If you consume large amounts of sugar, you may want to cut back - reducing your intake can reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. There are several types of natural sweeteners on the market that have very low or no calories. If you tolerate them well, they can help you cut back your refined sugar intake from foods.
Excessive sugar consumption is associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver disease.
You can replace sugar in your diet with natural sweeteners.
Try a few natural sweeteners to find one you like that works for you.
Excess sugar consumption is associated with many negative health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease, and others. Studies show that reducing the added sugar in your diet by just 20% can result in improvements in many of these conditions.
There are many sugar substitutes available at grocery stores and natural health food stores that may be a good replacement for sugar. The last few years have seen so many types of sweeteners come on the market that it’s hard to know which ones are healthy and which aren’t. In this article, we take a look at 6 natural sweeteners that you can use to replace sugar in your diet.
Reasons to replace sugar
First, why should you replace sugar? In addition to the reasons stated above, excess sugar in your diet can be problematic for the following reasons:
We all have bacteria that live naturally in our mouths and on our teeth. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), when that bacteria comes in contact with sugar, it produces an acid that contributes to tooth decay. The ADA recommends limiting sugary foods and beverages to prevent tooth decay.
When you eat or drink foods and beverages with sugar your pancreas sends out a hormone called insulin to help clear the sugar out of your bloodstream and into your body’s cells for energy. If you consume sugar in large amounts, your body’s cells can become less sensitive to insulin, which means the sugar can accumulate to high levels in the blood and cause damage to your vessels and cells. This is insulin resistance. It is very common in the Western world and often leads to diabetes.
The issue of whether sugar is addictive is still being debated by scientists. Some animal studies show that rats experience symptoms of withdrawal when they are cut off from their sugar source. Some scientists say that it’s a gray area. Because we need food to live, it’s a natural reward and so it’s not surprising that it lights up the reward centers of our brains. Whether it is addictive or not, we do know that sugar and other carbohydrates cause insulin levels to rise and then we crave more sugar and carbs.
What are natural sweeteners?
Many people think of things like honey, maple syrup, or agave when they think of natural sweeteners. They are natural, but because these foods impact blood sugar levels similarly to regular sugar, we will leave those off the list. Instead, we’ll look at non-nutritive sweeteners that are calorie-free and won’t impact blood sugar levels.
The natural sweeteners included here all come from plant sources, as opposed to sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin that are formulated in laboratories. Here is the list of six natural sweeteners you can use.
1. Monk fruit
Monk fruit sweetener comes from a perennial plant in the gourd family called luo han guo. It is native to southern China and is about 300 times sweeter than table sugar. The fruit has been used for centuries in China as a medicine, especially for coughing and sore throats. Monk fruit has no calories and contains antioxidants.
Stevia sweetener comes from the leaves of the South American Bertoni shrub, known locally as candy leaf. It is up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar and several studies have shown its safety for people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Stevia leaf has been used as a sweetener for tea and other drinks in South America for hundreds of years.
Allulose is actually a type of sugar that is found naturally in some fruits, like figs and raisins. The difference is that allulose is not metabolized or absorbed by the body, so it has no noticeable effect on blood sugar levels or caloric intake. Allulose is 70% as sweet as sugar, contains about 10% of the calories of sugar, and is often derived from corn products.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found naturally in corn husk fibers, oats, berries, and other plants. The term sugar alcohol is misleading because there is no alcohol in it; sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that have a similar chemical structure to sugar. Xylitol is primarily sourced from corn and has less than half the calories of sugar while containing similar sweetness.
5. Yacon syrup
This sweetener is made from the potato-like roots of the Yacon plant. It is native to the Andes mountains in Peru and has been cultivated there for centuries. Yacon syrup has about one-third the amount of calories that sugar has, but it contains a prebiotic fiber that isn’t digested so it has less of an impact on blood sugar levels.
While cutting out sugar may be a smart choice for you, it can be difficult to choose which alternative sweetener to use. Some of these natural sweeteners are known to cause digestive discomfort and even diarrhea. Some people dislike the taste of one type or another. You can try different types to find one you like and that your body tolerates well.
- British Medical Journal. Health and economic benefits of reducing sugar intake in the USA, including effects via nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a microsimulation model.
- The European Journal of Nutrition. Sugar addiction: the state of the science.
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Sugars and sweet taste: Addictive or rewarding?
- Nutritional Neuroscience. Implications of an animal model of sugar addiction, withdrawal and relapse for human health.
- Frontiers in Pharmacology. The Fruits of Siraitia grosvenorii: A review of a Chinese food-medicine.