Sugar alternatives – the good and the bad
You many have heard that continuing to consume sugar is not a good idea. If you are starting a healthier regime for whatever reason However, you may want consider not only the benefits, but also your usual stumbling blocks.
If like me you have a sweet tooth giving sugar up always makes me feel deprived and resentful.
I was advised to give up sugar when I first got sick in my twenties, and in the most part managed to avoid it, but would still reach out to it when in need of comfort (I know! childhood programming but we’ll talk about that another time!)
So, there’s very few sweet alternatives I haven’t tried …
Why is it a good idea to give up sugar?
Eating a high sugar diet leads to an increased risk of developing heart disease1, high blood pressure and inflammation.2 Consuming too much sugar, especially from sugar-sweetened drinks, has also been linked to atherosclerosis, a disease characterized by fatty, artery-clogging deposits.3
The high number of calories in sugar makes it a key factor in obesity which does increase your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.4
Scientific researchers believe that blood sugar swings, neurotransmitter dysregulation, and inflammation may all be reasons for sugar’s detrimental impact on mental health, and increased risk of depression5. It also increases the risk of gout, poor dental health and increased risk of dementia.6
So, there are lots of good reasons to cut down or give up sugar, especially since having just one sugary drink a day can put you over your recommended minimum intake.
How can you avoid your sugar cravings?
Sugar is addictive, BECAUSE of the chemical responses it causes in your body. Without getting too technical – it makes you feel good because it triggers a chemical in your brain which makes you feel happy. The good news is so do the alternatives – and even better than that you can get the same “happy” chemical from other activities, such as exercise!
NB. Sugar cravings can also be an indication that you are not eating enough protein – so try a piece of lean protein next time!
So, what natural alternatives to sugar exist?
Initially, you may reach for “natural” sweeteners such as honey or syrup thinking these are better for you as they are unprocessed? Yes & No.
Yes, they are natural products, they are not a refined food, but they do still contain more calories than nutrients. Honey is high in calories and has a high glycemic content which causes blood sugar to spike – as a result, it is not recommended for weight loss, as then your blood sugar level will fall and you will crave more food!
Followers of the Keto diet or other low carbohydrate plans are advised to take only low G.I. (Glycemic Index) sweeteners. (The GI index indicates how much a substance increases insulin and blood sugar)
Low-calorie Chemical Sugar Alternatives
Low-calorie sweeteners like Erythritol have zero percent G.I., but they are not plant-based so are not the healthiest option.
They also have a reputation for giving you foul-smelling wind, and can cause diarrhoea – I made the mistake of eating some erythritol sweets in Spain once – my over excitement at discovering them led to eating them all at once, needless to say my digestion system did not approve. Luckily, I was staying in the countryside!
Diet Drinks & Aspartame-based products
Extensive research has linked aspartame consumption to an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks, so moderation is strongly advised, if you can’t cut out diet drinks, and aspartame-based products altogether.
THE BEST SUGAR ALTERNATIVES
Stevia has a zero G.I. and is now easily available. Derived from a South American herb, where it has been used for centuries it is over two hundred times sweeter than sugar and is ideal for low carb diets. It does not affect blood glucose levels or insulin levels and is available in liquid, powder or granules. It is safe with no apparent side effects.
- No calories, zero G.I
- No toxic effects
- 200-300 percent sweeter than sugar
- No negative influence on blood sugar and insulin
- It is processed using alcoholic solvents
- Over consumption may cause gas, bloating, and nausea
Monk fruit extract is the sweetest sugar replacement, 200 times sweeter than sugar, but also the most expensive, but you won’t need too much of it. It’s extracted from Chinese melons and has also been safely used for centuries with no side effects.
- It is available in liquid or powder form
- Safe for pregnant women and breast-feeding women
- Difficult to source
- Most expensive natural sweetener
- Unpleasant aftertaste
Chicory root extract
This natural sweetener is a favorite of diabetics as it has a rating of zero percent glycaemic index and contains forty percent insulin. Additionally, it lowers cholesterol and suppresses the appetite, but is not safe for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking cardiovascular medicines.
Chicory root extract fiber is a natural sweetener which should not be confused with the roasted ground, dried chicory root, (which is often used as a caffeine-free substitute for coffee.)
- Zero impact on blood sugar
- Increases insulin levels
- Normalizes gut flora
- May cause an allergic reaction if mixed with nuts
- Suppresses appetite and helps with weight loss
- Overconsumption may cause gas, bloating, nausea, stomach cramping, diarrhea
Each natural alternative to sugar has different advantages and your choice will depend on your health aims or condition. Stevia is easy to source, available in larger supermarket stores, has been used the longest, and appears to be the safest.
Overall stevia would be recommended for weight loss and followers of low carb diets, because of its zero G.I., cost, convenient availability and flexibility of use.
So, take your pick and create your own sweet treats with these natural alternatives. Enjoy them completely guilt-free!
2 Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases Volume 58, Issue 5, March–April 2016, Pages 464-47. The Evidence for Saturated Fat and for Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease by James J.DiNicolantonioa Sean C.LucanbJames H.O’Keefea
3 Arch Med Sci. 2011 Feb;7(1):8-20. doi: 10.5114/aoms.2011.20598. Epub 2011 Mar 8. Is the metabolic syndrome caused by a high fructose, and relatively low fat, low cholesterol diet? Seneff S1, Wainwright G, Mascitelli L.
4 Int J Med Sci. 2014; 11(11): 1185–1200. Published online 2014 Sep 6. doi: 10.7150/ijms.10001Risk Factors Contributing to Type 2 Diabetes and Recent Advances in the Treatment and Prevention Yanling Wu,1,2 Yanping Ding,1,2 Yoshimasa Tanaka,3 and Wen Zhang2
5 Mol Psychiatry. 2014 Feb; 19(2): 149–150. Published online 2013 Apr 9. doi: 10.1038/mp.2013.35Long-term inflammation increases risk of common mental disorder: a cohort study M Kivimäki,1,* M J Shipley,1 G D Batty,1 M Hamer,1 T N Akbaraly,1,2 M Kumari,1 M Jokela,3 M Virtanen,3 G D Lowe,4 K P Ebmeier,5 E J Brunner,1 and A Singh-Manoux1,6