Unfortunately, nearly all the acai bowls you can buy are bogged down with added beet or cane sugar.
However, the photo you see above is one we came across not here in Southern California, but rural Michigan out of all places.
The Fuel, which is in Brighton, Michigan, makes this acai bowl sweetened with a homemade organic date paste. That’s the brown syrupy stuff you see generously drizzled on top. It’s not chocolate.
Monk fruit aside, might this be the best choice?
What is the date sugar?
Date sugar is a minimally processed sweetener. It’s made by taking dried dates and grinding them into a powder. The texture is like regular sugar but more clumpy. The taste is similar to brown sugar, with hints of caramel and butterscotch.
You can substitute date sugar for granulated sugar in most recipes. The sweetness of date sugars relative to sucrose (table sugar) is slightly less; about two-thirds the amount.
If you want to achieve the same level as regular white sugar, you will need to use it in a ratio of about 1.33 to 1. For example, 1.33 cups of date sugar for a conversion of 1 cup regular sugar.
For baking white cakes or sugar cookies, where you want a neutral sweetness without a brown hue, date sugar may not be ideal. It doesn’t melt well and is naturally moist, so it clumps together.
For pies, crumbles, and more rustic cookies, date sugar works wonderfully. You can use it in smoothies, oatmeal, and mixed in with quinoa flakes for breakfast.
Fructose vs. glucose on blood sugar levels
It’s important emphasize that the glycemic index (GI) value only measures the impact of glucose on blood sugar levels. It does not measure the effect of fructose.
Fructose is primarily found in fruit, hence the name. The metabolism of fructose is different, as it takes place in the liver.
On the other hand, glucose is a usable form of energy as is. No conversion is necessary, as almost every cell in the body can metabolize it.
That’s why glucose glucose raises blood sugar fast.
Fructose does not, because it needs to be processed by the liver, which takes longer.
That’s why fruits high in fructose and low in glucose generally have a low GI.
For example, the glycemic index of raspberries is low.
While low GI sweeteners and foods are considered best for diabetics, it doesn’t mean they’re healthy in excess.
Even though fructose doesn’t spike blood sugar like glucose does, it puts added strain on the liver since that’s where it’s processed.
The metabolism leads to fat deposits forming in the liver. That’s because the liver converts excess fructose into fat deposits, through a process called lipogensis.
As a result, side effects can include higher triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and free radical production. (1)
The good news is that is with excess fructose.
In small amounts and particularly within the first hour following a workout – when your muscles are replenishing lost glycogen – one can argue that indeed, fructose is healthier than regular sugar (sucrose) and high glucose sweeteners like honey.
Date sugar glycemic index
Since date fruits are high in fructose and low in sucrose and glucose, their GI value is low. The same will hold true for sugar made from dates, as well as date syrup and paste. So far though, those sweeteners haven’t undergone GI testing.
That’s not that unusual, as not even the trendy coconut sugar has modern GI testing done on it.
Testing requires at least 10 people to volunteer, who have their blood glucose tested before, during, and throughout the two hours after eating a given food. That takes time and money.
At United Arab Emirates University, a clinical study was conducted which compared dates vs. sugar. A total of 13 healthy individuals and 10 with type 2 diabetes participated.
Each person was tested on 8 different days using 50g of glucose (done 3x) and 50g dates (done 5x).
There were 5 types of dates used; Fara’d, Lulu, Bo ma’an, Dabbas and Khalas. Not identical to Medjool or the Deglet Noor which are commonly sold in the US, Canada, and United Kingdom, but they’re very comparable.
In both the healthy and those with diabetes, the dates had a significantly lower impact on blood sugar levels.
Here are the charts of the 5 types of dates and their average impact on the 13 healthy individuals:
The GI value of honey vs. date sugar and whole dates depends on the variety. Commercial blends of honey are most common and there’s also buckwheat, Manuka, clover, and other types. Each has fructose content which can vary greatly. For a typical commercial variety of honey, the GI value will be 72 for half the serving size (25g). (6)
Blackstrap molasses, sorghum syrup, and barley malt syrup are among the few natural sweeteners which can give date syrup and powder a run for its money, in terms of having competitive GI values. Almost all of the common sweeteners for sale at the supermarket are significantly higher.
Health benefits of date sugar
In addition to having a lower GI value than most other sweeteners, dates and date sugars will have high antioxidant content.
The ORAC value of raw Deglet Nour dates is 3,895 and Medjool are 2,387. In comparison, the same weight of fresh blueberries is 4,669. Hence, dates have roughly half the antioxidant content, or greater.
Coconut sugar, agave syrup, yacon syrup, honey, and real turbinado brown sugar will have more antioxidants than white table sugar (which has none) but their levels are small to insignificant.
Dark maple syrup can have ORAC values approaching 1,500 but most varieties you buy are medium amber or light. They test in the 500 to 1,000 range. (7)
Date sugar is the highest antioxidant sweetener. Raw date paste will likely be even higher, since it’s less processed.
Since the sugar is made from pitted dates which are simply dried and ground, they remain a rich source of essential minerals like phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. There is vitamin B6.
Date paste and sugar will have noteworthy fiber content. Each pitted Medjool date contains 1.6g of fiber, which is 6% of the daily value. There is also 0.4g of protein. (8)
Since they are made to be a liquid, date syrups will have less fiber on an equal-weight comparison.
Due to rounding and selective nutrients being reported, the nutrition facts for date sugar don’t always depict the health benefits. This is the label for NOW Foods brand:
Per 2 teaspoon serving, date sugar contains 20 calories. That’s about 33% less than the same portion of white table sugar, which will be 32 calories.
While not healthy in high amounts, date sugar is healthier than white sugar. It has a lower GI value than honey, coconut sugar, and many other alternatives. It’s the highest antioxidant sweetener and remains a rich source of minerals and fiber. If you’re okay with its brown color and caramel-like flavor, you should use it in place of regular sugar in recipes.
Where to buy date sugar
It can be hard to find for sale. At Sprouts in Los Angeles, they don’t carry it. Nor did the Whole Foods we checked. You can’t buy date sugar at Walmart stores, though you can on their website.
In the US, Canada, UK, and Australia, the places which are most likely to sell date sugar tend to be the vitamin and supplement stores. Places like The Vitamin Shoppe and Holland & Barrett are places you may be able to buy it.