By Dr Joe
What are the best sugar substitutes? Let me point you in the right direction, because there are so many sugar substitutes around that it’s easy to get wrapped up in all the confusion.
That’s the main goal of this page. 5 substitutes to choose from. Not just the best sugar substitutes but the best natural substitutes that are blood sugar friendly.
And I would keep it simple. I will show you 5 natural sugar substitutes that you can use safely. These 5 natural sugar substitutes have a good metabolic profile.
- These natural sugar substitutes will not spike your blood sugar when consume them.
- These natural sugar substitutes will not spike your insulin levels when you consume them.
- These natural sugar substitutes will not increase your calorie intake when you consume them.
Why do we need sugar substitutes?
Another way to paraphrase that question is: why is sugar bad for you?
The reasons are plentiful. Probably a list that is long enough to constitute a subject for a book.
Indeed, below is a book titled ‘Pure White and Deadly’, you should get a copy of. Written by John Yudkin, it is a sweet outline (pun intended) of why this much loved white substance can turn our lives bitter. And it has been ruining lives ever since its discovery…quietly.
That we are facing an obesity crisis is not in question. If you have doubts, just look around you the next time you visit your high street or the shopping mall. Guess what the average BMI is when you look around you.
The consequences of obesity are not pleasant as you already know. Consumption of highly processed foods contributes to this obesity crisis.
Why…because ultra-processed foods have their glycemic index altered favouring a spike in blood glucose concentration and a consequential insulin spike.
Another cause of obesity is the over-consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages across all age groups. The problem is, children are already being afflicted with this malady. This has potential health implications for healthcare delivery in the years to come.
I know you love your sugar. It tastes so sweet and therefore sweetens everything for you but sugar is one of the worst things to be ever invented.
Sugar does nothing other than cause you metabolic problems, both immediate and in the long term.
Worst still, sugar is addictive. Maybe not as addictive as cocaine but it stimulates the same pleasure centres in the brain to make us feel good and crave it some more.
Sugar is just that. Sugar. Sugar has no vitamins. Sugar has no minerals. All it’s got is taste and calories.
Sugar has a tendency to make you overeat dosing up on more calories than you need. Sugar has a huge influence on the interplay of hormones that affect weight management.
Sugar is the biggest player in hedonic eating. In the years gone by, hunger and the need to eat was driven by the need for calories i.e energy needs. Today, the picture is entirely different. Food consumption, it would appear, is now driven by the need for pleasure as opposed to the need for calories.
That in essence is hedonic hunger.
And the principal driver for hedonic hunger and hedonic eating is sugar. There’s so much food available for us to consume these days and food manufacturers have been very manipulative. In hedonic eating, satiety plays a second fiddle to desire. We become more responsive to food cues on account of prior priming by sugar.
Food manufacturers optimize their foods for taste and what do they use? Sugar.
Sugar makes food palatable, hence you see added sugar in practically every processed food out there.
So much about what sugar does. But I wanted to point out why avoiding sugar is crucial to your weight loss efforts. Not just weight loss but weight maintenance. Need I say, your overall health too.
With that in mind, let’s now turn our attention to healthier alternatives to sugar. If I am asking you to avoid sugar, then it will be nice to have a fall-back position.
Products you can use that provide the same level of sweetness without the baggage of sucrose, your regular table sugar.
So, what are the best natural sugar substitutes?
Let me present to you the 5 of the best natural sugar substitutes you will ever lay your hands on. Choose any of these and you will be fine.
The sunflower family has the pleasure of providing us with this awesome plant called Stevia Rebaudiana. A wild plant indigenous to the people of Brazil and Paraguay.
These indigenous people have always used the stevia plant for a variety of medicinal and culinary purposes. Lately, however, the Chinese have taken over the growing and extraction of the stevia sugar substitute from this plant as its commercial potential has grown and grown.
The sweet compounds, the bit sold to us, are actually called stevia glycosides. These are extracted by a process involving a lot of steps inclusive of cold-pressing, decolouring and bleaching.
The most popular stevia glycosides are stevioside and rebaudioside A. These 2 stevia glycosides have different tastes.
Stevioside does appear to give you more than sweetness when consumed than rebaudioside A glycoside.
Stevia does have other beneficial effects on health according to a number of studies. Well, after all those South Americans have been using it for medicinal purposes for centuries.
So, it’s worth investigating, if you ask me. And some scientists did just that.
It also does look like, supplementing your food with Stevia according to this study will yield you a better glycemic control from your meal. This is particularly useful, if you have type 2 diabetes because that study was actually carried out on type 2 diabetics.
A lot of the Stevia products tend to have varying amounts of stevioside and rebaudioside A in different proportions, although some will contain just one single compound.
This usually accounts for difference in taste depending on the brand. Some stevia products do leave an after-taste which can be off-putting for some people. But I have also had stevia products without after-taste which is a lot more appealing.
If you do want a natural sugar substitute product that has additional health benefits, then Stevia is certainly a contender. Stevia is available in liquid form, granulated or powder form.
Stevia has a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) certification so long as daily consumption does not exceed 4mg per kg body weight.
Discovered way back in 1848 by Scottish scientist, John Stenhouse. Erythritol occurs naturally in some fruits and other fermented foods. Erythritol is one of the sugar alcohols because it is made commercially by fermenting glucose with yeast.
Even though most of the erythritol when consumed gets absorbed into the bloodstream, erythritol will not raise your blood sugar. Instead erythritol goes through to the kidneys where it gets excreted in urine.
This is because our bodies do not have the enzymes necessary to break down erythritol, hence it passes through our body unchanged.
Only about 10% of consumed erythritol goes through to the large bowel and even then erythritol does not appear to be fermentable in the large bowel by gut bacteria.
This is particularly important in the sense that you are unlikely going to develop flatulence by consuming erythritol.
Erythritol will not raise your blood sugar, blood triglycerides or insulin levels, as the majority of it (90%) is absorbed and excreted from the body unchanged.
This gives you confidence that consuming erythritol will not add to your energy intake for the day.
This qualifies erythritol as a low-energy natural sugar substitute as the available energy of erythritol in human is less than 1.7 kJ/g (0.4 kcal/g).
The low energy effect of erythritol was demonstrated in this study which demonstrated no effect on body weight and also no effect on blood pressure. In that study participants did not have any bowel side effects from using erythritol.
From all of the above, Erythritol is suitable not just for non-diabetics but also a good natural sugar substitute for diabetics.
I personally use erythritol and have found it very satisfying.
Grown in the Peruvian mountains, yacon syrup is made from the plant Smallanthus sonchifolius. The Peruvians have yacon as part of their diet and if Dr Oz’s claim is anything to go by, you could get more from yacon syrup than sweetness.
The texture is similar to molasses and in that Dr Oz’s video, the claim is that Yacon syrup has only 7 calories per teaspoon (1.3 calories/gm of the syrup).
Yes, yacon syrup has calories but the calorific value of Yacon is low enough for it to be considered a viable low-calorie sugar substitute.
This 4-month study on pre-menopausal obese women with lipid dysfunction appear to show that yacon syrup could well be good for weight loss.
What? A natural sugar substitute that can actually facilitate weight loss? Well, that’s the finding from that study.
The study appears to show that yacon syrup can help you lose body fat as shown by the reduction in waist circumference. Yacon syrup also reduces your fasting blood insulin level but no direct effect on blood sugar reduction.
Yacon syrup may be good for reducing bad cholesterol (LDL Cholesterol) too.
Daily consumption though may have gastro-intestinal side effect of increasing frequency of defaecation. That could be a good thing if you are someone who suffers from constipation.
The active ingredient in yacon syrup is fructo-oligosaccharide which has been shown to be effective in regulating satiety through its effect on appetite hormones, like ghrelin.
With this in mind, yacon syrup may be a good natural sugar substitute in both diabetics and non-diabetics.
For some reason, xylitol is being marketed as a product for prevention of tooth decay. In truth, all sugar substitutes are not fermentable by bacteria on the tooth, in particular, bacteria on the dental plaque.
Xylitol goes a step further. Xylitol actually prevents the bacteria from sticking onto the tooth in the first place. By this very characteristic, xylitol prevents plaque formation which is a precursor to tooth decay.
Xylitol appears to form a thin coating film around the tooth protecting the tooth from bacterial invasion. This prevents plaque formation and by extension prevents tooth decay too.
Hence xylitol has become one of the commonest sugar substitutes used in chewing gums.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Xylitol is found in some fruits and vegetables but mainly in corn and birch wood trees. Xylitol was my natural sugar substitute of choice for a long time until I discovered erythritol.
One reason for my switch to erythritol was the fact that xylitol has 40% fewer calories compared to natural table sugar, sucrose. That equates to 2.4 calories per gram of xylitol. Erythritol in comparison has much less. 0.4 calories/gm to be precise.
Xylitol has minimal effect on blood sugar though. Xylitol has a glycemic index of 10 and corresponding effect insulin levels.
About 50% of xylitol is absorbed. On this account, xylitol may cause gastro-intestinal upset in the form of diarrhoea, flatulence and bloating.
Monk fruit appears to be a popular natural sugar substitute in both the US and Australia. It is yet to be approved for use in Europe as at the time of writing.
Monk fruit extract called Mogroside appears to have sweetness that is 280 times that of regular table sugar, sucrose.
Monk fruit product called Luo Han Guo in China is marketed as Norbu Sweetner in Australia. It still has a pending GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) certification by the Food and Drug Administration.
Monk fruit is a green fruit native to China and Thailand. Has been used in these regions for culinary delicacies in soups, herbal teas, broths and medicinal application. For instance, in China, the fruit is used for cough, sore throat and some Chinese actually use it for longevity.
Extracting the mogrosides from the monk fruit requires a lot of steps after the fruit has been de-seeded.
The process of extracting these mogrosides has been patented by Proctor & Gamble and they appear to get a substantial yield despite the presence of many potential substances that can actually interfere with the desired sweetness.
You have to be careful when you use monk fruit extract products in terms of your total energy intake for the day.
For instance, this study confirmed that monk fruit extract will not raise your blood sugar. However, study participants were found to consume more food after the satiety effect of the initial consumption of monk fruit wore off.
So overall, you could eat more food than you need to; hours after consuming monk fruit extract products.
Monk fruit extracts though do not cause gastro-intestinal upset and monk fruit products have no after-taste like Stevia. Monk fruit has no effect on calories and will not raise your blood sugar when you use it.
Because of the complex extraction mechanism involved with getting the sweet mogroside out of the monk fruit, it can be expensive to purchase.
But here’s a relatively affordable one on Amazon.com. It has got excellent reviews as well.
Hence, something you will see around you; is a hybrid of monk fruit mixed with other relatively cheaper natural sugar substitutes like stevia and erythritol. These hybrid products have been developed with the sole aim of driving down the cost and make it affordable for the end user.
In conclusion, natural sugar substitutes are great way to get your desired sweetness without upsetting your metabolic homeostatic balance.
Refined sugar is bad. Bad. Bad. Think obesity. Think heart disease. Think type 2 diabetes. Think stroke. Think even cancer.
You have no reason not to dump refined sugar now that technology allows us to have decent natural sugar substitutes made commercially available to us. Use any of these 5 natural sugar substitutes. They are the best…for now.
Suggested further reading:
3 Foods that you should STOP eating