By Soumita Biswas, Chief Nutritionist, Aster RV Hospital
White sugar is one of the most commonly consumed ingredients in today’s diet and while it gives instant gratification, it would not be wrong to say that white sugar is one of most potentially harmful ingredients in our diets. However many who wish to cut down on their white sugar intake have not been able to do it as they think there are no other alternatives and that their food might turn tasteless. Sweet lovers often cannot stay without having their daily dose of sugar. This holiday season, here is a list of healthy alternatives to sugar that you could use as you prepare your holiday feast: By breaking the habit of adding white sugar with other natural alternatives, you can do wonders and see your overall health improve.
Listed below are some of the best natural alternatives to satiate your taste buds while also giving you additional health benefits:
Jaggery: For many centuries before, people living in Asia and Africa have been using jaggery as a part of the diet and culinary heritage. It is one of the cheapest natural sugars. Jaggery has started to make a comeback in our diet in the recent years. Sugarcane jaggery is unrefined sugar cane juice which is manually boiled, churned, filtered and then poured into moulds sold in the stores. One of the main health benefits of jaggery is that it helps improve digestion by activating the digestive enzymes. It stimulates bowel movements and helps relieve constipation symptoms. It is a liver detoxificant and helps build immunity.
Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is extracted from the xylem sap of maple trees. A hole is drilled into the maple tree through which the sap is channelled into a container. Unlike white sugar which doesn’t offer any nutrients, maple syrup supplies minerals like manganese and zinc. Loaded with antioxidants, maple syrup contains nutrients. The syrup acts as an energy booster and compliments heart health.
Honey: Honey is considered liquid gold and is one of the oldest sweeteners dating back by 3000 years. It was an integral part of every household not only in India but globally. Honey bees extract the flower nectar which is then converted into simple sugars and stored in honeycombs. Along with the sweetness, honey provides minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium. This nature’s liquid is known for its healing and antibacterial properties.
Palm jaggery: Health benefits of palm jaggery are manifold. It is prepared traditionally. An earthen pot is placed under a palm sapling which is scythed to facilitate sap oozing. The sap is boiled, churned till it thickens and then poured into moulds to obtain palm jaggery. The awareness about this natural sugar is such that many tea shops in South India have a separate fan base for beverages made with palm jaggery. Low on the glycaemic index, it is loaded with iron and is a great source of energy.
Date Sugar: We all are aware of the immense benefits of dates. The first thing people have while breaking their fasting is the dates. Ever wondered why? That’s because they are full of energy including glucose, sucrose and fructose. Date sugar is made of dehydrated dates, which are ground to resemble sugar. They come packed with proteins, iron, copper, zinc, manganese and many others.
Stevia: Made from the leaves of stevia plant, this is a zero calorie alternative to sugar and is great for those who are watching their weight and beneficial for diabetics as it does not cause glucose spikes. Stevia is also much more potent in sweetness and so a little quantity is required compared to white sugar. Fresh stevia leaves can be used to sweeten warm morning beverages like tea and can be dried, powdered and stored for future use.
For diabetics, it is advised to have a word with the doctors before making the above natural sweeteners a part of their regular diet as they will suggest the alternative that best suits their needs and health conditions.