White sugar should be avoided, its health risks are now proven. But how do you choose a natural substitute that is good for both the body and the palate? Follow the guide.
We are too sweet. Slow, fast, hidden, sugar is everywhere in our food and often unwittingly added to most food products. If it only caused cavities, we wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. The problem is much more worrying. There are no longer scientific publications on the subject, as well as cookbooks to help us replace it at all costs.
It must be said that our arteries pay dearly for the sweets of the palate! And if diabetes and obesity are just the examples known to the general public, there are many others. High consumption increases cardiovascular and cancer risks, and also affects our mental health: a recent study pointed out that excessive sugary drinks accentuate depression problems; others, that added sugar would promote the development of Alzheimer’s disease3 Still others have demonstrated the link between overconsumption and memory problems, hyperactivity and learning problems in children. And we are only at the beginning. Because, under the microscope, this abundance literally “caramelizes” our cells by accelerating their aging process. Scientists call this phenomenon “glycation”. It is not by chance that the world of cosmetics is now very interested in it (certain cosmetic manufacturers, such as Yves Saint Laurent or Lierac, include anti-glycation complexes in their formulas).
But should we give up all the desserts that add a little sweetness to our lives? Certainly not: you can’t get rid of your appetite for sweetness like that. But to “get off the hook” a little, we can draw from the many natural alternatives that exist, and succeed, thanks to them, in reducing the quantities, for our health.
From the most recent offers to the most classic products, prefer them as much as possible of organic quality. Here is our choice of natural “sugars”.
Yacon and lucuma powders : they are from Peru. The first, from a tuber of the same name, is rich in antioxidants and interesting for diabetics. The second comes from the fruit of a local tree nicknamed the “gold of the gods” because of its contributions in vitamins, minerals, fibers, of its glycemic index (speed at which it penetrates into the blood) and its low. action on cholesterol.
Jerusalem artichoke syrup : contrary to what its name suggests, it is originally from North America. Made from Jerusalem artichoke, it is rich in iron, potassium and vitamin C, as well as inulin, a non-digestible fiber that acts on intestinal transit.
Coconut sugar : still unknown a little while ago, coconut blossom sugar now has pride of place in organic stores. Originally from South-East Asia, obtained by evaporating the nectar from coconut palm flowers after cooking, it has everything to please: a low glycemic index, a great wealth of antioxidants and minerals, ease of use. Its flavor, similar to brown sugar, is more subtle than that of whole sugar, which is an asset for some recipes. However, there are a few downsides to consider: very rich in fructose (the name given to vegetable sugar), its consumption must be moderate and its price remains quite high. Unlike brown sugar, it cannot be torched for desserts.
Birch sugar : this birch bark extract (not to be confused with birch syrup, another natural sugar obtained with sap) is used as a classic sugar substitute in Scandinavian countries. Non-acidifying, it has a very low glycemic index which makes it an ally for diabetics. Half the calories of white sugar, its sweetening power is nevertheless close to the latter when it is cold, but double when cooked. This requires learning to dose it. Beyond fifty grams per day, its laxative effect has been observed. In pastry making, it makes it possible to make tart bases and cookies. It is also the closest substitute to the crystalline and white appearance of powdered sugar, except that it has an amazing fresh flavor on the palate – which is why it is used in the manufacture of chewing gum.
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Agave syrup : extracted from the sap of blue agave, a succulent plant from Mexico which is used in particular to make tequila, it is slightly less caloric and less acidifying than white sugar (a dessert spoonful of agave syrup contains 323 calories, against 398 for white sugar). Its glycemic index is low, but don’t overdo it because it is rich in fructose, which in the long run promotes the formation of fat cells. Its sweetening power is one to two times higher than white sugar thanks to its extraction process. It adds a lot of softness to cakes, but tends to soften pie and cookie doughs. Finally, do not overcook it, it becomes more bitter.
Stevia : with a glycemic index and a caloric content equal to zero, and endowed with a sweetening power two hundred and fifty times greater than that of white sugar, the leaves of this plant from South America are on the way to dethroning aspartame. The catch: besides its licorice aftertaste which does not always please, a bit of everything and anything is sold under the name of “stevia”. In France, one commonly finds purified extract of stevia based on one of its derivatives (rebaudioside A); but it is sometimes associated with maltodextrins which raise its glycemic index to one hundred and five! In the form of a pure extract, with or without the addition of preservatives, often very refined powder, liquid extract… You have to learn to decipher the labels. The ideal is to grow it in a pot and use the fresh leaves, keeping in mind that the sweetness varies depending on the origin of the plants.
Maple syrup : native to North America, this is the first sap collected in early spring. This is then concentrated by evaporation to become this tasty brown and translucent syrup. Rich in calcium, potassium and iron, maple syrup is fairly well absorbed by the body despite a fairly high glycemic index. It has the particularity of containing a very wide variety of antioxidants, in particular polyphenols, and would have a beneficial action on type 2 diabetes by inhibiting certain enzymes. In baking, it is used to coat pancakes, waffles and other pancakes.
Raw honey : healing, antioxidant, softening and natural antibiotic, honey has many benefits. Its sweetening power is much higher than that of white sugar – three lumps of sugar equivalent to a teaspoon of honey -, it is necessary to limit the quantities, especially since it has a high glycemic index (except for honey. ‘acacia). The heat causing it to lose vitamins, it is better to add it at the end of cooking. Prefer organic, unpasteurized honeys (otherwise it loses its properties) and those for which you know the producer and the harvesting method. The product will certainly be more expensive, but of better quality and more respectful of bees.
Complete sugar : it can be found in stores under the names brown sugar, muscovado Where demerara according to its geographical origin. It is a cane sugar that has not been completely purified of its molasses. Its richness in minerals (iron, magnesium, calcium) is proportional to its color: the darker it is, the higher the content. Remineralizing, it would also be preventive against cavities. It is one of the best sugars for children (and adults). It is used like white in pastry, with the difference that it colors preparations brown and gives off aromas of liquorice, caramel and spices.
The pleasure of sugar at the risk of diabetes scored by Réginald Allouche. The author explains how to act upstream (prediabetes is reversible) and get the most out of sugar (Odile Jacob, 2013).
My good desserts with natural sugars by Marie Chioca and Delphine Paslin (Living Earth, 2013).
Too much sugar by Mark Hyman (Marabout, 2013).
Stevia and other natural sugars by Laurence Lévy-Dutel and Claire Pinson (Eyrolles, 2012).
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener discovered in 1965 and marketed in France in the early 1980s. With a sweetening power two hundred times greater than that of sucrose for a low caloric intake, it is commonly used in industrial products – sweets, sodas, medicines, etc. The use of this sweetener has been the subject of many criticisms after the publication of contradictory studies on its safety. One of them, carried out in Denmark, had led to the suspicion of a risk of premature birth. Others have shown a link with the increase in cancers. Currently, the daily intake authorized by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) is forty milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day (or 2.4 grams for a sixty kilogram person). A vast investigation has been launched since January and EFSA is expected to deliver its long-awaited conclusions in November.