We all know that sugar is not good for one's health, rightly so, for several reasons.
Sugar contains high amounts of empty carbs, has a high glycemic index, gets quickly absorbed in the body (resulting in a sugar high), and can cause significant spikes in blood sugar levels, followed by a quick crash as well. This kind of yo-yo sugar levels is especially harmful to diabetics. It also impacts anyone aiming to lose weight, as cravings and binge-eating tends to happen when sugar levels spike and crash.
Managing sugar cravings can be a challenge for everyone, as we all have a sweet tooth. Many people, whether they have diabetes or not, are now turning to alternative sweeteners in an effort to make healthier choices. Some of the most popular natural sweeteners that are perceived to be healthy are honey and jaggery. They are perceived as healthier because they are less processed than sugar and contain fewer chemicals.
It is often believed that jaggery (made from sugarcane), an unprocessed version of sugar, is a great source of minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium, making it a suitable alternative to refined sugar. While there is truth to this, the idea that jaggery is significantly better than sugar is a myth.
Although jaggery may appear to be a better option than refined sugar, there isn't really much difference between the two nutritively.
Let’s take a quick look at a head-on comparison between jaggery and sugar.
Comparison table – Jaggery Vs Refined Sugar
As we can see clearly in the table here, Jaggery and Sugar are not that different from each other, apart from some minor mineral benefits. For those mineral benefits to give us significant benefits, we need to eat a lot of jaggery, as we can see that those minerals are present in trace amounts only.
Jaggery does not prevent an increase in blood sugar levels, as it is very high in carbs. For diabetics to manage their sugar levels effectively, they need to focus on controlling their carbohydrate intake, increasing protein and fiber intake. When examining the nutritional information, it becomes clear that jaggery has a similar carbohydrate content to sugar, making it ineffective for diabetics looking to manage their carb intake. Additionally, it does not help individuals pursuing fitness, weight loss, or general well-being to reduce their calorie intake, as jaggery and sugar have similar calorie levels.
Let's take a closer look at the glycemic index of jaggery compared to sugar.
Jaggery has a high glycemic index (GI) value of 84. , while sugar has a GI of 65. Surprising, isn't it? Consuming jaggery in similar or greater quantities than sugar can still lead to sugar spikes, making it an unhealthy alternative for diabetics. If you must consume jaggery, it is important to do so in moderation and limit your intake to a small amount.
So, what are some better alternatives to sugar? Don't worry, there are several other options to explore and find what works best for you. Some alternatives include palm jaggery, dates, coconut sugar, and natural plant-based sweeteners such as stevia, erythritol, and FOS (dietary fiber). These alternatives are not only low in calories but also have a lower glycemic index.
Palm Jaggery -
Palm jaggery, also known as date palm jaggery, is a wholesome alternative to refined sugar because it has a low glycemic index of 35, making it a safer option for diabetics. Research has shown that palm jaggery offers several benefits, such as boosting energy, improving digestion, providing warmth in chilly weather, enhancing muscle health and immunity, reducing migraines, and benefiting the skin and hair. It also includes polyphenols and 5-8% dietary fiber. However, palm jaggery is not significantly low in calories (383 Kcal / 100 g) or carbohydrates (83g/100g), so it may not be suitable for individuals with specific dietary goals like weight loss.
Coconut Sugar -
Coconut sugar is another alternative to consider if you are primarily looking for sweetness without much nutritional value. Coconut sugar is claimed to be more nutritious and has a low glycemic index of 50-54. It contains a small amount of inulin, a type of soluble dietary fiber that can help reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes. Foods with a moderate amount of Inulin fiber can be a healthier choice for diabetics. However, coconut sugar is high in calories, similar to regular sugar, making it less suitable for individuals aiming to reduce calorie intake or lose weight.
Stevia - Natural plant based sweetener
Stevia is another alternative to sugar that is worth considering. It is a sugar substitute made from the leaves of the stevia plant. Stevia is about 100 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar but contains no carbohydrates, calories, or artificial ingredients. You can read more about stevia health benefits here. Stevia extracts, particularly stevia Rebaudioside A (RebA), are excellent alternatives for individuals with specific lifestyle conditions like diabetes, or those on a fitness or weight loss journey. Artinci uses Stevia RebA as a sugar-free substitute in its desserts, in addition to Erythritol and FOS, which are all very low GI, very low carb and very low calorie sweeteners.
Comparison table for Sugar alternates -
In conclusion, sugarcane jaggery does offer some minor health benefits. It also helps combat oxidative stress and aids digestion, which is why our elders believe in having a piece of jaggery after meals. However, for diabetics, an ideal diet consists of foods with a low glycemic index. Sugarcane Jaggery has a very high glycemic index and hence, it is not advisable for diabetics to consume this form of jaggery.
Moderation is the key!
Cutting down on sugar intake in any form is great for the body and is a healthy choice. But that doesn’t mean that one has to give up ‘sweet cravings’ completely. We can switch to other sugar alternatives be it palm jaggery, stevia and other natural sugar substitutes. Irrespective of what you switch to, whether you have diabetes or not, or make a lifestyle choice or not, moderation is still the key. There is an old saying “excess of anything is bad” or “the dose is the poison”. We can enjoy the small joys of life, read sweets in our case 😊 in small portions. Life is sweet without sugar!