Large amounts of sugar are not good for us, but we still need sugar to function. Carbohydrates give our body energy and our brains are also major consumers of glucose. But which sugar should we choose when we want to make something sweeter? Honey, maple syrup or agave syrup? Journalist Eva Kestemont finds out.
The average supermarket today contains more than 8,000 products. Do you sometimes get lost in there? Dan guides journalist Eva Kestemont you in the Nutrition Facts section. She gives a clear answer to all your food questions that surprise you in the store.
To answer that question, you first need to know that your body doesn’t distinguish between different sources of sugar. Your body digests the sugar in a lump, in honey, in fruit or in a cookie in the same way. The question we will answer here is not so much about the sugar itself, but about the packaging it comes in.
The hard work of honey bees produces a tasty natural product that consists of 20 percent water and 80 percent glucose and fructose, or sugar. In addition, the sweet stuff also contains some vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes. A lot of research has been done, but few health claims can be made about honey, except that it helps a little against coughing.
Agave syrup has long been portrayed as the healthier choice, but unfortunately it is not that simple
Moreover, honey is a product that is often tampered with. Nearly half of the honey sold in Europe does not contain what the label promises. Imported ‘honey’ in particular often appears to have been diluted with cheaper sugar syrup.
Today you can also find a vegan honey substitute in many supermarkets. But such products have nothing to do with honey. More often it is a mixture of a cheap sugar syrup (for example based on tapioca, the flour of the cassava root), seasonings and a coloring agent.
Maple syrup usually comes from Canada and is made from the sweet sap of the maple tree. There are three types of grades of maple syrup on the market. Class A is harvested early in the season and produces a light color and mild taste. Class C is much darker and tastes more like caramel.
The boiled and filtered syrup consists of water and three different sugars: sucrose, glucose and fructose. Like honey, it also contains a number of minerals and antioxidants. But here too: no evidence has yet been found for the many health claims circulating about maple syrup.
Agave syrup is the boiled sap of agave plants and often comes from Mexico. The precise composition depends on the type of agave used, but this syrup usually contains a lot of fructose. This makes the stuff sweeter than table sugar, but at the same time provides a lower glycemic index. This is a figure that shows how quickly carbohydrates are absorbed into your blood. The slower and the lower the glycemic index, the better.
Also compared to honey and maple syrup, the glycemic index of agave syrup is rather low. As a result, agave syrup has long been portrayed as the healthier choice, but unfortunately it is not that simple: a lot of fructose can also be harmful to the liver.
Our own Belgian soil also has a lot of sweets on offer
Home grown: apple and pear syrup
You don’t always have to go to Canada or Mexico for sugar alternatives: our own Belgian soil also has a lot of sweets on offer. Apple or pear syrup is often less caloric than sugar and honey, and contains several antioxidants and minerals such as iron, and even some fiber. These are also sugar-rich products that are best used in moderation.
And what about regular sugar?
Regular sugar is often a bit higher in calories than honey or syrups, because these liquid products also partly consist of water. The glycemic index of regular sugar is also slightly higher, which causes blood sugar levels to peak faster. Regular table sugar is therefore slightly unhealthier than the alternatives mentioned above.
Unfortunately, the fact that table sugar is unhealthier does not make honey, syrup and molasses healthy. Use them especially if you like them, but know that the choice between one sugar source and another will not make the difference. Above all, remember that healthy eating is about much more than one product. Too much of anything is never a good idea, variety is the basis of a healthy diet and the less processed, the better. One more suggestion for your pancake: maybe just top it with banana?
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