3 Safe Sugar Alternatives

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

If 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 Sweeteners

First 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:

  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame K
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
Now let’s move onto the good stuff!

Sweeten Safely with Stevia

Stevia has been used as a medicinal herb for over a thousand years. Its leaves impart a natural sweetness.

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 Xylitol

Xylitol 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

There is a lot of confusion about honey. Yes, it IS a healthier option than table sugar, but it’s not risk-free. Diabetics need to be careful when using it.

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 Line

It’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!

References:

  1. Diabetes Care. 2009 Apr;32(4):688-94.
  2. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2011 Jan;6(1):160-6.
  3. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2011 Apr;3(2):242-8.
  4. Br J Clin Pharmacol. 2000 Sep;50(3):215-20.
  5. J Calif Dent Assoc. 2003 Mar;31(3):205-9.

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31 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agave probably should be added to this list also as a safe alternative to sugar.

Anonymous said...

We are using stevia, coconut sugar an draw honey

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Nice picks!

Anonymous said...

Agave is generally contraindicated as a so-called "safe" alternative to sucrose (table sugar). Sucrose contains 50% glucose, (the "sugar of life" used directly by the cells of the body as energy), and 50% fructose, (which must be processed first by the liver before it can be utilized by the body). Agave syrup, however, is a highly-processed product, and it contains 80% fructose on average. This places a much higher workload on the liver, and constitutes a product that is no better than high fructose corn syrup, but slightly better than pure crystalline fructose.

Anonymous said...

Agave is NOT a safe alternative to sugar. It contains more fructose than high fructose corn syrup. A study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation suggested that consuming fructose may be less healthy than consuming similar amounts of glucose. Study participants who consumed fructose were found to gain more unhealthy visceral fat, were more insulin-resistant, and were at greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Agave has about 60 calories per tablespoon, compared to 40 calories for the same amount of table sugar.

Carol Jones said...

When buying stevia, look for a product that does not contain wood pulp (cellulose) or other fillers. It may cost a little more, but you will use way less. The commercially popular brands like Tru-via contain fillers. We use Better Stevia. It's organic and is only stevia extract. No fillers. You can order a HUGE jar online which will last forever and is very economical, compared to the cost in most health food stores.

Anonymous said...

What about dextrose I use it to bake as its pure glucose

Kristi said...

What about the stuff made from monk fruit? Is it a good alternative?

Patty Anderson said...

I use real maple syrup that my husband taps from our Manitoba Maples in our yard for my porridge in the morning. I use raw honey at night for my tea. I usually don't need any other sugars during the day,

Life Extension said...

Margaret Gardiner - We're keeping our eye out on coconut sugar! It's gained a lot of popularity recently. :-)

Life Extension said...

Carol Jones - Thanks for your input!

Life Extension said...


Anonymous - Dextrose has a very high glycemic index score, so it has the potential to pike your blood sugar levels. Use this sparingly as with table sugar. You may want to look into baking with coconut sugar.

Life Extension said...

Kristi - Yes, monk fruit is a good alternative. :-)

Life Extension said...

Patty Anderson - That is amazing- maple syrup from your own trees!

Anonymous said...

why is no one elaborating on the raw organic coconut sugar...the taste is almost exactly like sugar but very low on the glycemic index...I want to know the downside...

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - We haven't seen enough research to know the pros and cons of coconut sugar. According to one report, it has a glycemic index of 35, which is low. But some diabetics claim to have glucose spikes when they use it. We saw one report stating it has a high amount of sucrose (which is a main ingredient in table sugar). There is some information suggesting it has minerals and inulin, a prebiotic fiber that is good for healthy gut bacteria. We're definitely keeping an eye on coconut sugar.

Anonymous said...

What about demarara and turbinado?

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Turbinado and demerara sugar are still sugar. They're a little less processed, making them a tad better than white table sugar but overall they should be limited.

andreafrankel said...

Agave is not particularly healthy - yes, it has a low GI, but that's because it is 80% fructose (FYI: HFCS is 67% fructose). Fructose doesn't turn into glucose in the body (glucose = blood sugar); instead, the liver converts it to triglycerides (aka fat). Too much fructose will cause spikes in your triglycerides, which is not good.

One that hasn't been mentioned yet is erythritol. It is as natural as xylitol, and occurs naturally in pears and melons AND it is the only sugar alcohol or polyol that DOESN'T cause gastric distress! I have to be careful with xylitol (I chew xylitol gum and use a xylitol maple-flavored syrup on my low-carb pancakes ;), but erythritol doesn't bother me. A few years ago, I found college-level coursework online from a midwest University's Food Sciences course, which had a table of the sugar alcohols and their relative laxative effect. Arbitrarily assigning maltilol a 100, erythritol was around a 1 or 2. My favorite sweetener is the Steviva brand blend, a mixture of erythritol and white stevioside that is twice as sweet as sugar and perfect for baking or general sweetening.

Anonymous said...

Should folks with ragweed allergies stay away from stevia?

Anonymous said...

I use stevia, xylitol and erythitol almost exclusively. In our household, we have one diabetic and 4 that are deperately trying to improve health, and reduce weight and fat stores in our bodies and our research makes these our best alternatives. We still use these in moderation as we are working to reduce our desires/cravings for sweets.

Life Extension said...

andreafrankel - Excellent points! Thank you for mentioning agave extract. People need to exercise caution with this sweetener, as it is mostly fructose. And yes, erythritol is a healthy sweetener as well.

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - They stem from the same family (stevia and ragweed) so there may be a risk of cross-reactivity. Talk to your doctor about trying stevia and under his/her close supervision.

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Your household is on the right track!

Anonymous said...

Glucose, Dextrose, Fructose, Sucrose, Maltose, Lactose etc. are sugar. Mostly avoiding them has huge benefits for people with metabolic syndrome, and/or hypoglycemia, and/or trying to lose weight. Any food containing large amounts of them will have the same negative effects.

Anonymous said...

What are the "fillers" in Truvia....I was under the impression Truvia was from the same Stevia plant...just from the newest growth/baby leaves...Please correct my thinking..... LWC

Anonymous said...

Have you done any research on Yocan syrup?

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - Truvia is a combination of stevia extract and a sugar alcohol.

Life Extension said...

Anonymous - We've seen some info on Yacon syrup. Apparently it helps to regulate insulin levels, so yes this may be another option to sweeten foods. However, we'd use it in moderation as it contains a good amount of fructose (35% according to one source).

Anonymous said...

Organic stevia

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