Sugar Substitutes: Are They Good For You?
With the increasing popularity of health-conscious diets, sugar substitutes are becoming increasingly attractive alternatives to traditional refined sugar.
And that's really not a bad thing. The scourge of high-sugar diets on our health is clear, so trying to reduce the amount of table sugar is a great place to start.
But Whether you're looking to cut back on added sugars in your diet, or just curious if they're worth trying out, it's important to understand what exactly sugar substitutes offer.
In this blog post, we discuss all you need to know about sugar substitutes, and if they can be useful to you in attaining those resolutions you set for the new year!
What Is A Sugar Substitute?
As the name implies, a sugar substitute is a type of replacement sweetener for table sugar that typically provides the same (or greater) sweetness as sugar, but mostly without all the extra calories.
There are exceptions to this rule, however, as not all are classified as "non-nutritive".
Types Of Sugar Substitutes
The sugar subs can broadly be classified according to one of two systems: nutritive sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners, according to their calorie content, and being natural or artificial, based on their origin.
Wondering which one is best for you? Let's check what they bring to the table.
Agave nectar is a natural, plant-derived sweetener made from the juice of the agave plant. It has been used for many centuries by ancient civilizations and more recently has become popular as a sugar substitute for health-conscious individuals.
Agave nectar contains some calories, but it is much sweeter than regular table sugar, so you can use less to achieve the same level of sweetness. It also has a low glycemic index, making it better suited to diabetics than regular sugar. Agave nectar can be used in baking or added to drinks and other foods like smoothies and oatmeal without adding excess calories or negatively affecting blood sugar levels.
Like most sweeteners, consuming excessive amounts of agave nectar can lead to weight gain and digestive discomfort. Agave nectar still contains fructose, which is a type of sugar that, when consumed in large quantities, may cause an increase in triglycerides and uric acid levels.
Additionally, because this sweetener is derived from plants, there is a risk of allergic reactions if it is not properly processed or filtered.
Potentially the OG sweetener, honey has been a popular sweetener for thousands of years, and is the product of bees. It contains some calories but is much sweeter than table sugar, so it can be used in smaller amounts to achieve the same level of sweetness. Honey is rich in flavors, ranging from lightly floral to dark and robust.
It has traditionally been used as a natural remedy to treat ailments such as sore throats and digestive issues, along with being an excellent ingredient for baking or making drinks. Honey also provides several health benefits and offers protection against infection. Its lower glycemic index makes it a better option than table sugar and is well-suited for diabetics who are looking for healthier options.
Coconut sugar is another natural sweetener that has become increasingly popular over the last few years due to its utility. Coconut sugar comes from the sap of the coconut palm tree, which is then boiled and evaporated until it forms crystals. These crystals can be used as a substitution for regular table sugar in many recipes.
Coconut sugar contains fewer calories and a lower glycemic index than table sugar, making it much more suitable for those with blood sugar problems such as diabetes.
On average, it is slightly less sweet than table sugar but has a unique flavor that is not present in other sweeteners. Despite its advantages, consuming large amounts of coconut sugar may still cause negative effects associated with sugar replacements.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that has been used for centuries in South America and is now becoming increasingly popular across the globe.
It is an extract of leaves from the plant species Stevia Rebaudiana, and contains no calories or carbohydrates when processed. This makes it a great alternative to regular sugar if looking to reduce calorie intake.
Our Field Of Greens uses organic stevia to make it one of the most palatable on the market, and with no additional calories.
On average, stevia has been noted as up to 200 times sweeter than regular table sugar with no added bitterness. It also has the added advantage of not affecting blood glucose levels, making it perfect for diabetics who are looking for a natural sweetener option. Stevia can be used in beverages, desserts, dressings, and sauces, and opens up all kinds of possibilities in terms of flavor profiles.
However, some people may experience allergic reactions or digestive issues when using stevia so caution should be taken when consuming this sweetener on a regular basis.
You may recognize stevia under the popular brand name Truvia.
Monk Fruit Extract
Monk fruit extract is gaining popularity as a natural sweetener. It derives from a small, green melon-like fruit grown in Southeast Asia which has been used for centuries by monks and herbalists.
Compared to regular table sugar, monk fruit extract has no calories or carbohydrates and is up to 250 times sweeter. It contains compounds called mogrosides which are beneficial antioxidants and are said to have anti-inflammatory effects. Monk fruit extract is versatile and can be used in recipes for beverages, desserts, sauces, and dressings giving them an intense sweetness without affecting their flavor profile significantly.
Xylitol is an artificial sweetener that has been used for many years as a sugar substitute. Derived from the bark of birch trees, the extract is heavily processed but still contains fewer calories than regular table sugar making it a possible alternative for those looking to reduce their sugar intake.
In terms of sweetness, it is roughly equivalent to regular sugar and has no lingering aftertaste or altered flavor profiles so it works well in recipes. Xylitol also has some potential health benefits such as helping prevent dental caries and treating ear infections. However, there are possible negative effects associated with consuming large amounts of xylitol such as headaches, diarrhea, and gas,
and therefore should be consumed in moderation to avoid possible digestive issues or even kidney failure in extreme cases.
Another popular sugar alcohol that falls in the same class as Xylitol, Erythritol is derived from the fermentation of glucose, hence, a common byproduct of fruit fermentation. It contains zero calories and is around 70% as sweet as regular table sugar.
Additionally, it has been found to have the added benefit of having no effect on blood glucose or lipid levels, making it very attractive to anyone dealing with a metabolic disorder.
Erythritol works well in recipes that require creaming or whipping, such as cookies and cakes, because of its crystalline structure which increases stability when exposed to heat. It can also be used to sweeten beverages and desserts without altering their flavor profile significantly.
That being said, erythritol can have a laxative effect when consumed in large amounts and should be taken with caution if dealing with any digestive issues.
It is also said to possess a taste that can best be described as dry and cooling, which can be off-putting to some people.
Acesulfame K (Ace K)
Acesulfame K, Ace K, or acesulfame potassium, is an artificial sweetener that has been used as a sugar substitute for over 30 years. It contains zero calories and is up to 200 times sweeter than regular table sugar, making it ideal for those looking to reduce their sugar intake. Acesulfame K is heat stable and can be used in recipes where regular sugar would break down, such as baked goods.
It is also believed to have dental benefits due to its anti-cavity properties. Despite having many advantages compared to regular sugar, there are also possible side effects associated with consuming this sweetener, along with the presence of a possible carcinogen being present in it.
Nevertheless, it is approved as safe for use in the US by the FDA.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that has been around for over 40 years. It is about 200 times sweeter than regular table sugar but contains no calories. It can be used in recipes for desserts, beverages, and sauces and does not affect the flavor profile significantly, making it a great choice for those looking to reduce their sugar intake without sacrificing taste.
Aspartame is also heat stable so it is ideal for recipes where regular sugar would break down, such as when making baked goods.
Aspartame, while in theory should be safe for consumption, has been subject to controversy over possible health risks and side effects associated with its use. It is therefore important to pay attention to the amount of aspartame consumed, minimizing it as much as possible.
Aspartame has been implicated in causing obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes, as well as possible links to cancer.
For this reason, today it isn't as popular as it was many decades ago.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener that has become popular since it was discovered in 1976. It contains zero calories and is up to 600 times sweeter than regular table sugar, making it one of the sweetest substitutes on a per-gram basis.
Sucralose is also very safe, as multiple studies have concluded that it does not present any health risks when consumed at the recommended amounts. It can also be used in cooking and baking products as it remains stable during heating processes and doesn’t break down. Despite its advantages compared to regular sugar, large amounts of sucralose can cause digestive issues and migraines, so it should only be consumed in moderation.
Sucralose can be found most commonly in the brand name Splenda.
Saccharin is one of the oldest artificial sweeteners and has been in use since the late 1800s. It is about 300-400 (to a maximum of 550) times sweeter than regular table sugar, so a very small amount can provide a sugary taste. Saccharin does not contain any calories, making it suitable for anyone watching their carbohydrate and sugar intake, or calories as a whole.
It is also heat stable so it can be used in recipes for baking and cooking, making it very versatile.
Saccharin, however, has been found to possess negative effects in rodent studies such as the formation of bladder tumors. The good news about this is the fact that these studies have not carried over to human populations, but one thing that remains true is that you should attempt to limit the amount of saccharin consumed.
It is important to note that even though sugar substitutes can help reduce sugar intake, they should still be used in moderation. Too much consumption of these sweeteners can cause health problems and other side effects such as digestive issues, headaches, or cancer risk for some.
The most popular brand of saccharin sugar substitute on the market is Sweet´N Low.
Do All Sugar Substitutes Taste Bad?
Not at all. In fact, most of them are hardly distinguishable from table sugar itself, with the exception of saccharin, which has a slightly metallic aftertaste.
Aspartame and sucralose also have a slight aftertaste as well, but it is much less noticeable and the sweetness level more than makes up for it.
Using sugar substitutes offers a great opportunity to reduce your sugar intake without sacrificing flavor. However, they are just one tool in the arsenal of reducing sugar consumption and should be used conservatively.
Your best bet is to take a look at the entirety of your diet and reduce or make substitutions as appropriate.
They can help make the transition away from sugar itself less painful but come with their own set of risks that make them useful adjuvants and no more.