Are There Any Healthy Sugar Substitutes Out There?

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Sugar Alternatives

Just this week I was speaking with a client on the phone and the topic of sweeteners came up. Our way of eating is so focused on sweet taste that we’ve created a number of sugar alternatives–a misguided attempt to create the illusion of diet and health food using chemical sweeteners–not good.

Ironically, it is much better to just eat real sugar in small amounts rather than all these substitutes. The substitutes are not only unhealthy, they can be downright dangerous to our health.

Good Sugar Alternatives

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)

For many years now, stevia has seen widespread use in the United States as a sweetener. You can find it in many forms from tincture to powder. It is about 300 times sweeter than beet or cane sugar. In Japan, stevia corners about 47% of the sweetener market, but not in “leaf” form. They isolate only the compound called stevioside. Perhaps this type of use has encouraged us all to see stevia as merely a sugar substitute.

In fact, when stevia is consumed in its whole plant form there is much more to be had from this amazing plant. (Stay away from stevia that is a white crystalline color – this is not whole leaf stevia.) It has the ability to regulate blood sugar, both high and low. If your focus is on balanced hormones, the ability to replace chemical sugar substitutes and processed beet and cane sugar is an important one. We must keep in mind that insulin, after all, is a hormone. Hormonal imbalance can involve our adrenal glands, thyroid, and even our blood sugar levels.

 

Healthy Sugar Substitutes

If you wish to keep your blood sugar and hormones balanced, you should be eating sweets in moderation and definitely only those that contain maple syrup, raw honey, sucanat, or evaporated cane juice.

Unhealthy Sugar Substitutes

Truthfully, everyone should stay away from the chemical creations meant to fool our bodies into thinking we’re eating something sweet. Every last one of them have side effects that are not worth the chemical taste they add to food. While we have a problem in our society with a sweet tooth, it is much better to eat sugar than to reach for foods that are filled with these franken-sweeteners.

Aspartame

Aspartame is sold around the world as NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonfuls, Canderel, Bienvia, NatraSweet and Miwon. According to Nourishing Traditions:

Aspartame is a neurotoxic substance that has been associated with numerous health problems including dizziness, visual impairment, severe muscle aches, numbing of extremities, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, retinal hemorrhaging, seizures and depression. It is suspected of causing birth defects and chemical disruptions in the brain.

The FDA recommends that pregnant and lactating women, people with advanced liver disease and phenylketonurics avoid products containing aspartame due to concern over metabolizing phenylalanine. This metabolizes due to heat or prolonged storage and results in a known carcinogen.

Saccharin

Found in numerous sodas and other processed foods. It is listed by name and is a neurotoxin and strong allergen. Those with sulfa allergies should be especially cautious.

Sucralose (Splenda)

This chemical byproduct of chlorine and sugar has not been tested enough to show any kind of data on safety. The studies that have come forth indicate an ability to cause mutation. They also show a negative effect on diabetes and blood sugar levels. In laboratory settings it has been shown to cause damage to the thymus gland, liver and kidneys of rats.

How about you?

Which sweeteners do you use, and which do you stay away from?

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About Dawn Combs

Dawn is a wife, mother, farmer, author, ethnobotanist, professional speaker, and educator. She has over 20 years of ethnobotanical experience, is a certified herbalist, and has a B.A. in Botany and Humanities/Classics. Dawn is co-owner of Mockingbird Meadows Farm. Her books include Conceiving Healthy Babies and Heal Local.

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Comments

  1. vivian says

    I have a stevia plant and dry the leaves. After they are dry I crumble them. I really love it in say, a fruit/veggie shake. I have hypoglycemia so I don’t indulge much in sweets. I use coconut sugar and raw honey if I do.

    Dr. Hyman has a book and DVD called the 10 Day Detox, the Blood Sugar Solution. Turned my life around.

  2. Ms Linda says

    I don’t like or use any artificial sweeteners. Raw honey, organic cane sugar, turbinado sugar are what I use for my scrubs, baking and general sweetening needs. I’m planting a stevia plant in my herb plot as soon as the weather warms back up 😉

  3. Confused Suzanne :) says

    OK ladies so now I am REALLY confused. I have been using Stevia for some time. I only use it for my coffee but I use 3 packets for every lets say 8 oz. I like my java sweet. So, Stevia is not safe? What is the healthiest and best to use then? The Coconut Palm Sugar? If so where do you get it from? Thank you

    • Dawn says

      Stevia is fine! Just don’t buy weird processed stuff “based” on stevia. I personally can’t stand the stuff- weird taste- but there’s no reason you need to stop using the true plant.

  4. Jill says

    Thanks, Stacie. I remember that now…I’m interested in how it’s made…are there any residual chemicals that may be harmful?

  5. Linda says

    Coconut sugar! Stevia tastes terrible, I’d prefer nothing over stevia, just like I’d rather never have chocolate again than to pretend I’m eating it with carob.

  6. Patti Griffin says

    I would like to know more about monk fruit also. I heard it is natural and a good choice too. I’m so curious about xylitol.

  7. Laurie says

    I always research “new” sweeteners. I want to know as much as I can about what is out there behind the “too good to be true” hype.

    Below is some information that I found…and remember, just because something is recognized as GRAS, doesn’t mean it IS safe. More often than not, there is industry money, biased studies, omitted or ignored results, and the best lawyers behind the results and GRAS decisions. There are many examples of this out there…like synthetic colors for example.
    http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/xylitol-not-as-sweet-as-its-cracked-up-to-be/

    http://www.naturalnews.com/022986_xylitol_health_sugar.html

    Also, if you are considering Truvia, which sounds fantastic, just research the company who makes it and how this stuff is made. I think that I read the patent info on Truvia when it appeared in the stores. Not good in any way.

    if something has to be extracted from food, generally you are best off eating the whole food. That way, you get the fibre, enzymes, minerals & vitamins and so on, that will all work in sync with each other, giving you a proper amount of that substance without all of the bad side effects.

    I prefer my sweeteners to be pure and straight forward…not messed with by man.

  8. Gail Miller says

    This article has truly opened my eyes to the “wrongs” of artificial sweetners. Thank you greatly, my daughter is right LOL.

  9. Nancy says

    I have been using the white Stevia for a few yrs now. Thought I was doing good! lol Ill be looking at trader Joes & Whole Foods for the stevia leaf powder.. hopefully they have it! Thank you for the info!

  10. Elise says

    I will also chime in about coconut palm sugar and wonder what your take is on that one. ??? I usually use that and a mix of honey when I bake. I have tried stevia in many forms and find that it has an aftertaste to me, just like artificial sweeteners. Thanks for the article!

  11. Leigh says

    I use naturally occurring sugars found in fruits — dates, prunes, figs and bananas work well for me.

  12. Erin says

    I’ve been using Raw Monk Sugar (which is supposed to be natural). I get the impression it is ‘good’ for you as a substitute. Do you have any additional information about it?

    • Dawn says

      I don’t know anything about it, so can’t weigh in…. I’ll be looking into it though, thanks!

      • Jemima says

        I would appreciate your opinion on the coconut sugar. I’m from Australia and I’ve heard of the other sweeteners mentioned but I haven’t seen any coconut sugar around. The most common “healthy” low gi sweetener used here is dark Agave syrup. It is similar to maple but I was of the understanding that maple was not low gi. Is this true?
        Thanks :0)

  13. Jill says

    I also would like more info in Xylitol. I know it’s lethal to dogs, but are there any other drawbacks?

    • Stacie says

      Xylitol is great for reducing cavities, and I use it in a homemade toothpaste. The only drawback I am aware is that too much consumption can cause diarrhea.

    • Dawn says

      Sharon Wheeler and Jill, I would not use xylitol. It is a chemical that is created through the process of hydrogenation. In most cases this means a catalyst of powdered nickel/aluminum alloy. We avoid hydrogenated oils, so in our house we also avoid hydrogenated sugar. It can be made from birch bark, in which case I would ask why don’t you just use birch syrup or maple syrup to begin with instead of buying something that takes these ingredients into a lab to “create” something new. Most likely it is made from corn instead since this is abundant and cheap…. so it is highly likely that your xylitol is made with GMO corn. There is so much that I would say about xylitol… perhaps I will do a blog next week and expand on this with more of the pros and cons….. but my answer for myself and my family is “NO”.

  14. Patty says

    I have been using the white powder stevia for about 6 years. So this is not a good idea? I use dates, raw honey and maple syrup but I also use coconut sugar in baking and you did not mention it as a good source. What do you think

    • ELOISE PETERSON says

      I have been using Xylitol since my Holistic MD in Palm Desert, CA recommended it years ago. It is a bit expensive but I think worth it.
      If a recipe calls for one cup sugar, one cup of Xylitol can be substituted and it does taste like sugar.

  15. Anne brierley says

    my friend has 3 sweeteners per drink – at least 10 times a day so about 30 per day
    he is diabetic and has MS what sort of impact might this have?
    thanks

    • Dawn says

      Well… I think you can take a look at some of what we know about these sweeteners and surmise that a lot of degenerative diseases can originate with overuse of them. Your friend is not doing himself any good and would do much better just using real sugar.

    • LittleG says

      Diabetes is just a name given by modern medicine to identify the condition where a person’s thyroid/insulin metabolism is out of balance.

      It can be cured without any side-effects with Homeopathy. Find an experienced practitioner near by and stick to it for at least an year.

      “Homeopathy cures a larger percentage of cases than any other form of treatment and is beyond doubt safer and more economical.”
      ― Mahatma Gandhi

  16. Leslie says

    I only use Coconut Palm Sugar. With a Glycemic Index of 32, it is lower than raw honey(65).
    It does not affect my blood sugars negatively and it works well in baking, canning, I even used it to sweeten my homemade Grape jelly this year. It is a bit pricey at ~$4/lb but still my choice in sweetener. ✌

    • Stacie says

      I like coconut sugar as well, particularly as it is not overly sweet and does not have the after taste that Stevia has.