What Sugar to use?

Sugars are used to sweeten dishes, preserve foods and balance out flavours, however in terms of health benefits they can be very different. The average kiwi gets around 29 teaspoons of sugar per day so being careful of how much total sugar whether it be refined or  natural is important to monitor, even the amount of fruit or fruit based foods per day.

Tip: Best to check the back of most food products nutritional panel and ingredients list to check the sugar content from cereal to yoghurt, regardless if it’s a ‘health’ type product or a chocolate bar. Many of the bliss balls or health bars made with a high dried fruit content can still have a concentrated amount of total sugars. This can cause a surge in blood sugar levels and thus the hormone insulin, which is a hormone responsible for taking the sugar out of the blood and into the cells to be used as fuel. Unfortunately having too much sugar, thus insulin and not enough physical activity means increased fat storage. Yes you can put on weight by having excess carbohydrates even if calorie intake is the same.

Avoid refined sugars, so this is your brown sugar, white sugar, raw sugar, caster sugar, icing sugar and most of the other sugars from the baking section. This is called sucrose and once digested sucrose breaks down into fructose and glucose. Glucose is well used in the body but fructose is a harder to break down and normally gets stored in the liver which can increase risk of fatty liver disease, along with breaks down collagen, puts pressure on immune system, excessively raises blood sugars and is empty calories. Eating too much refined sugars found in baked goods, ice creams, jams, cereals and pretty much most of our food products. This sugar has no nutritional value in terms of vitamins and minerals so I say ‘if it doesn’t have a benefit for the body, no point in eating it’. There are better varieties to use in baking and foods to add flavour and sweetness.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar does have a nice caramel taste but interms of calories and sugar levels per 100g, is the same as standard sugar. The research showing it is Low GI had flaws in it and is only based on one paper from The Phillipine Department of Agriculture and only had 10 people in it!

It does contain small amounts of potassium, zinc, calcium and iron along with some short chain fatty acids and a fiber called inulin, which may slow glucose absorption and explain its lower glycaemic value to other sugars, however, eat in moderation as it isn’t any super food and you will find more nutrients in a piece of fruit than coconut sugar. Think of it this way, white table sugar sits 100g of carbohydrates and sugars per 100g, coconut sugar ranks around 95 depending on batch.

Honey or agave or maple syrup

Our natural sugars on the positive side do contain better nutritional values with vitamins and minerals and with their sweetness a little goes a long way so generally you don’t need to add a lot to baking or dishes to get a great flavour. On the sugar scale they still rank around 85-90g per 100g so you do need to be careful especially with buying things like cereals or yoghurts which will advertise ‘sweetened with honey’ but really have a lot of other sugars hiding it in to not just honey. Or they will excessive amounts in there too and all of these contain fructose (well honey has around 38% pure fructose while maple syrup is sucrose but sucrose is made up of 50% fructose and glucose. Again we want to limit how much fructose we have.

Rice syrup
Rice syrup is great to use as a low sugar and zero fructose alternative to the other syrups or table sugars. It isn’t as sweet which is nice too as doesn’t light up the brain wanting you to go back for more and more (easier to stop at one cookie!). Also known as rice malt syrup, brown rice syrup is made with whole grain rice subjected to an enzymatic reaction. This process breaks down the starches in the rice, and the simpler sugar (maltose and maltotriose) is separated in liquid format. This liquid is then boiled down into syrup. Per 100g it sits at 55g which is half of most sugars! However it doesn’t contain any fiber or much nutrients so it isn’t a super food but definitely one of my favourites for drizzling over Greek yoghurt, marinades, sauces or some baking.

Dried fruit
Dried fruit and fresh fruit is one of the best options to sweeten dishes or use for baking, such as banana bread or adding raisins to cookies instead of chocolate drops.The reason being is dried and fresh fruit can boost the fiber and potassium levels along with adding good quantities of minerals and vitamins (real food), much higher than maple syrup or coconut sugar. Also because of the fiber content it has a lower glycaemic level meaning that it has a much slower release of sugar into the blood stream. Avoid using dried fruit that may have sugar on it such as mangoes, pineapple, cranberries, etc (check the ingredients list!! Even on bulk bin). Prunes are lower in sugar than dates and raisins so if you are wanting to use a lot of dried fruit for a recipe, perhaps swap to prunes or go half and half. Remember the fruit sugar (fructose) is still concentrated so again quantity is important. For example when making things like bliss balls try use more nuts and seeds rather than making the bulk of the ball from dates. Most pre made bliss balls list ‘dates’ as first ingredient which means this is the bulk of the product. Try finding one or making your own that has nuts & seeds as first ingredient. By combing dried fruit to nuts does help lower G.I rate as nuts are slow digesting so when choosing a scroggin mix, choose one with more nuts n seeds than dried fruit. Fresh fruit is generally lower in sugar than dried fruit because of the water content fruit so this would be my preference using things like apple or pear puree and I use a mix of prunes, bananas and berries for my bliss balls. See the recipes on the website. Even when choosing a cereal, choose one that doesn’t have much dried fruit in it.


Stevia is a plant based sweetener many times sweeter than sugar but does come with a rather funny after taste hence you will normally find a ‘Stevia based sweetener’ mixed with an alcohol- based sugar like erythritol or xylitol. While stevia and alcohol based sweeteners don’t contain any vitamins or minerals, they don’t contain any calories (well, extremely low) and no carbohydrates so they can be beneficial for keeping the calorie and sugar content extremely low in meals or baking, making it a good choice for weight loss, diabetics or those on a lower carb diet.  Having no insulin rise means less chance of fat storage and is safer on your teeth (less tooth decay). There is still more research that needs to be done about Stevia and it’s health effects An application to Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is under consideration to permit the use of Steviol Glycoside (leaf extract) as a food additive in New Zealand. – See more at http://www.healthyfood.co.nz/articles/2007/january/the-truth-about-artificial-sweeteners

And what about artificial sweeteners such aspartame (Equal) sucralose (Splenda)? There is a lot of heated debate around these, again they are low calorie sweetener but many people tend to feel better without using these varieties. Read more here from the Healthy Food Guide and from the Consumer https://www.consumer.org.nz/articles/artificial-sweeteners


So at the end of day….you have your calorie natural sweeteners such as syrups (honey, maple, agave, rice bran) to fruit and dried fruit, granules like coconut sugar and low calorie and alternative sweeteners along with many other words for sugar such as lactose, maltose, invert sugar, glucose, syrup, maltodextrin, barley malt extract, which can be very confusing or misleading. Best thing to do is keep away from refined sugars along with check the nutrition panel for added sugars. Look at the ingredients list for total sugars per 100g and choose those cereals, yoghurts, sauces, snack bars etc than come under 10g per 100g. If you are baking, again avoid the table sugar and if quantity is important. If using honey or dried fruit go sparingly, if using Natvia (stevia based sweetener) you can add a lot more without the insulin rise or calories.


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