‘To have or not to have’ often ponders the mind when it comes to sugar. While there is a logical side that urges you to practice restraint, there is this strong desire that eggs you on to dig into those sweet nothings. After all, what is life without that regular chini in your chai or the occasional dessert? But if your sweet tooth has been bothering you a bit too much lately, there are some alternatives you can consider. We have Fatema Valikarimwala, Clinical Nutritionist / Dietitian and Founder of Heal-Thy who spills the beans on the same…
In recent decades, sugar has been labelled as a known dietary enemy. It is nothing but ‘Empty calories’ devoid of any vitamins or minerals. Subsequently, people started to explore their options and find alternatives to sugar in an attempt to escape its claimed negative health effects. With so many alternatives available, and the variety of so-called ‘sugar-free’ and ‘diet products’ populating our market shelves, there has been a growing controversy over their safety concerns and potential health benefits. This article showcases the healthful, simpler and natural alternatives available.
Note: The intake of the below may be subjected in light of medical conditions. If you have any health ailments, it is best to consult with your doctor first.
Known as a folk medicine, this amber-hued delight is rich in antioxidants and claims its stakes in wound healing as it is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antiviral. Honey is sweeter than sugar and hence lesser quantities suffice for the sweetness required. Also, please ensure that the honey you buy from stores is pure and free from added sugar or other refinements.
How to have it: It can be added to smoothies, yoghurt bowls, milkshakes and even herbal teas to cure a sore throat!
We Indians have been using this yellow goodness in our sweets since ancient times. Jaggery is an unprocessed sweetener made from the sugarcane plant. It does not involve the usage of any chemical agents or processing thus preventing the stripping of all the natural mineral salts. This further gives it medicinal properties and health benefits. Jaggery is rich in vitamins and minerals including zinc, potassium, magnesium, iron, selenium and other antioxidants thereby boosting immunity. However, even though jaggery has healthy nutrients, it is high in its calorific value. It should therefore be consumed only in small quantities.
How to have it: It can replace sugar in your regular tea and herbal teas to cure throat infections. Jaggery powder can be added to cakes, and desserts and is an easy replacement for sugar in most sweet dishes.
Another common food found in Indian sweets, dates contain natural sugars like fruits. These wonders are high in polyphenols which are antioxidant compounds that protect the body from inflammation. They are also packed with iron, vitamin B6, fibre and potassium.
How to have it: Not only do they act as an easy replacement for sugar in milkshakes, smoothies, chocolates, baking recipes and salads but also work great as a pre-workout snack to fuel your body.
Dried fruits such as figs, raisins, and apricots can add a sweet twist to desserts and easily pass off as an alternative to sugar-based desserts. They are rich in polyphenols, antioxidants, fibre and also possess anti-inflammatory properties.
How to have it: In your desserts, porridges, smoothies, desi sweets, oats and the likes.
Maple syrup is a natural sweetener produced from concentrated xylem sap from the stems of genus Acer. Apart from sucrose, it also contains several phytochemicals, primarily polyphenolic compounds, minerals (e.g. potassium, calcium, and magnesium) and vitamins (e.g. B2 and niacin). It has anti-oxidant, anti-mutagenic, anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and anti-neurodegenerative effects. Inulin, which aids as a prebiotic is also found in maple syrup which enhances colon health by selectively promoting the growth of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli probiotic bacteria.
How to have it: Its consistency is just like honey and can be used to sweeten beverages and desserts. Apart from that, you can also enjoy it in your pancakes, dosas, oats and similar.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits contain natural sugars. They may or may not be used solely to sweeten a dish but can definitely suppress your sweet cravings. Fruits like berries, mangoes, bananas, sapota (chikoo), custard apple, pomegranate, muskmelon, apples, grapes, jack fruit and many more can enhance a dish by adding natural sweetness. Vegetables such as beetroot, pumpkin and sweet potato can be used in desserts to add sweetness.
How to have it: As mentioned, they are best had as they are when you crave something sweet. Else depending upon the fruit or vegetable you can enjoy them in cakes, smoothies, cereal bowls and the likes.
The quantity and frequency of the above-mentioned alternatives may vary and should not be used in plenty. After all, they are simple sugars in the end. Consult a qualified dietitian if any medical condition persists before choosing your alternatives.
Lastly, let’s end on a motivational ‘sweet’ note:
Next time tell yourself: It’s a sweet craving, not a sugar craving. Just like you have a sweet tooth, not a sugar tooth.