You’ve heard it all before. Sugar is bad for you. It’s linked to heart disease and obesity, and all the problems that being overweight can cause. The problem is, it tastes amazing!
You may not know this, but your brain is hardwired to love sugar. When your taste buds tell you sugar is in your mouth, your brain gets excited. It orders the production and release of chemicals and hormones that make you feel good. This is why some people have an emotional connection to sugar.
Fortunately for you and me and other sugar lovers, you can change the wiring in your brain. Over time, if you cut back on sugar and use healthier sweetening alternatives, you don’t crave refined sugar as much.
You’ve just got to know which alternatives to use because they’re not all equal.
It may confuse you about which sugar substitute to use because they all claim to be good for you. Let’s look past manufacturers’ claims and dig up the truth about common sugar substitutes. We’ll look at both the pros and the cons so you can make an informed choice when choosing a healthy sugar substitute for you and your family.
1 – Monk Fruit
Monk fruit is a healthy sugar alternative with a glycemic index (GI) of zero. What that means is it doesn’t raise your insulin level when you eat it, as refined sugar does. The glycemic index assigns a number to indicate how quickly a food makes blood sugar levels rise. The higher the number, the faster a food spikes the sugar level in your body.
Any food with a high glycemic index can lead to unhealthy weight gain and other health problems. While monk fruit has a GI of zero, refined, processed sugar scores a whopping 70 to 80 on the GI scorecard. This is one of the factors that makes monk fruit a smart sugar alternative.
It’s a natural sweetener and has been around for hundreds of years. It’s also 150 to 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so a little goes a long way. There are many different varieties, including granules, liquids, and powders, and they’re all zero-calorie sweeteners.
On the downside, monk fruit can be expensive. You can’t find it everywhere, and some people find that this healthy sugar substitute has a little bit of an aftertaste.
2 – Stevia
This is another sugar substitute with a glycemic index of zero. Stevia comes from leaves from the Stevia Rebaudiana bush. This is another 0-calorie sugar alternative, and like monk fruit, it’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar.
You can purchase it in powder or liquid form, and it’s 100% natural. Some studies show that it can help prevent metabolic syndrome and other health issues and may even lower high blood pressure.
On the downside, eating a lot of Stevia (I mean a whole lot) could lower your blood pressure a little too much. Again, this is only if you eat a tremendous amount of Stevia consistently. You can find Stevia just about anywhere, and of course, it’s available online like the other sweeteners reviewed on this page.
3 – Erythritol
Erythritol, like Stevia and monk fruit, has a glycemic index of zero. Erythritol has an individual taste that is sort of cool and sweet. It doesn’t taste exactly like sugar, but it’s very close.
One thing to look out for with erythritol is what it’s made from. Some erythritol is made with corn, and that corn might be genetically modified. You want to steer clear of erythritol if it’s made with corn. Look for non-GMO on the label.
Another possible negative is that if you consume lots of erythritols, it can cause mild digestive issues in some people.
4 – Xylitol
This sugar alternative scores a GI of 30, so it’s much healthier than sugar in that regard. It doesn’t raise insulin levels very much, but it does have a GI score higher than the first three sugar alternatives we just covered on a mild downside.
Again, 30 is not that bad of a GI score when you consider a slice of wheat bread has a GI of 75!
On the plus side, this tastes almost the same as sugar. You’ll find that other substitutes have their own individual taste. One potential negative is that the ingredients in some xylitol aren’t that good for you. Make sure your xylitol is made with birch bark and that it is non-GMO.
5 – Molasses
Most forms of molasses, especially blackstrap molasses, have healthy antioxidants and nutrients. You get decent levels of magnesium and potassium, calcium, iron, and other vitamins and nutrients into your body.
Molasses does contain some sugar, however. Use sparingly. It’s not as unhealthy for you as refined sugar, but be aware it still contains some sugar. On the downside, not everyone likes the taste of molasses, and the consistency is ultra-thick. Molasses ring up a GI score between 50 and 55 depending on how it was manufactured.
6 – Yacon Syrup
The Yacon plant is the basis for this refined sugar substitute. The syrup is derived from the plant’s leaves, and studies have shown yacon syrup can lower high blood pressure and work well as a laxative. The GI here is 40.
One concern to mention is that some people find that regular use causes their bowel habits to change. Try in small doses at first to see if this is an issue with you. Another downside is that this natural sweetener isn’t as common as others on this list.
7 – Date Sugar
This sweetener is made by grinding whole dates down into powder form. This is a whole food sweetener and highly nutritious. Date sugar has a GI of 47, which is about in the middle of the field when you consider the scoring range is from 0 to 100. Still, this is higher than the first four sugar alternatives we cover.
7 Sugar Substitutes to Avoid
Some food manufacturers will list the following sweeteners as alternatives to refined sugar. They are substitutes, but they are far from healthy substitutes. Steer clear of the following sugar swaps.
- High fructose corn syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Agave nectar
- Sweet ‘N Low
You may be wondering why honey isn’t on that list. It tastes oh so sweet, and when you choose unfiltered, raw honey grown locally, you reduce your odds of catching that pesky cold or the flu. However, there are a lot of sugar components in honey.
Refined sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Honey is 35% glucose and 40% fructose. If you use it in minimal quantities, you’ll probably be okay, but if you’re trying to avoid unhealthy refined sugar and similar alternatives, you probably want to skip on the honey.
Sugar Alternatives – The Wrap-Up
Take a look at the sugar substitutes we just covered. Have you tried some of them? Do you already have a preference? If not, pick a few and try them. Everyone’s different, and the substitute you may love your family might like.
Experiment and you’ll no doubt find the one that’s perfect for you and for anyone, you cook or prepare meals for. Refined sugar (white table sugar) has been linked to a rather long and scary list of health problems. Going with an alternative to sugar is a great way to avoid those problems and enjoy a healthier and happier life.