Food for Thought

Sweet celebrities. 
Chrissy Freer, author of the delicious Supergrains, recently quizzed us about rice syrup as magazine editors keep asking her to use it in recipes for ‘healthy’ baking. ‘Is it actually a ‘healthier’ alternative to sugar or just another fashionable sweetener being touted as sugar free and better for you?’ she asked. Rice syrup just like table (granulated) sugar, honey and maple syrup belongs in the nutritive sweetener camp. ‘Nutritive’ doesn’t mean these sweeteners are ‘nourishing’ in the good for you sense, it means they provide you with (per level teaspoon) around 4–5g carbs and 15–20 calories. Are some ‘healthier’ than others? Well, some do deliver a smidgen more nutrition than just calories – less refined sweeteners like raw sugar, quality honey and pure maple syrup also provide very small amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium as does the low GI sugar, LogiCane. But they still have those calories so you still have to keep your intake moderate. Here we check out three ‘celebrity’ sweeteners.
Agave syrup/nectar is extracted from the agave plant - Mexico’s famous succulent that also gives us aguamiel, pulque, and tequila (from the blue agave). It’s mostly fructose which is why it has a low GI – light standard agave syrup (GI28) is 70–78% fructose; light premium agave syrup (GI22) is 78–85% fructose. It’s about 1½ times sweeter than sugar so you use less, which is just as well as it is on the pricy side. Delicious drizzled over pancakes, porridge, plain yoghurt, French toast. For recipes, check out Michael Moore’s Blood Sugar; The Family – he uses it instead of sugar in baking and desserts to help manage his BGLs.  

Coconut syrup/sugar, a traditional sweetener from South-East Asia comes from the sap of the coconut palm's flowering spikes (inflorescence). It is about 75% sucrose and the rest is glucose and fructose which could make it a useful substitute for cane sugar if you are looking for one and cost doesn’t count. These days it’s widely promoted as a ‘great tasting, mineral rich, low GI (35) cane sugar alternative’. Dr Oz recommends it as a replacement for table sugar saying that: ‘Switching from regular sugar to coconut palm sugar could prevent the blood sugar crashes that make you hungry and then cause you to gain weight.

We asked SUGiRS Manager Fiona Atkinson about the GI35 for coconut sugar that Dr Oz quoted, as this figure is all over the internet but failed the peer review process to make it into the official international GI database. ‘That’s an old value from the Philippines and it was not tested according to the ISO method,’ she said. ‘We have recently tested coconut sugar for a company, but the results must remain confidential until they give us permission to publish them. I can say that although the GI was certainly not 35, it was low for what is essentially a sucrose-based sugar.’ Because of the high sucrose content, we are guessing it is more likely to be similar to CSR LoGiCane, the low GI sugar which has a GI of 50. Coconut syrup is ‘fab’ on pancakes or drizzled over coconut cake according to food writer Kate McGhie who also uses coconut sugar in Thai cooking and general baking such as muffins and has coconut vinegar in her pantry.  

Brown rice syrup (rice syrup) is the darling of the ‘fructophobe’ quit-sugar/sugar-free lobby and is around 45% maltose, 3% glucose, and 52% maltotriose (a trisaccharide consisting of three glucose molecules joined together). The jar of Pureharvest organic brown rice syrup in front of me is produced according to the manufacturer by: ‘fermenting whole brown rice with special enzymes that break down the natural starch content of the grain. The resulting material is then cooked until it reaches the consistency of syrup’. Their website says: ‘it provides a slower, constant release of energy over a longer time and is recommended for diabetics.’ In fact it hasn’t been GI tested and we think that it’s more likely to be high GI. Why? Well, we know that the GI for maltose is 105. Although the GI of maltotriose is unknown, our guesstimate is, that like maltodextrin, it will be similar to glucose (100). Chrissy has used rice syrup when baking or on toast, waffles or pancakes and in making muesli bars and biscuits. PS: No diabetes organisation we know of recommends it for people with diabetes.

Alternative sweeteners