words by Miss Savvy

Sugar is the devil incarnate affecting our skin, hormones and digestion and let’s not be fooled here; whether you are choosing the whiter than white sachet sugar at the greasy spoon or opting for the nice brown natural looking stuff, it’s much of a muchness. Brown sugar has a little molasses added to give it that ‘healthy’ look but nowhere near enough for there to be any nutritional value. So is there an alternative that will offer a little more than empty calories and waist expansion? Thankfully there is!

I divide them into two camps;

1/ Healthy Slimmers- agave nectar, xylitol and stevia.

2/ Health Maintainers- honey and molasses.

Before we embark upon this journey to the land of all things sweet I would like to add that one of the best things we can do for our health is to curb our sweet cravings and opt for the savory side of life. Tuck into green leafy veggies, pulses, slow releasing carbs like sweet potatoes, buckwheat and brown rice. Enjoy good quality protein and snack on nuts and seeds. Eat fruit in moderation; though high in fructose it also contains vitamins and the all important fibre. But if something more resembling the fine white is needed then choose from below and use sparingly.

Agave Nectar
Agave is one sweet babe and takes me back to my ‘Lyles Golden Syrup’ childhood but how does it rate as a healthy alternative? Agave is from a Mexican plant that produces the sticky juice that is ninety percent fructose. For this reason it has had some bad press and been likened to high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). So what are it’s redeeming points? As the sugar in the syrup occurs naturally it shouldn’t contribute to tooth decay in the same way as sugar, it has a much lower glycemic index than sugar (30 as opposed to 100)meaning it won’t dump a huge hit of sugar in your bloodstream, it contains naturally occurring calcium and iron and as it is sweeter than sugar you will tend to use less. Drizzle with vigilance and always buy a premium raw agave nectar. Perfect with porridge, pancakes and anything that cries out for syrup.

Pronounced zy-lit-ol this is the one to favour if you want a sweetener that looks and tastes just like white granulated sugar; even hard core sugar fanatics will not be able to tell the difference! It is obtained from plant fibres so completely natural, it’s GI is a ridiculously low 7 so it will have minimal effect on blood sugar levels and it has 40% less calories than sugar; it’s a win win! And there’s more; Xylitol is tooth friendly by minimising the bacteria which cause tooth decay and it is good for the gut as it discourages the growth of candida. Superb in baking it can be used like for like and to replace anywhere where you see the granulated sugar sign apart from in baking bread as it inhibits yeast.

The leaves of this small shrub from China and South America have been used for several centuries to sweeten tea, medicine and as a very sweet treat- Stevia is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar! The leaves have a liquorice taste but when refined it retains its uber sweetness without the aftertaste and is a very attractive zero calories. Stevia has almost no effect on blood glucose, will not feed bad bacteria in the mouth and is a divine combination with fruit, cereal or in your cuppa. Stevia is also heat stable so can be used in cooking and baking but it can be tricky getting the sweetness right. There is a school of thought that is concerned that the stevia we consume is so chemically processed that it is many moons away from the plant (which also contains phytochemicals and nutrients) and therefore health concerns could arise but only more research will be able to verify this.

Rich in amino acids, vitamins and minerals honey has been used as a food and medicine since ancient times but not all honey is made alike. Many have undergone a process of ultra filtration and pasteurization which strips it of many nutritional benefits. Opt for raw and local honey as it is very high in antioxidants; the darker the colour the higher the level. It also contains propolis that is antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal and being local it will be a big boost for your immunity. Manuka is also a savvy choice; excellent for the immune system, gut health and skin conditions such as acne and eczema. It provides what is called non-peroxide activity (NPA) which is a unique antibacterial property that is not so easily affected by heat, light or chemicals in the gut. Aim for 5+ – 15+ UMF (Unique Manuka Factor) and get spreading!

Black as midnight and densely rich molasses is the by-product of the sugar cane refining process. The juice extracted from the sugar beet is boiled down, the sugars crystallize and deposit and the syrup left over is molasses. This process happens three times producing three kinds of molasses; light, dark and black strap. With each cycle the molasses contain less sugar but more vitamins and minerals so it would be a wise choice to reach for the black strap. Deep and spicy it is perfect in ginger cakes, spread over toast, oatcakes or any cracker of your choice and yummy with porridge. Molasses is prized for it’s high iron content but also contains magnesium, potassium and calcium. Try the ‘Mineral Morning Cup’ by simply mixing a teaspoon of molasses with hot water to create a fuelling full-bodied beverage.

I would like to end with our old store cupboard staple Cinnamon – so easily relegated to a mere sprinkling on a cappuccino or Christmas bun. The wonders of cinnamon are legendary helping to relieve bloating, heartburn and stabilize blood sugar levels. Cinnamon can be mixed with any of the above to create a lively mix.

So let’s ditch the sugar coated life, savor the savoury and when a tad of sweetening is required opt for more than empty calories.