Which Sweetener? a Romp Through the Garden of Low GI Delights

For those of us with blood sugar sensitivity, the Glycaemic Index (GI) of a sweetener is a useful guide to how much trouble we’re going to be in if we use it regularly or in larger amounts. The GI scale gives an idea of how big an impact foods that contain carbohydrate have on blood sugar. As a rule of thumb, foods with a GI of 50 or less are generally considered to be ‘low glycaemic’ though I personally try to avoid anything much over 30 unless it’s for an occasional treat. It’s a personal thing though – try things for yourself and see how they affect you.

So looking at our array of goodies, what do we pick? Let’s start with honey, that most natural of sweet treats. If your blood sugar levels are robust and you’re not a strict vegan then honey is the biz. Human beings are designed to eat it, are indeed privileged to eat it – it’s full of enzymes and other good stuff and is associated with good health and longevity. The GI varies from honey to honey but it’s generally around the 50 mark so a bit high for me in my current state but I hope one day soon to be able to enjoy it regularly. It’s worth trying to get raw local honey. It helps our immune system if the honey is made from the nectar of plants in our local area.

Speaking of nectar, what about agave nectar? There’s been some controversy about it within the raw food movement, about its GI and whether it’s raw. The agave generally available in health food shops and supermarkets isn’t raw unless it says so on the label, but the agave from Raw Living is of course raw, of high quality and has a GI of about 17 so I never worry about using it. I especially love the Ultimate Agave. It’s useful for when you need a clear, light syrup that doesn’t have a strong flavour of its own. For instance, I make a lime syrup that I use as a cordial with sparkling water to make a great summertime drink (see recipe below). I use the same syrup to drizzle over raw coconut ice cream.

Summertime Lime

For one large jugful of drink, mix •¼ cup agave nectar •Zest of one lime •Juice of half a lime (or more for a syrup with a tarty tang, ho ho) •Sprigs of mint or lemon balm if you have it

Make the syrup simply by combining the zest and juice of the lemon with the agave nectar. Put some ice cubes and a couple of sprigs of lemon balm/mint into a large jug. Pour the lime syrup over the ice and then pour a bottle of chilled sparkling water over that (Pellegrino or Perrier are nice because they’re not artificially carbonated). Give it a stir and then serve in the garden to sighs of appreciation.

Next is my favourite stuff ever, yacon syrup – it’s made from a root vegetable and is full of FOS (fructooligosaccharides, can you believe I spelled that without looking it up). This means that not only is it almost zero GI, but it’s a prebiotic ie it feeds the good bacteria in your gut not the candida. Also it has a wonderful rich molasses taste. I like the purple glass bottles Raw Living put it in. Once they’re empty, I wash them and can then be seen swigging my Adya-treated water from them all day long because I read somewhere that the colour blue gives the water good energetic vibes or something. So, just in case…anyway. Yacon flour is brilliant too if you don’t want it in syrup form. You’d use it in a similar way to Peruvian carob, another tasty natural raw powdered sweetener, though yacon flour is sweeter so you’d need to use less. Lucuma is a third contender in this category and absolutely delicious, to me it tastes like powdered apricot custard. I don’t know the GI ratings of either mesquite or lucuma though neither ever seem to give me a candida flare-up as long as I use them in moderation.

A surprise big hitter among the natural sweeteners is xylitol. I say surprise because it looks and tastes like sugar so to see it as a healthy sweetener is maybe counter-intuitive. I don’t think it’s raw (someone correct me if I’m wrong) but it is natural ie made from fermented birch bark, and it has a very low GI of only 7. It’s good to use when you need a sprinkly sweetener ie on raw pancakes, on cereal or as a coating for home made sweets and truffles. This makes it so easy to avoid using sugar, even for someone with a pathologically sweet tooth like me.

Other products worth a mention include stevia and coconut nectar. These can be harder to get hold of in this country. For instance, there is stevia extract which is zero GI, zero calories, is virtually tasteless and you only need a few drops at a time. Here’s the crazy part though – while stevia is completely safe and there’s never been any record of it causing an atom of harm to anyone, and while the UK government expresses concern at the epidemic levels of obesity and diabetes, stevia is banned for use as a sweetener in this country. Why? Well, it’s not hard to work it out. As Deep Throat said in the film ‘All the Presidents Men,’ follow the money… You can get stevia leaf powder but I find the goaty flavour off-putting. The only annoying thing for me about stevia extract is that I never know how to pronounce it. Is it STEEvia or is it STEVia to rhyme with heavier. Any academic types out there who know this? Answers on a postcard please. The coconut nectar deserves a mention, even though there’s less of it about and it has a mid-range GI of about 35 but as a truly raw product and truly yummy it’s worth considering depending on your priorities.

I feel so grateful to have access to these products because I wouldn’t be able to stay raw without them, I have to be able to feed my face with sweet-tasting goodies. I celebrate them all and hope that they gain more mainstream acceptance because heaven knows, they’re desperately needed.

You can get your hands on these super sweeteners, and loads of other raw foods and superfoods, from Raw Living!

Written by Heather Jones