Due to many consumers’ concerns about processed and refined sugars, the use of “natural sugars” is on the rise in the food industry. The term natural can be misleading, and it is used here to refer to non-conventional sugars, which include maple syrup, honey, agave sugar, date, coconut, and muscovado sugar (also known as Barbados sugar). Honey is sweeter than granulated sugar; other non-conventional sugars are less sweet. Agave sugar gained popularity in the food industry because it is more affordable than maple syrup. All these sugars can be used to replace granulated sugar, but some modifications in the baking formulas are required. For example, if granulated sugar is replaced with maple syrup or agave syrup, a baker needs to take the moisture in these sugars into account. Some manufacturers of maple syrup and agave syrup claim these sugars have a low glycemic index (GI) and antioxidant properties. Brown sugars can also be used to replace granulated sugars. These are granulated sugars that have molasses added, which is a by-product of sugar production. Brown sugar is an appropriate choice for molasses-flavoured products. Many ingredients such as berries, fruit, and purees can also be added to products to replace some sugar without significantly changing baking formulas.
Health Canada and the Canadian Diabetes Association, however, consider all sugars to be the same. Still, non-conventional sugars are preferred by many Canadians who are health conscious, want to reduce their daily sugar consumption, and prefer to consume sugars that have some nutritional properties. Recent recommendations by the World Health Organization to reduce sugar intake afford the baking industry an opportunity to not only reduce the use of granulated sugars but meet customer demand for non-conventional sugars.
Although there are many sugar substitutes available for diabetic diets, it is important to use them following the manufacturers’ guidelines as some exceed the sweetness of granulated sugars. Sugar substitutes are considered to be additives and many can pose health risks if consumed in high amounts. Government guidelines must be adhered to in order to declare a food product sugar free. Nutritious food products can be produced for diabetic diets when wholesome ingredients that have a low glycemic index are used. It is important, however, to list all ingredients in such products as well as those in any food products intended for people with dietary restrictions.