Interview with Silke Neumann about Healthy Sugar Alternatives
Do you have a sweet tooth? If so, today’s episode is perfect for you. We will be discussing healthier alternatives to satisfy your sweet cravings. Given that sugar is not the healthiest option, our conversation will focus on exploring alternative sweeteners that may be a better choice.
Interview with Silke Neumann, Certified Nutritionist, About Healthy Sugar Alternatives
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: Today I am back with Silke, our nutritionist and expert on all things related to food. Our topic for today is sugar alternatives, which is particularly relevant for many reasons. In our previous discussions on “eating for wellness,” you emphasized, Silke, that refined sugar is unnecessary. It is not soul food, and there is even evidence suggesting that it can contribute to depression. While there may not be extensive studies on sugar and endometriosis, it is generally acknowledged that it is not a healthy choice. Why is that, exactly?
Silke Neumann: Broadly speaking, nobody actually needs sugar because the body can synthesize everything within it from other food components. Complex carbohydrates and grain products are naturally broken down into sugar during metabolism. However, these foods also provide minerals, vitamins, and other essential plant substances absent in sugar, especially in refined white sugar. It is illogical to skip this step from complex carbohydrates to sugar, delivering it directly to the body and essentially suppressing the intake of other beneficial components.
Sugar represents empty calories with no added health benefit. It does offer some energy, but without any additional nutritional advantages.
Dr. med. Nadine Rohloff: Possibly causing more harm than good for health. However, sweet foods are undeniably delicious. There are times when the craving for something sweet is irresistible. If one understands that sugar is not an optimal choice, but the desire for sweetness remains, what alternatives do we have for sweetening, especially in baking or when craving ice cream during the summer? Are there healthier options like brown sugar, for instance?
Sugar is composed of empty calories, providing no health benefits to the body.
Honey and maple syrup are comprised of 80% sugar and 20% water.
Stevia, a vegetable sweetener, is calorie-free.
Xylitol, derived from wood and known as birch sugar, has approximately 40% fewer calories than table sugar and offers protection against tooth decay.
Reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet allows your taste buds to quickly adapt to new flavors.
Brown sugar does contain slightly more minerals than white refined sugar. However, the the difference is minimal, and it does not offer any significant health advantage.
Silke Neumann: When you scrutinize brown sugar in the laboratory, you will find it has a slightly higher mineral content compared to white refined sugar. However, the difference is so negligible that you would need to consume an excessive amount of sugar, negating any potential health advantage from the additional minerals. Therefore, opting for brown sugar over white does not make sense – it is equally unhealthy and offers no real health benefits. Despite its appearance, sugar is sugar.
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: What about other, perhaps more plant-based alternatives, like honey?
Silke Neumann: Honey is of animal origin.
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: Right, I was thinking of maple syrup. But let us discuss honey first, as it is an animal-derived sweetener.
Silke Neumann: Honey is essentially a sugar mixture – different types of sugar liquefied with water to give it a flowing consistence. In essence, honey is 80% sugar and 20% water. Therefore, it does not differ significantly from regular white household sugar in terms of calorie content and health benefits; it is just in liquid form and has a distinct taste.
There are subtle differences, but in reality, there is no significant health advantage between maple syrup, honey and sugar.
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: Are there any other substances in honey besides sugar and water?
Silke Neumann: Similar to brown sugar, there are additional substances in honey that are used in naturopathy for wound healing, etc. However, to derive health benefits from these substances by consuming honey, you would need to consume such large quantities that any potential advantages are outweighed by the sugar content, leading to weight gain.
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: We previously discussed vegetable sugars, such as maple syrup or agave syrup.
Silke Neumann: Yes, or rice syrup, etc. In essence, they are no different from honey – a combination of various sugars with water. Overall, it all boils down to sugar plus water. While there are subtle differences, there is not a significant health advantage between maple syrup, honey, and sugar.
Stevia and xylitol are genuine sugar alternatives, with the added benefit that xylitol also provides protection against cavities!
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: I will persist with the question: How about sweeteners; are they a better option?
Silke Neumann: It depends on the type of sweetener you choose. Synthetic sweeteners found in light products, such as diet cola, are not really recommended. They are purely synthetic and are excreted in the same form as they are ingested. Not advisable.
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: Is there anything that tastes sweet but is perhaps not so unhealthy? Any recommendations for those who want sweetness without sugar in their tea?
Silke Neumann: Stevia, for example. Stevia is derived from the leaves of the stevia plant, available at garden centers. These leaves taste exceptionally sweet, and the extract from them is what we commonly call stevia. It possesses an incredible sweetening power, requiring very little quantity. It is often sold with fillers to balance the sweetness when added to tea, preventing it from tasting excessively sweet and, consequently, bitter or metallic. Stevia is a natural sweetener with zero calories and poses no issues with weight gain.
Another option is xylitol, commonly known as birch sugar because it can be derived from wood, usually birch wood. Although it may sound unusual, it is processed into a sugar alternative through an industrial manufacturing process. Xylitol has a sweet taste and contains about 40% fewer calories than regular household sugar. The notable advantage is that it is tooth-friendly, not contributing to tooth decay like sugar, honey, or other sugar blends. While it may not be a drastic calorie saver, it stands out for its health benefits, including dental protection, lower calorie content, and natural origin from wood.
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: Well, that is intriguing! You mentioned finding stevia in many supermarkets and xylitol in health food stores.
Silke Neumann: Experimenting with different sugar alternatives in various foods is key. Some individuals may not prefer stevia in coffee but find it suitable for desserts and tea. It is essential to explore and not discard an alternative after the first try. Gradually reducing sugar intake is also an option.
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: And there is good news too, as it often feels like you are sacrificing a lot. You mentioned previously that you can also adapt to consuming less sugar.
Silke Neumann: Absolutely, your taste buds can be trained through consistent exposure. If you are accustomed to overly sweet things due to excessive sugar use, unsweetened tea might initially be unappealing. However, by consistently exposing yourself to this new taste – drinking unsweetened tea every day over an extended period – your taste buds adjust to the new norm. Once you have trained your palate, sweetened tea that was once considered normal might now taste overly sweet. You can gradually reduce or eliminate sugar – there might be a short adjustment period of a week or ten days, depending on consistency – but eventually, you will develop a preference for less sweet flavors.
Dr. Nadine Rohloff: That is an interesting possibility. I have tried stevia ice cream, for instance, and it is delightful without any guilt. After all, eating should be enjoyable.
Silke Neumann: Experimenting with sugar substitutes in baking is worthwhile. There is a learning curve since they do not have the same volume and weight as sugar, but it is entirely possible to enjoy sweet treats without traditional sugar if desired.
Nadine Rohloff, MD: Very insightful. A great closing note! Thank you, Silke.
- Interview with Silke Neumann about Superfoods - 19. November 2023
- Interview with Silke Neumann about Healthy Sugar Alternatives - 18. November 2023