Sugar Substitutes: The Best Natural Sweeteners
Let’s face it…there’s sugar in everything these days. There’s the obvious; soda, breakfast cereals, etc. But what about the places you aren’t looking? Sugar shows up in many forms. If you’re a label reader, anything that has the words sucrose, glucose, or fructose; those are all different forms of sugar. There are certainly differences among them (and even more subtleties when you break them down further). Also know that foods like white flour are simple carbohydrates, and the body treats them just like sugar. There’s also naturally-occurring sugar in fruit. That’s called fructose, and while it’s better for you than refined sucrose (table sugar), it’s still sugar. So, what do you do if you’re looking to get as little sugar as possible? Here are a few sugar substitutes I’d recommend if you’re needing a little boost of sweetness.
Stevia. Stevia is derived from the leaf of the stevia plant. It’s native to South America, where people there have used it for hundreds of years as both a sugar substitute and a natural medicine. You can find it in many common grocery stores under both the name Stevia and brands like Trulia. Some reports are suggestion that Stevia has a positive effect on blood pressure and blood sugar, although the results are still mixed. For now, Stevia is still in good standing with the medical and nutritional community.
- Organic Raw Honey. Considered a superfood, raw honey is a natural source of sugar. It’s also full of antioxidants, natural enzymes, and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, potassium, chromium, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, manganese and selenium. That said, it’s very high in fructose (53%) and does have an effect on blood sugar. Use in moderation.
- Organic Blackstrap Molasses. Not as commonly used as honey, molasses is a byproduct of when sugar is processed. It’s also a terrific source of iron, copper, potassium, and more. But like honey, it does spike your blood sugar, so be careful with it.
- Sugar Alcohols. Maltitol. Xylitol. Mannitol. Erythritol. These are more or less different versions of the same thing. They’re supposed to just pass through the body without affecting blood sugar. But many people report stomach cramps and other gastrointestinal orders after use…to the point where they now have a warning label on food products that contain sugar alcohols. That said, I’ve eaten plenty of things with maltitol. As one of the sugar substitutes, I just wouldn’t overdo it.
The Gray-to-Black List of Sugar Substitutes/”Natural” Sweeteners:
- Agave nectar? For a long time, agave nectar was reputed to leave blood sugar alone and be the new “it” sugar substitute. Lately, however, more and more reports are saying it’s just as processed, refined, and concentrated as high-fructose corn syrup (see below).
- Evaporated Cane Juice? You see ECJ listed as an ingredient in “healthy” snacks and desserts. But according to some, it’s just another name for regular sucrose sugar that still has some molasses flecks in it.
- High-fructose corn syrup? Ah, yes….the bastard darling of the corn lobby industry. There’s still much debate about whether HFCS is as bad or worse for you than table sugar. But the fact is that it’s cheaper to produce, so the industry uses it in everything from cola drinks to applesauce to ketchup and more. Most of the high-profile nutritionists in this country list it as something to avoid.
Conclusion? Naturally-occurring fruit sugar (still in that piece of fruit) is probably best for you. It’s balanced with the natural fiber and digestive enzymes, which your body was designed to process in the first place. If you’re a believer in eating raw foods for general well being, you can’t get much better.