Sweet tooth

Looking for a natural alternative to sugar? Here are a few options

Words Andy Kenworthy

Agave nectar
Produced from the agave plant (that’s the same one which gives us tequila), this syrup has a caramel flavour sweeter than sugar, so less can be used in cooking. There’s debate over whether it is a beneficial alternative for maintaining blood sugar levels.

Created through a fermentation process with corn, erithritol has close to no calories, a zero glycemic index and isn’t metabolised by oral bacteria – so it won’t cause your teeth to decay.

Extracted from the liquorice root, glycyrrhizin is 30-50 times sweeter than sugar and has been shown to prevent liver damage. However, some reported side effects include hypertension and edema (water retension).

With so many varieties of honey, there’s one to suit almost any taste. Paired with its antibacterial and metabolism-boosting properties, it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular choice. However, because of the naturally occurring presence of botulinum endospores, it’s not suitable for children under the age of one.

Isomalt (Splenda)
With half the caloric value of sugar, this alternative made from beets is suitable for diabetics, supports gut health and doesn’t lead to tooth decay. However, since it doesn’t react in the same way as sugar, it’s not suitable for baking.

Luo han guo
Another low-calorie option, luo han guo is extracted from a Chinese plant. It’s been used in China for centuries to treat throat infections and coughs, constipation, heat stroke and even diabetes, although these medicinal properties are yet to be tested.

Maple syrup or sugar
A great source of manganese and zinc, this is a great sugar alternative for non-diabetics.

Extracted from a berry, miraculin itself is not sweet, but changes the perception of your taste buds for extended periods of time after consumption, so even sour foods taste sweet. It is most commonly sold as tablets, which are used by dieters.

Stevia liquid or powder
Sourced from dried leaves, stevia is a zero calorie alternative suitable for diabetics and sweeter than sugar itself. It’s used to make the sugar alternative Natvia.

Found in the fibres of various fruits and vegetables, xylitol is a sweetener that has actually been shown to aid tooth health, alongside stabilising insulin and hormone levels.

Sweet stats
• From humble beginnings sugar has become economically vital for many developing nations. It is estimated that about 20 million hectares of tropical land are now being cultivated for sugar. This is an area nearly the size of the whole New Zealand land mass. A dozen countries around the world devote more than a quarter of their agricultural land to sugar cane and seven devote more than half.
• Our country spent $321 million last year on sugar imports, mostly from Australia.

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