Which types of sugar are vegan

Is Sugar Harmful? Health effects and 8 sugar alternatives

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Sugar is bad. Or not? And anyway: what is sugar, why does it have such a bad reputation and is it even justified? In this article we will look for clues and clarify the most important questions about sweet fuel. We also introduce you to 8 sugar alternatives.

What are carbohydrates actually?

Sugars are carbohydrates, i.e. carbon compounds that our organism uses as an energy source for a wide variety of processes. So when you hear the word "sugar", it doesn't mean the "bad" household sugar, but first and foremost one important source of energy for us humans.

In addition to proteins and fats, carbohydrates are one of the three main nutrients (also macronutrients). So to demonize sugar per se is nonsense. However, since sugar usually means table sugar in everyday parlance and there is some confusion in this regard, I would like to give you some basic information on the way.

Carbohydrates are divided into different types of sugar:

  • Oligosaccharides (e.g. raffinose)
  • Polysaccharides (e.g. starch)
  • Dietary fiber (various indigestible polysaccharides)

You see: The generic term carbohydrates includes "sugar chains" of different lengths, which are referred to as single, double or multiple sugars, as well as fiber. What they all have in common is that they provide us with energy - but in different amounts.

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In the small intestine, digestible carbohydrates (excluding fiber) provide around 4.2 kcal per g of sugar. Dietary fibers such as cellulose, pectin and carrageenan cannot be digested by humans and are only partially broken down by intestinal bacteria in the large intestine. Thus, towards the end of digestion, they still provide some energy, which primarily serves as a power supplier for the cells of the intestinal wall. Incidentally, this also creates a large part of the gases that are the starting material for flatulence.

Sugar plays an important role in human physiology. Glucose, a simple sugar, is the primary energy source of almost all human cells - if available. Carbohydrates are even essential for our central nervous system, red blood cells and the kidney medulla. However, the brain can also use other substrates (ketone bodies) as energy substrates during periods of starvation or fasting. The red blood cells and the kidney medulla remain dependent on glucose even during such periods.

The glucose made available through metabolic processes can be used in two ways:

  1. Direct utilization of glucose in different cells
  2. Storage as glycogen (animal starch) in muscle cells and liver

So if the glucose is not needed soon, we simply store it with the addition of its multiple weight in water. Incidentally, this is the reason why you lose weight so quickly on a low-carb diet: While the glycogen reserves are running out, we also excrete the water bound to it.

So is sugar bad or even dangerous? No. As always, a more differentiated view of the question is necessary. Even if blanket statements sound nice, they are no more than populism - especially in the nutrition sector. Sugar in itself is not "bad" or "dangerous". However, excess refined sugars, taken in isolation and devoid of vitamins and minerals, can have various negative health effects.

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NAlmost every unprocessed food contains carbohydrates. Be it single sugars like in fruit, double sugars like in milk or multiple sugars like starch in potatoes - carbohydrates are almost everywhere. And in their natural "shell" - that is, in combination with proteins, fats, water, minerals, vitamins and secondary plant substances - they are anything but evil or should be avoided.

However, what can be avoided (and especially with a corresponding medical history or predisposition) are isolated sugars, as in the following foods:

  • Lemonade and cola (0.5 liters contain 18 sugar cubes)
  • Energy drinks
  • Sweets (chocolate, cookies, gummy bears)
  • Chocolate creams, e.g. Nutella (1 glass contains 83 sugar cubes, approx. 3 per bread)
  • chocolate bar

The sugars they contain come from the composite. However, this does not consist of important nutrients, but - from a physiological point of view - garbage. These include dyes, flavor enhancers, cheap oils and other fats, stabilizers, gelatine ... the list can go on and on.

Other foods that most people eat every day also contain isolated sugars - but at least in a not so bad combination:

  • Jams
  • Spreads
  • Pastries
  • fruit yoghurt

It is precisely with these foods that we want to deal in the following. More precisely, it is about how you can replace the unpleasant table sugar with more valuable sugar alternatives. We would also like to go into which alternatives are to be evaluated from a nutritional and physiological point of view and for what they are particularly well suited.

Overview of sugar alternatives

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Since there are now a lot of alternatives to household sugar, it's easy to lose track of things - maybe you know that? To give you a little insight into the realm of sugar alternatives, we have selected 8 of the most popular and are now introducing them to you.

Xylitol * contributes to the remineralization of the teeth and can thus reduce the risk of tooth decay. It also contains around 40% fewer calories than sugar. However, you should note that excessive consumption can lead to digestive problems (especially diarrhea). The sugar alternative is ideal for baking and can be replaced in a 1: 1 ratio.

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Erythritol * is a sugar substitute that is absolutely calorie-free. For production, carbohydrates are fermented with the help of mushrooms. Erythritol is for diabetics and calorie-conscious people who do not want to consume synthetic sweeteners such as sucralose, aspartate or cyclamate. However, the sweetening power is only 70% that of household sugar. Erythritol, like xylitol, can have a laxative effect if consumed in excess.

In fact, molasses * is a "waste product" that arises from sugar cane during the production of sugar. The syrup is boiled out, which creates a dark, viscous mass - the molasses. This contains significantly more minerals than the refined end product from sugar cane. The taste is rather bitter and not very sweet, which is why it is less suitable for baking. But you can eat them as an alternative to jam on bread.

Stevia * is a mixture of substances obtained from the Stevia rebaudiana plant and consists mainly of steviol glycosides. Stevia has been approved as a food additive in the EU as E 960 for several years. Due to the enormous sweetening power (300 times sweeter than sugar), you should use it sparingly.

Like other sweeteners, stevia has almost no calories. It can therefore be a sensible alternative for type 2 diabetics to sweeten without sugar and save calories. Unfortunately, stevia has a slightly bitter aftertaste that many people find unpleasant. In addition, cheap products often contain refined sugar. Therefore, you should rather invest a few euros more, but have a pure product in your pantry.

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Coconut blossom sugar * is made from the nectar of the coconut palm and, according to initial studies, has a comparatively low glycemic index. This means that it does not cause the blood sugar level to rise too much. This alternative is particularly suitable for caramel lovers, as the taste is reminiscent of it. Coconut blossom sugar can be used, for example, for baking, ice cream, porridge or to sweeten coffee.

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Since rice syrup * has a high proportion (approx. 21%) of long-chain multiple sugars, the body must first convert them into simple sugars before they pass into the blood. This means that the absorption is delayed and the blood sugar level does not rise as quickly as a result. In addition, rice syrup does not contain fructose, which is very interesting for people with fructose intolerance. Rice syrup is less sweet than sugar, so you'll need to use a little more if you want to replace table sugar with it.

For the production of agave syrup *, the juice of the Mexican agave is tapped and boiled down to syrup. The sweetness comes from a mixture of fructose and glucose - just like normal household sugar. Agave syrup is also not particularly rich in nutrients, so that from a nutritional point of view we cannot speak of a sensible sugar alternative. In addition, due to the high concentration of fructose, it is not suitable for people with fructose intolerance. The still popular thick juice is well suited for sweetening porridge, dressings, sauces, ice cream or coffee.

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In the production of maple syrup *, the trunks of the sugar maple are tapped and the juice obtained is thickened by heating. Maple syrup is divided into grades AA (lightest) to D (darkest) depending on the color. The darker, the more intense and caramelized the taste. Maple syrup is great for sweetening tea, coffee or classic American pancakes.

Since Semper Veganis likes to bake, the sugar alternatives presented have all been tested extensively. Our top 5 sugar alternatives for baking are:

  • Xylitol
  • Erythritol
  • Stevia
  • Maple syrup
  • Agave syrup

When baking, please note that dry products such as xylitol, erythritol or stevia are mixed with the dry ingredients and syrup with the liquid ingredients.

Sugar is not bad per se. After all, we have seen that different cells in our body depend on glucose. But if you want to replace regular table sugar with more valuable or lower-calorie sugar alternatives, this is definitely a good plan. Because we all know: Too much refined sugar is bad for us. However, you shouldn't just blindly buy sugar alternatives, but ask yourself why you want to replace table sugar and what you need the sugar alternatives for.

Because not all supposedly good sugar alternatives are really good. For example, agave syrup is not a viable alternative from a nutritional point of view when it comes to the health aspect. Also, other sweeteners such as xylitol cannot be used in large quantities without gas and diarrhea. However, if you are primarily concerned with the taste, you can try the various sugar alternatives and pick out the sweeteners that are right for you.

Which sugar alternatives have you already tried and which ones do you like best? Do you have any tips for other alternatives? I look forward to your comment ♥

About the guest authors
Laura and Jan have been sharing experiences, tips and recipes about their undogmatic vegan lifestyle since 2013. They have been studying nutritional science since 2014 and are trying on their readers www.sattesache.de to convey the knowledge learned in simple words.