Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RNIf you regularly read our blog posts and magazine articles, you’ve probably noticed that we’re about as “anti-sugar” as it gets. There are just too many solid studies showing the bad effects that eating too much sugar can have on your health.
As such, we thought we’d touch on a different (but certainly related) topic: Sweeteners that are actually safe and healthy to eat.
Let's face it - many of us just need a little bit of sweetness here and there. If this sounds like you, here are three ways to get “sweet” safely.
Ditch the Artificial SweetenersFirst things first. Don’t trade sugar for artificial sweeteners. Artificially sweetened sodas, for example, have been linked to different health problems such as metabolic syndrome and reduced kidney function.1-2
We simply don’t know enough about the long terms effects of these chemicals. Plus, these artificial sweeteners are unlike anything our bodies are used to. Here’s a list of some of the common ones to avoid:
- Acesulfame K
Sweeten Safely with Stevia
Unlike table sugar, stevia extracts have been shown to have positive health effects such as supporting healthy blood sugar levels and lowering blood pressure.3-4
You can grow stevia at home and use the whole leaves as a sweetener. But if you buy the processed stuff, use small amounts. Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than table sugar, so a little bit goes a very long way.
Sweeten Safely with XylitolXylitol is a natural compound found in fruits and vegetables. It’s NOT an artificial sweetener, as many people believe.
Xylitol has a very low glycemic index, meaning it has negligible effects on blood sugar levels, making it safe for diabetics and the rest of us.
One extra perk: xylitol is also good for your teeth. A number of studies show it actually reduces tooth decay and cavities.5 How sweet is that?
Sweeten Safer with Honey
Overall, honey has a slightly lower glycemic index than table sugar, and the human body seems to process it better. Compared to sucrose (table sugar), eating honey has been associated with lower levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone.6
Honey is mostly made of simple sugars, but it also contains complex carbohydrates, which the body burns more slowly. The type of sugars in honey differs depending on the flower it’s sourced from, with different varieties having different glycemic index values.7
So, go for the raw, unfiltered kinds when possible. The sugars in processed honey have been broken down into simple sugars, making it easier to raise blood sugar levels. Raw honey has a larger percentage of complex carbs.
What’s the final verdict on honey? Use it sparingly and go for the darker kinds (like buckwheat honey), as they contain more antioxidants.
The Bottom LineIt’s not easy to let go of sugar, but picking smart sugar substitutes can help. It just takes a little bit of creativity (and a fair amount of detective work) to find safe options that can work for you.
What’s your favorite sugar substitute? Please let us know in the comments!
- Diabetes Care. 2009 Apr;32(4):688-94.
- Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2011 Jan;6(1):160-6.
- J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2011 Apr;3(2):242-8.
- Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2000 Sep;50(3):215-20.
- J Calif Dent Assoc. 2003 Mar;31(3):205-9.
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