The sweet template

Backed by experts in the field of nutrition and diabetology, here’s a comprehensive take on the sugar alternatives set to satiate your cravings

Published: 14th June 2022 11:13 PM  |   Last Updated: 15th June 2022 01:41 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  A resolution to return to a healthier lifestyle, picking up a disciplined diet, the extra attention required in the case of any type of diabetes any of these reason could have you on the lookout for a substitute to the sweet villain that is sugar. Yet, between the natural sweeteners, honey, date offerings, palm sugar and more, it isn’t always arriving at the right alternative for your needs.

While a tailor-made consultation could offer far more specific results, the search can be made simpler if you were to keep a few simple things in mind, suggests diabetologist Dr Kayalvizhi S of Dr Mohan’s Diabetes Specialties Centre.

“Any form of sugar, be it refined sugar or cane sugar or any other natural sweeteners, are not recommended for those suffering with diabetes. But, if in the rare case someone needs a little bit of sweetness, they can opt for low USFDA approved artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, Splenda, etc. Whatever the case, moderation is key,” she says. With expert inputs from nutritionist Dr Dharini Krishnan, here is a curated list of the best alternatives for sugar, weighing both the pros and cons of their consumption on the human body. 

Maple syrup 
Maple syrup is a sap derived from the maple tree’s bark. The juice is processed and concentrated, which increases the sugar levels drastically.

PROS: A good alternative when taken in moderation. 

CONS: Maple syrup has high sugar content as it is processed.

EXPERT SAYS: “As it is high in sugar, it is not advisable for diabetic people.”

Though predominantly found in tropical regions, dates are favoured by people all around the world. Many people have started using dates as an alternative to refined sugar in desserts.

PROS: A natural sweetener that is high in iron and minerals.

CONS: Not advisable for those with diabetes, as it is high on sugar. 

EXPERT SAYS: “There are different varieties available in the market, especially syrups, which are not advisable for consumption. The more chewable the dates, the more they should be consumed in moderate quantities.” 

Molasses is a sweetener that is not commonly used in Asian countries; they are more popular in the West. A thick syrup that is a byproduct of the sugar-making process, this sweetener is derived from sugarcane.

PROS: Molasses contains some amounts of calcium, iron, potassium and selenium.

CONS: It needs to be consumed in moderation.

EXPERT SAYS: “It is a good alternative to honey or maple syrup as it is comparatively richer in antioxidants and a rich source of carbohydrates.”

Artificial sweeteners 
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes, which can be derived from naturally occurring substances, such as herbs or sugar.

PROS: It provides sweetness to food without addition of actual sugar. It helps in calorie control and hence, finds use in weight-loss diets.

CONS: There is not enough research on the extent and viability of the benefits and the side effects.

EXPERT SAYS: “People can go for this option as they are safe to use. But, given an option, I would prefer natural sweeteners over artificial sweeteners as they are safer.”

Palm Sugar 
Palm sugar, or karupatti, as it is locally known, is a sweetener derived from palm tree sap. 
PROS:  It has a low glycemic index compared to other sweeteners. Thus, it makes an excellent alternative for people with diabetes. 

CONS: When consumed in large quantities, palm sugar is known to increase blood sugar levels and can cause weight gain.

EXPERT SAYS: “Palm sugar and brown sugar are very similar in terms of their calorie content; both are unprocessed. Since they are less sweet than other alternatives, people tend to add more amounts of them to their diet. I would suggest people use it in moderation.”

Honey has been used as a sweetener by people across cultures since the earliest of civilisations.
PROS: Rich in antioxidants and antibacterial properties, it is a good alternative to sugar as long as it is used in its unprocessed form.

CONS: Processing honey results in addition of sugar, making it harmful to the body. A lot of store-bought honey is processed. 

EXPERT SAYS: “Honey gets its health benefits from the good bacteria that comes from the mouth of the bees. People’s tendency to use honey in desserts and cooking causes them to heat up honey, which kills the bacteria immediately. Therefore, all the benefits are lost. So, honey should never be heated; should be used in moderate amounts.”

Jaggery powder/Nattu Sakkarai
Jaggery powder or nattu sakkarai is derived from sugarcane sap. Rich in sucrose, this sweetener is an ideal replacement for refined sugar.

PROS: It has a high iron and calcium content and no chemicals, thus making it a great substitute for people with diabetes. Other benefits include immunity-boosting, anti-allergen and blood purification properties.

CONS: When not appropriately prepared, it is known to increase the risk of parasitic infections. It can lead to indigestion if consumed in high amounts.

EXPERT SAYS: “Jaggery powder needs to be consumed in moderation; three teaspoons a day will do.” 

Natural sweeteners 
A healthy alternative to refined sugar, natural sweeteners are low in both calories and fructose levels while being high in terms of sweetness. Natural sweeteners like erythritol and xylitol are now preferred more by the masses. 

PROS:  Natural sweeteners are low in calories, high in sweetness and help reduce people’s blood pressure in the case of hypertension while not creating any significant change in average or mildly increased blood pressure levels.

CONS: It is known to cause digestive issues like diarrhoea and abdominal gas with adverse effects on the gut microbiome. 

EXPERT SAYS: “As long as one doesn’t overdo it, they should be fine. There isn’t enough research on the topic yet to know the extent of its intake on the body. It is safe since it is natural but precaution is still necessary. For those suffering from obesity and diabetes, natural sweeteners would not be a safe option and should be consumed in moderation.”


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