Healthy Sugar Substitutes: What to Use and What to Skip
Did you know the average American consumes 71.14 grams or 17 teaspoons of sugar per day? Women are supposed to consume only 25 grams of sugar per day. While men should aim for 38 grams per day.
Consuming such high amounts of added sugar increases your risk for a variety of health problems:
- High blood pressure
Artificial sweeteners like Splenda, Sweet’ n Low, and Equal are unhealthy. The non-nutritive sweetener, Sweet One, is known to increase appetite, sweet cravings, and weight gain. While you don’t need to cut out sugar from your diet completely, there are some types of sweeteners you should limit. Here’s what you need to know!
What is Sugar?
There are two main types of sugar:
- Natural sugar – found in foods such as fruit and milk
- Added sugar – such as regular table sugar that does not occur naturally
Natural sugar is consumed daily by eating whole foods, which also provide macronutrients and micronutrients along with the sugar.
This is important to know because added sugar is often added to foods that don’t provide nutritional value. Added sugar becomes very addictive and disrupts hormone function. It even influences hormones like dopamine, ghrelin, and leptin.
Ghrelin and leptin control hunger, while dopamine influences mental and emotional responses. Increases in ghrelin make you feel hungry. In addition to hunger, it stimulates dopamine production. This hormone is known as the happy hormone and is the same hormone that addictive drugs affect.
How is Sugar Made?
Sugar is created by refining and processing sugar cane or beets. Granulated sugar is pure sucrose and naturally white. When it is extracted from the plant is originally a golden color. Once the fibers and molasses are removed from the sugar, it becomes white.
Simple sugars are known as monosaccharides. These sugars are glucose, fructose, and galactose, which occur in fruit and maple syrup. Double sugars are disaccharides like sucrose, lactose, and maltose. These consist of two monosaccharides. And lastly, polysaccharides are many chains of monosaccharides like cellulose, starch, and glycogen.
It is important to know if white sugar is added to foods or if it naturally occurs. You want to obtain vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber along with the sugar you eat. Foods like raw honey and fruit are forms of natural sugar that provide nutritional value.
Sugars such as brown sugar, monk fruit sweetener, and agave are made differently. Brown sugar is made by adding cane sugar molasses to white sugar. Monk fruit extract actually comes from fruit. And agave comes from blue agave plants.
Artificial sweeteners are at least 200 times sweeter than natural sugar and table sugar. You can expect most artificial sweeteners to contain sucralose, corn syrup, and saccharin ingredients. These ingredients increase your tolerance for sweet tastes. This leads to fewer cravings for nutritious foods. Choosing sugar substitutes that don’t have these ingredients is vital to one's health.
Whole foods that are high in natural sugar come packed with nutrients. They have a low glycemic index and do not spike blood glucose levels. But refined sugar quickly increases blood glucose and spikes insulin levels. Using a healthy sugar substitute can help you keep a balanced diet.
Check out these additional key aspects to controlling sugar-related diseases like diabetes.
Xylitol is a sugar alternative that looks like and tastes like refined sugar. This sweetener has fewer calories than regular sugar and a lower glycemic index. This means it does not spike blood glucose levels as much.
The sugar alcohol content present in this sweetener activates enzymes in the mouth. The sugar alcohols and enzymes help produce a sweeter taste. These are not digested by the body but safely pass through without causing damage.
This sugar substitute is a healthier alternative to stabilize insulin levels. It does not contain fructose but is found in fruits and vegetables.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol derived from corn. It is a sugar-free sweetener containing fewer calories than Xylitol. It is made up of dextrose and found in fruit and fermented food. Grapes and peaches contain erythritol. And when beer and cheese ferment, erythritol is made.
As with other sugar alternatives, it has been deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The calorie count in white sugar is 4 calories per gram. Erythritol only has 0.24 calories per gram. Since it has essentially 0 calories it digests quickly and is not used for energy.
Unlike other sweeteners, Stevia is a natural sweetener. It comes from a plant and barely raises blood sugar levels. It is used as a healthy alternative to added sugar that's found in many drinks and desserts. Use it in small amounts because it is more than 200 times sweeter than refined sugar.
Many diet soda products have started using Stevia. This eliminates aspartame and regular sugar from one’s diet. As you replace regular sugar with natural sugar substitutes, you encourage a lower-calorie diet.
This syrup is an all-natural sweetener commonly used for gut health. It is a sugar alternative to agave nectar syrup and other less healthy artificial sweeteners. It contains prebiotics that feed probiotics in the digestive tract and stomach, which helps combat bad bacteria in the body.
This sugar occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables. It contains high amounts of antioxidants and potassium, giving it many health benefits over white sugar.
Avoid Consuming Too Much Sugar
Too much added, refined sugar causes the body to work harder. It creates an environment of stress and inflammation. The body does not need sugars that come in processed foods and drinks.
To fight inflammation in the body, try incorporating some of these foods. Also, decrease your sugar intake by eliminating soft drinks, fruit juices, candy, cakes, cookies, and syrups from your diet.
Whole foods fuel the body with natural sugar and provide sustainable energy. The body is made to breakdown and digest carbohydrates at a steady pace. Eating food with natural sugar is the best way to consume sugar. Using healthy sugar substitutes can decrease your risk of:
- Weight gain
- Heart disease
- Liver problems
Help clients achieve optimal health through an effective nutrition plan. Learn how to prescribe the right food sources to each client by taking the ISSA’s Nutrition course.
ISSA’s Specialist in Sports Nutrition (SSN) program prepares personal trainers to expand their practices into the specialized area of sports nutrition. Trainers learn how to optimize client performance by combining well-designed training programs with performance nutrition.
Please note: The information provided in this course is for general educational purposes only. The material is not a substitute for consultation with a healthcare provider regarding particular medical conditions and needs. Be sure to check the statutes in your state regarding the nutrition information that non-licensed individuals are able to dispense.