar levels. These include, for example, diabetes, a chronic metabolic disease in which blood sugar levels are permanently elevated, affecting an estimated 9.5 million adults in Germany, about 15.3%. High blood sugar levels also promote obesity or cardiovascular disease and arterial occlusive disease, because the high blood sugar concentration damages vessel walls and causes deposits that restrict blood flow. An excess of sugar also stimulates the liver to convert sugar into fat, which is deposited in liver cells and leads to the formation of fatty liver, for example, and causes liver damage. Dental damage can also be a result of excessive consumption.

To combat these diet-related diseases, some countries such as Norway, France, Mexico and the USA introduced sugar taxes years ago. These taxes are intended to increase the price of goods containing sugar, thus influencing consumers' purchasing behavior to reach for healthier and cheaper products with less sugar.

In Mexico, a tax has been in place since 2014 for all sugary drinks, which are said to be a particularly strong contributor to excessive sugar consumption. Already in the following year, sales of sugary drinks fell by 9.7% and those without the tax rose by 2.1%.

Although the sugar tax is still controversial in Germany, it cannot be ruled out that it will also arrive here at some point. Companies can benefit from reducing the sugar content of their products on their own initiative, because many consumers want to give up the unhealthy sweetener of their own accord or at least reduce their consumption, since sugar offers no advantage apart from its taste properties. Although sugar and sugary products are very filling because of their high calorie content, they do not provide any nutrients, for example.

Nowadays, consumers also know that sucrose or cornstarch equals sugar, which is why these ingredients on the ingredient list negatively influence the purchase decision. Despite everything, the sweet taste that sweetener brings is indispensable for many consumers. Therefore, in this article, we at LEROMA would like to introduce you to various alternative sweeteners that represent a healthier alternative to household sugar.

Dates

The fruit of the date palm consists of 70% carbohydrates, fructose and glucose, but also contains minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus and calcium. Because of their natural sweetness, both fresh and dried dates are pureed or processed into date syrup as an alternative sweetener to sugar. While 100 grams of table sugar contains 387 calories, dates contain only 282 calories per 100 grams. In addition, dates have a higher sweetening power, meaning it takes less syrup to produce the same sweetness as a higher amount of household sugar. This can reduce the calorie content by one-third. In addition, the fiber contained in dates ensures that the conversion of carbohydrates into glucose (dextrose) is delayed, causing blood sugar levels to rise slowly and remain steady throughout the day. The syrup even has an anti-bacterial effect because the antioxidants in dates can effectively inhibit the growth of bacteria.

In addition to dates, dried raisins, prunes and figs can also be used for sweetening, as dried fruits contain a higher concentration of fructose due to the removal of water.

Honey

Honey is probably one of the best known and oldest sweeteners that consists of 80% fructose, glucose, sucrose and other sugars, has a higher sweetening power than household sugar and also contains vitamins and minerals. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect and, with 304 calories per 100 grams, contains more calories than dates but fewer than household sugar.

Maple syrup

Sap is extracted from the trunks of the maple tree, which is processed into maple syrup by boiling it down and thickening it. It has a lower sweetening power than household sugar, but in addition to 67% fructose, glucose and sucrose, it also contains nutrients such as calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron and has an anti-inflammatory effect. For every 100 grams of syrup there are 54 calories; less than honey, but it contains more nutrients. The syrup has a strong taste of its own and is mainly used to sweeten desserts or mueslis.

Agave syrup

Agave syrup is extracted from the agave plant, up to 900 liters in 4 months from a single plant. It is boiled down like maple sap and is more liquid than honey, for example, which makes it easy to process. Agave syrup contains about 90% fructose and has a higher sweetening power than household sugar; for the effect of 125-150 grams of sugar is 100 grams of syrup is sufficient. The fructose content is very high, but in return the glycemic index is very low, which means that the blood sugar level rises only slowly and slightly. The juice of fruits such as apples, pears, dates and grapes can also be boiled down and used as a sweetener.

Rice syrup

To make rice syrup, rice is ground, cooked, filtered and finally thickened. The syrup contains fewer calories than table sugar, but has a low sweetening power, which is only about half, so more syrup must be used for the same effect, which balances the calorie content. On the other hand, rice syrup is rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium and iron. In addition, it does not contain fructose, but malt sugar and glucose, which means it is one of the few sugar alternatives that can be consumed even by consumers with fructose intolerance.

Yacon

Yacon is extracted from the tubers or roots of the plant of the same name and is sold as a syrup or powder. The syrup consists of the juice pressed from the tubers and filtered. The water portion of the juice is evaporated to produce the proper consistency. To make yacon powder, the roots are crushed, juiced and dried. Yacon has a slightly lower sweetening power than table sugar, but contains less than 300 calories per 100 grams and provides various minerals such as calcium, potassium and iron. Furthermore, the sugar substitute has a low glycemic index. In addition to sucrose, fructose and glucose, yacon mainly contains up to 70% oligofructose, a sugar categorized as prebiotic fiber. Prebiotic fibers serve as a source of energy for beneficial intestinal bacteria, promote their activity and growth, and thus contribute to our intestinal health. Among other things, they thus also ensure that we regularly eliminate toxins. Oligofructose can also improve the absorption of calcium.

Palm sugar

Palm sugar refers to sugar varieties that are mainly obtained from the blossoms of palm trees, boiled down and crystallized. These include coconut blossom sugar, which consists mainly of sucrose and contains as many calories as household sugar. Its sweetening power is slightly lower, but coconut blossom sugar has a low glycemic index and contains numerous vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium. Coconut blossom sugar is particularly notable for being extremely resource efficient, requiring 20% less nutrients and water and 50-75% less land than sugar cane to produce the same amount of sugar. This makes coconut blossom sugar the most sustainable type of sugar in the world.

Stevia

From the leaves of the stevia plant "steviol glycosides" are extracted, known as the sweetener Stevie, which is particularly distinguished by the fact that its sweetening power is 300 times higher than that of table sugar, which is why it only has to be used in extremely small quantities. Furthermore, it is calorie-free, does not damage the teeth and hardly affects blood sugar levels. In addition to all the positive properties, however, stevia also has a few disadvantages: Although the sweetener is based on a natural source of raw materials, it goes through complex chemical processes, as the steviol glycosides are extracted, decolorized and crystallized several times before they can be used. As a result, they are a highly processed food that must be labeled with an E-number on the ingredient list, negatively influencing the purchasing decisions of consumers who increasingly want simple and easy-to-understand ingredients that are processed as little as possible.

Xylitol/ birch sugar

Xylitol occurs naturally in birch bark and is often used in toothpaste, mouthwash and chewing gum because it can fight caries bacteria and thus protect against cavities. The sweetening power and taste are very similar to table sugar, but xylitol hardly affects blood sugar levels and has 40% fewer calories. However, birch sugar has a laxative effect, so no more than 0.5 grams per kilogram of body weight should be consumed daily. In addition, like stevia, the sweetener is highly processed and correspondingly more expensive than conventional table sugar.

Incredo Sugar

A food-tech company has changed the structure of cane sugar so that it dissolves more quickly in saliva and forms a higher concentration of sugar around taste receptors. This can reduce the sugar content by 30- 50% without changing the tasteBy reducing the sugar content, the company also wants to make room for more healthy nutrients in products.

Ripe bananas

Bananas provide natural sweetness, have a low glycemic index and are rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals such as potassium and magnesium. 100 grams of mashed  bananas can replace the same amount of household sugar, as the sweetness is similar. We would like to emphasize that overripe bananas, which already show brown discoloration and therefore can no longer be sold, are also suitable as sweeteners. In this way, surplus bananas can be saved from the garbage can and reused elsewhere in the sense of a circular economy.

As we can see, there are some alternatives to conventional household sugar, which do not bring the same health disadvantages and can even have positive effects. The various alternatives to sugar such as date, maple or rice syrup can of course also be found on LEROMA`s platform.

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