Alternatives to sugar such as honey, agave syrup, rice syrup, yacón syrup and maple syrup are considered to be more natural and healthier than white household sugar. But is this actually the case? A quick look at the nutritional values shows that these, too, mainly consist of sugar. However, the proportions of various types of sugar are different – which has advantages and disadvantages.
Comparing sugar alternatives
Agave syrup and honey have a higher proportion of fructose (= fruit sugar): agave syrup consists of 90 per cent fructose, and honey around 50 per cent. Since fructose has a very high level of sweetness, agave syrup and honey can be used sparingly. Fructose has little effect on blood sugar levels, which is beneficial from a health perspective. However, studies show that higher fructose consumption can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and gout. It's a different story with rice syrup: it does not contain any fructose and is therefore much less sweet. Rice syrup is ideal for people with fructose intolerance.
Maple syrup consists primarily of sucrose and is therefore very similar to granulated sugar in its composition. Its effect on blood sugar levels is also similar to that of granulated sugar.
Yacón – the sugar alternative from South America
One alternative to sugar which is very interesting from a health perspective is made from the root of the South American plant yacón. Yacón syrup contains a high proportion of fructans. They pass undigested into the large intestine, where they stimulate the activity of health-promoting bacteria. The disadvantage of fructans is that not everyone can tolerate them in large quantities. In people who are sensitive to them, they can cause digestive problems.
Another notable benefit of yacón syrup is that it does not raise blood sugar levels. The syrup tastes fruity and a little like caramel. It's perfect for yoghurt and muesli, home-made granola and for baking.
To sum up: the advantages of sugar alternatives
Natural alternatives to sugar are not necessarily healthier than refined household sugar. A few sugar alternatives can be used more sparingly than granulated sugar, though, thanks to their higher proportion of fructose or intense flavour. Some sugar alternatives contain small quantities of vitamins and minerals or antioxidants. However, these are too small to be relevant from a health perspective.
Alternatives to sugar are suitable if they are satisfactory in terms of their flavour and can be used more sparingly than sugar. One sugar alternative which is interesting from a health perspective is yacón syrup. More information on how to identify sugar in food or reduce sugar in everyday life can be found in our guides.