Looking to make a positive change to your diet, but don’t want to give up the sweet treats? Don’t worry, there are plenty of healthy alternatives to sugar that can help you stay on track with your goals. Whether you’re looking to reduce your sugar or calorie intake, trying to lose weight, hoping to cut your risk for chronic disease, or just want to switch up the way you sweeten your food and drinks, there are plenty of options out there.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the best alternatives to sugar you need to try which can help you stay healthy.
- Why You Need to Quit Sugar
- Healthy Alternatives for Sugar
- Are Sugar Substitutes Really a Healthier Option?
- 5 Best Alternatives for Sugar
- How to Choose the Best Sugar Substitute for You?
- Don’t Have Time To Read?
Why You Need to Quit Sugar
Table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which are both classified as refined sugars, are derived from natural sources such as sugar cane, beetroot, or corn. During the processing of these items, the majority of their nutritional content is lost. Refined sugar is added to many food and beverage items to sweeten them or add additional flavor.
Over the years, studies have uncovered a connection between having a diet high in processed sugar and the risk of developing ailments like Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and dental problems. Refined sugar is composed only of fructose, glucose, or sucrose, which are quickly taken up by the bloodstream and lead to a sharp increase in blood glucose. When blood sugar is consistently high, it can cause mild chronic inflammation in the body, which can be detrimental to your overall health in the long term.
In the last few years, there has been a surge in the use of healthy alternatives to sugar, such as low-calorie natural sweeteners, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. Unlike refined sugar, these substitutes do not cause a rapid increase in blood glucose levels, making them a good choice for individuals wanting to eat a nutritious diet.
Healthy Alternatives for Sugar
Nowadays, there are a lot of good substitutes for sugar that you can find in the market. Most of these substitutes can be split into two categories: nutritive and non-nutritive.
- Nutritive sweeteners are sugar substitutes that have carbohydrates and are not zero calorie. Examples include honey, coconut palm sugar, yacon syrup, dates, fruits, etc.
- Non-nutritive sweeteners are substances that taste just as sweet or even sweeter than sugar, and contain little to no calories. Examples include stevia, artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, etc.
Sweeteners can be divided into categories based on how they are acquired:
A. Natural Sweeteners and Sugar Alternatives
As the name suggests, natural sugar substitutes are obtained from natural, plant-based sources. They might undergo some processing to ensure that they are safe for human consumption. Natural sugar substitutes also have fewer or no side effects when compared to artificial sweeteners.
The following are a few examples of natural sweeteners that are commercially available:
Perhaps the most popular sugar substitute on the list, honey has been widely used for its health benefits. It is a sweet, viscous food substance produced by bees and other insects from the nectar of flowers.
Honey has about the same amount of calories as sugar, and is slightly sweeter in comparison. It can be substituted for sugar in most recipes, though it may change the texture of the end product when used in baking.
Honey is well-known for its medicinal properties in various cultures. It has trace amounts of vitamin C and B complex vitamins, and is rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial compounds, and is also known to promote wound healing. For this reason, it is considered a much healthier alternative to sugar.
Raw honey is an unprocessed form of honey that has not undergone the process of pasteurization. During the process, this raw honey is subjected to heat in order to kill the microorganisms present in it and increase the shelf life as well as the appearance of honey for marketing purposes. However, during this process, the essential antioxidants and vitamins present in honey are destroyed along with unwanted yeast and pathogens. For this reason, raw honey is considered a more nutritious and healthier option.
Studies have shown that honey can help lower your risk for heart disease, lower inflammation in your body and may contribute to weight loss when used in moderation. However, it may not be as effective in controlling Type 2 Diabetes, as the spike in blood sugar levels caused by honey and refined sugar is quite similar.
Stevia is a natural sugar substitute that is derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. The leaves contain compounds called steviol glycosides, which are responsible for the sweetness in stevia extract.
Stevia extract has zero calories and is about 50 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. This means you need very little stevia to sweeten your food compared to sugar.
However, stevia is known to have a slight bitter aftertaste. This may limit the types and number of recipes you can use it in.
Some studies have shown that stevia can help lower or stabilise blood pressure in people with hypertension, along with other health benefits like aiding in weight management and controlling Type 2 Diabetes. However, there are also some concerns about the use of raw stevia leaves or herbs, as it may be bad for your kidney, reproductive and cardiovascular health. You can avoid these concerns by using processed stevia.
3. Monk Fruit Sugar
The Siraitia grosvenorii plant, also known as monk fruit, Buddha fruit, or Luo Han Guo, is the source of this sweetening agent. It is made up of compounds, referred to as mogrosides, which give it its characteristic sweetness.
Monk fruit sweetener has zero calories and is roughly 100 to 250 times sweeter than sugar. Small quantities are sufficient to impart sweetness or flavour. It may have a slight aftertaste, which some may find unpleasant.
Monk fruit extract may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which make it beneficial for heart health. It is also beneficial for weight loss and in managing blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Monk fruit is considered to be safe for consumption and has no known side effects.
Also known as psicose, allulose is a type of natural sugar that shares similarities with glucose and fructose. It is found in small amounts in certain plants such as wheat, jackfruit, figs, and raisins.
Allulose contains 0.4 kcal per gram, as opposed to the 4 kcal per gram that white sugar has. It is around 70% as sweet as granulated sugar and its taste is nearly the same.
As compared to table sugar, allulose does not cause as much of a spike in insulin and blood glucose levels, which makes it a safer option for both diabetics and non-diabetics.
When consumed in large quantities, allulose may cause gastric side effects like stomach ache, bloating, diarrhea, etc. Experts recommend not consuming more than 0.9 g of allulose per kilogram of your body weight (for e.g., if you weigh 75 kgs, limit your intake to less than 0.9x 75 = 67.5 g) in a day.
5. Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut palm sugar has a small amount of minerals, antioxidants, and a fiber called inulin, which slows down glucose absorption into your bloodstream. For this reason, coconut sugar has a lower glycaemic index (GI) score compared to table sugar.
Coconut sugar has about as many calories as table sugar and is just as sweet. However, its lower GI score and the presence of essential nutrients make it a healthier alternative to sugar.
6. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup is slightly less sweet than table sugar. However, it consists of indigestible sugars called fructans and a fiber called inulin, which cannot be absorbed into your bloodstream. This gives it a lower GI score and calorie count when compared to sugar.
The indigestible sugars and fibre in yacon syrup are beneficial for the growth of friendly gut bacteria, which improves digestion, immunity and brain function, and lowers your risk of metabolic disorders.
Fructans can also help curb your appetite by suppressing the hunger hormone ghrelin.
Fresh or frozen, fruits are a great way to add sweetness and flavor to your food and drinks. Fruits are a much healthier alternative to refined sugar as they are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other essential nutrients.
Due to the wide variety of fruits available, they can be used as sweeteners in a variety of ways. They can be added to desserts and baked goods, used to sweeten smoothies and yogurt, or made into preserves, jams or syrups.
Fruits that are naturally high in sugar (like bananas, mangoes, papayas, dates, figs, berries, etc) can be used to sweeten recipes without adding any additional sweeteners. Fruits that are acidic in nature (like lemons and limes) can be used to add a balance of sweetness and tartness to a dish.
Regular consumption of fruits can have several benefits for your overall health. Most fruits are low in carbohydrates and calories when compared to refined sugar. Including fruits in your daily diet can lower your risk of metabolic disorders like hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, etc.
Doctors recommend eating at least 4 to 5 servings of fruit a day, and using them to sweeten your food can have the added benefit of lowering your sugar and calorie intake, while supplying your body with essential nutrients.
It is important to note that like any other food, overconsumption of fruits can lead to weight gain and a spike in your blood sugar levels.
B. Artificial Sweeteners
Sweetening agents that are made synthetically are known as artificial sweeteners. They are often used as additives in processed foods as they are cheaper and several hundred times sweeter than sugar.
Most artificial sweeteners are zero or low calorie and have little to no nutritional value, and are thus considered non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS). They are widely used as they satisfy sugar cravings much better when compared to natural sweeteners.
Several artificial sweeteners are commercially available. Some examples include aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, neotame, etc. Some artificial sweeteners may have a bitter aftertaste.
Though considered safe for consumption, some studies have suggested that regular consumption of artificial sweeteners may be associated with an increased risk of weight gain, Type 2 Diabetes, cancer, etc. However, more research is needed to understand the potential health effects of artificial sweeteners and to determine if they are truly harmful.
Some people may be sensitive to certain artificial sweeteners, and may experience symptoms such as headaches, stomach discomfort, or allergic reactions. Regular use of artificial sweeteners is also associated with an increased appetite.
C. Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are organic compounds that are derived from the fibres in fruits and vegetables. They can be natural (sorbitol and erythritol) or synthesised (mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, etc.).
Sugar alcohols are considered nutritive or low-calorie sweeteners, and are used in commercial food products along with artificial sweeteners to enhance sweetness and taste. They are not as sweet as artificial sweeteners.
They have a negligible effect on blood sugar or insulin levels and are thus considered safe for use by diabetics. Sugar alcohols are also less likely to cause tooth decay when compared to sugar. They also do not have an unpleasant aftertaste like other sweeteners.
Some people may experience digestive side effects, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea, when consuming large amounts of sugar alcohols.
Are Sugar Substitutes Really a Healthier Option?
Sugar substitutes are often marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar because they typically have fewer calories and do not raise blood sugar levels as much as regular sugar. However, whether they are actually a healthier option depends on the specific sweetener, your health status and dietary needs.
Most artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols can cause side effects like digestive issues, bloating, and imbalance in healthy gut bacteria. Long-term and excessive use of artificial sweeteners has also been associated with an increased risk of obesity, cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, brain tumours, etc.
5 Best Alternatives for Sugar
Keeping in mind all the benefits and drawbacks discussed above, we can list the following sweeteners as better and healthier alternatives to sugar:
- Monk Fruit Extract
How to Choose the Best Sugar Substitute for You?
When choosing a sugar substitute, it is important to consider the intended use, as well as any potential health effects. Natural sweeteners and sugar alcohols have a lower likelihood of causing side effects, but may be higher in calories or lower in sweetness compared to artificial sweeteners, but may not be suitable for high-temperature cooking like baking.
If you have a pre-existing health condition like diabetes or heart disease, it is best to consult a doctor before you include a sugar substitute in your diet.
Don’t Have Time To Read?
- Consuming too much refined sugar is associated with several health risks like Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, tooth decay, etc.
- Sugar substitutes are alternatives to refined sugar, and are used to sweeten your food and drinks.
- Sugar substitutes and sweeteners can help lower your calorie intake and prevent an increase in your blood sugar levels as most of them are zero or low-calorie and have little to no carbohydrates.
- Sweeteners can be divided into three categories- natural, artificial, and sugar alcohols.
- Natural sweeteners are made from plant sources. Examples include fruits, honey, stevia, monk fruit extract, allulose, coconut palm sugar, and yacon syrup.
- Artificial sweeteners are made synthetically. Examples include saccharin, sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, neotame, etc.
- Sugar alcohols are organic compounds that are obtained naturally or made synthetically. Examples include sorbitol, erythritol, xylitol, mannitol, etc.
- Natural sweeteners have the least amount of side effects and are thus considered the healthiest alternative to sugar.
- Artificial sweeteners have been associated with health risks such as digestive issues, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, cancer, etc. Thus, excessive use is not encouraged.
- Fruits, honey, monk fruit extract, stevia and xylitol are some of the best sugar substitutes available in the market.
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