5 alternative sweeteners you’ve never heard of

With louder calls being made to introduce a sugar tax in South Africa, the link between the white stuff and obesity is louder than ever. Sugar alternatives have been around for decades, but the ignited conversation – and a preference for natural products – means that some unusual options have emerged. Before you make the sweet switch, check out the pros and cons.

#1 Monk fruit

The sweetness derived from this Chinese fruit starts off in its natural juice form, and then the sugars are extracted to form a powder. It is a zero-calorie sweetener and is 100 to 200 times sweeter than white granulated sugar - plus it’s considered to be less chemically processed than similar products like stevia. It’s hard to get hold of, in its pure form as it is often sold mixed with other sugar alternatives to tone down the sweetness, which means you lose some of the health benefits of the antioxidants it contains.

#2 Lucuma

This sweet stuff is also derived from a fruit; in this case the orange-yellow fleshed Peruvian fruit. It was referred to as “the gold of the Incas” and has a unique flavour - some say it tastes like caramel custard and others a bit like pumpkin. It is low on the glycemic index, so it won't cause a blood sugar spike. It’s also rich in minerals, B vitamins, beta-carotene, and fiber. In its raw powder form, lacuma fruit can be used as a natural and nutritious sweetener, and it is an excellent flavouring for smoothies.

#3 Yacon syrup

Yacon syrup is derived from a South American tuber root and is similar to molasses – so if you’re a fan of brown sugar, it’s a great option. It is also very low on the glycemic index and contains half the calories of granulated white sugar. But the game changer about it is that it contains a type of prebiotic fiber that can’t be absorbed by the body, and instead feeds the good bacteria in our guts. Hello better digestive health! (Con: this may leave your tum a little sensitive, so start off with small amounts until you get used to it).

#4 Coconut nectar

No doubt coconut has found its way into many of your dishes already. The nectar comes from the sap of the coconut tree, rather than the nut. It’s lower on the glycemic index than sugar (but still causes spikes in sugar) and is less processed, which means it is loaded with minerals and nutrients. The fiber in it also contains substances that promote a healthy gut and boost your immune system.

#5 Date molasses

You may have heard of date syrup – same thing! It is made from cooked-down dates and has a sweeter flavour than your regular white sugar. Though dates are a natural fruit, they are still fairly high in sugar and should be used in moderation. The slightly thicker consistency makes it great for use in baking but as it doesn’t melt it won’t work in your coffee!

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