By: Kim Rain
Sugar has been considered one of the most addictive substances known to humans, and with good reason. Sugar consumption spikes dopamine levels in the brain, which causes you to crave more of this substance that can hurt your liver and impairs brain function. Too much sugar, particularly white sugar, can also lead to diabetes, cancer, or worse. The American Heart Association has recommended reducing our sugar intake — no more than 6 teaspoons a day for women, and 9 teaspoons for men. But how do we do? Horribly! The USDA has estimated that the average American consumed 52 teaspoons daily, or 152 pounds a year. Finding a substitute for the sweet stuff has become big business, as concerns for glucose levels and weight gain have become a top priority for many consumers.
Most sugar substitutes work by reducing calorie intake, while helping to control blood sugar and weight gain. Controversy surrounds many sugar free artificial sweeteners, such as saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose, and conflicting opinions of serious health issues resulting from their use can scare consumers. Thankfully, there are some newer products on the market that claim to be all natural alternatives, with less harmful ingredients. But is this really true? Let’s look at a few of them to see if they can live up to their claims.
Stevia, the Calorie-Free, Blood Sugar-Friendly Natural Substitute
First up is Stevia, or stevia rebaudiana, a plant native to Central and South America that can be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Available under many brand names, like Truvia and Pure Via, it is easily substituted for sugar, is calorie free, and studies have shown it to have no effect on raising blood sugar levels . The FDA has had mixed reviews though, approving some forms of it, but not others. Side effects reported have included nausea and joint pain, but it isn’t quite clear if they are from the stevia itself, or its additives. Most Stevia products contain other compounds, such as sugar alcohols like erythritol, which need to be taken into consideration. Overall, it seems like Stevia is a healthier alternative to sugar, but only long term use can tell us for sure, as not enough scientific evidence has been collected to confirm or deny claims.
The chemically altered carbohydrates Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols, such as erythritol and xylitol, provide fewer calories and affect blood sugar levels less than sugar . Being neither sugar nor alcohol, they are chemically altered carbohydrates from plants such as fruits. Sugar alcohols are harder to digest, and are not completely absorbed by the body, which is why they don’t affect blood sugar and have become popular in sugar-free foods. It is also the reason for their laxative effect, causing symptoms like cramps and diarrhea. So far, they seem a valuable alternative, as long as you limit your intake to prevent those digestive issues. However, as a sugar substitute for your home, sugar alcohols fall short since they are mainly used in highly processed foods, and are not readily available for use in your own kitchen.
Natural Alternative Sweetener Coconut sugar
Sugar alcohols, or coconut palm sugar, is made from the sap of the coconut tree, and manufacturers have claimed it is better for blood sugar because of its low glycemic index. It can be used as a complete substitute for white sugar, from a table sweetener to baking. Even Dr. Oz has heralded its benefits as a way to lose weight, receive some vitamins and nutrients, and prevent blood sugar crashes.
Sounds too good to be true? It may be. The problem lies in the fact that coconut sugar is identical to sugarcane in calories and carbohydrates, and is sometimes even mixed with sugar. The nutrients provided aren’t significant enough to be noticeable in a teaspoon or two. And since GI index varies significantly between people and preparations, is it not yet clear how accurate that claim is. So what’s the verdict? As far as being a substitute for sugar goes, it looks like coconut sugar is the same as regular sugar, and should be limited as such.
The Sugar Substitute Monk Fruit, or Luo Han Guo
Our last contender is Monk Fruit, or Luo Han Guo, a gourd named after the Chinese monks who cultivated it over 800 years ago. It is unique in that its sweetness comes from an antioxidant that can be 100-250 times sweeter than sugar. It seems to be the most promising substitute out right now, as studies are showing it to have anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anticancer, and antidiabetic properties. Research on mice by Dr. Qi and his colleagues has indicated that it can reduce glucose levels and increase HDL.
Sure, you also need a sensible diet and exercise program to attain general good health and to avoid or control diabetes and other conditions associated with high sugar intake. But as far as healthy natural substitutes for white sugar go, it seems that the trophy goes to the monk fruit. With zero calories and no adverse effects yet reported, Monk Fruit seems to beat the others. It is FDA approved, deemed safe for use in everyone, and can be used in place of sugar for just about everything.
And luckily for us, it’s easily found in that pesky sugar aisle.
What’s your favorite sweetener or sugar substitute? Be sure to leave a comment.
About the Author
A freelance writer, Kim Rain is a trained Hypnotherapist, vegetarian, her family suffers from many allergies, from gluten to soy, and beyond. So, she is no stranger to eating for health, and loves to write stories about it, as well as some recipes.