Guide to Natural Vegan Sweeteners | Why White Sugar Isn’t Vegan
Gone are the days where one sweetens their tea with regular white sugar.
White sugar has all its naturally present molasses refined off, leaving only empty calories and no nutritional value. And so, the suavity of sugar doesn’t make up for its detrimental health effects caused by habitual intake.
Why is white sugar not Vegan?
White sugar, also known as granulated sugar, is made from the stalks of sugarcane or sugar beets. While it is plant-derived, its colouration process is what pushes sugar to become an animal-based product.
Bone char is made from the bones of slaughtered cattle and is used in the commercial process of refining sugar. Bone char has a porous and granular material which decolorizes the sugar and gives it a whiter hue.
But here’s the good news – All sugar is not bad sugar.
While white sugar is highly processed and a pure simple carbohydrate, the sugar that occurs naturally in fruits contain several vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Sugar has been an eternal part of baking and in desert-making, but with the rise of natural sweeteners and syrups derived from certain plants, indulging in desserts and sweetened beverages has now become guilt-free!
Let’s look at some of the natural vegan sweeteners and why they’re considered a better option :
1. Maple syrup
With a rich taste similar to liquid caramel and butterscotch combined, you already know that maple syrup will be heading the list of the most delectable and natural vegan sweeteners.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees. A tap is driven into the bark of a maple tree and the sap that flows out is collected. The sap is then concentrated to increase the sugar content and colour.
Although calorie-dense, maple syrup contains significant amounts of minerals, such as manganese, zinc, calcium, iron, potassium and copper.
Maple syrup has a lower glycemic index relative to table sugar. And so, although it is a better option than regular sugar, it is still high in sugar and needs to be consumed within sensible limits.
Being the star ingredient of various traditional Indian sweets, jaggery has swiftly replaced sugar for being a healthier and natural substitute.
Made from the juices of either sugarcane or palm trees, jaggery has a higher amount of vitamins and minerals, and a lower sucrose content than sugar.
It is an excellent source of plant-based iron and the presence of molasses adds in smaller amounts of micronutrients.
A recent review also notes that jaggery comes with an array of health benefits such as, aiding digestion, detoxing blood and liver, relieve constipation, relieve stress, increase energy levels and treat premenstrual syndrome
3. Dates / date syrup
Adding finely chopped dates, date paste or date syrup is a quick and easy way to naturally sweeten your dish.
Grown on date palm trees in small clusters, dates are a powerhouse fruit. They contain several vitamins and minerals, and are high in calories, fiber and antioxidants.
Date nectar is rich in fructose and provides a caramel-like sweetness with hints of fruity- floral flavours.
4. Agave Nectar
Agave is a group of desert plants native to several parts of America and Mexico.
To make the agave syrup, the harvested leaves of the plant is pressed and pulped to extract the agave juice. The juice is then heated to evaporate water and break down complex sugars into simple sugars.
Agave has a high fructose content, and low on the glycemic-index, and so has very little impact on your blood sugar. Unlike glucose, which causes a spike in blood sugar levels rather quickly due to its high GI value.
It contains only traces of fats and protein, and a small amount of a few vitamins & minerals.
5. Coconut sugar –
Made from the sap of the coconut palm tree, this caramel-coloured sugar is almost identical to white sugar in terms of sweetness and nutrient profile.
While regular sugar doesn’t contain any vital nutrients and is therefore considered “empty calories”, coconut sugar on the other hand, does retain small amounts of iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, fiber and antioxidants.
The GI of coconut sugar is only slightly lower than table sugar, and both contain almost the same amount of fructose.
The Stevia plant is native to South America and is made by extracting steviol glycosides from the leaves of the stevia plant.
This sweetener has no nutritional value and tastes 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, which can mean that 1g of stevia is equal to approximately 285g of table sugar.
The zero-calorie sweetener can be an acquired taste with its mild licorice-like taste that’s slightly bitter with an aftertaste.
7. Monk fruit sweetener
Monk fruit, also known as lo han guo or Swingle fruit, is a small green melon native to southern China.
To make the sweetener, the dried monk fruit is crushed, and the juices collected are then filtered to extract the sweet portions.
Although the extract is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, it is pleasantly sweet with a slight aftertaste.
Like many other fruits, monk fruit contains mainly fructose and glucose, with its intense sweetness coming from a different simple sugar compound called mogroside.
Monk fruit sweeteners have a zero glycemic index, zero calories, zero carbohydrates and zero fat, making it a non-nutritive sugar replacement.
In conclusion, while these sweeteners are not heavily refined and have better nutrient profiles than white sugar, they still have a high energy content and so, it is advisable to moderate consumption of not just sugars, but also of all caloric, high-intensive & non-nutritive sweeteners.
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