The Good, Bad, and Ugly in SUGAR ALTERNATIVES! Which One Should I Use?
Dear GreenSmoothieGirl: “What sugar replacement is the best?”
I can’t even count how many times I’ve been asked this!
Sugar is nasty stuff.
The more people learn how deadly sugar is, the more sugar alternatives enter the market, so it’s no wonder you’re confused!
Unfortunately, some of the sugar alternatives are worse than refined sugar is, if that’s even possible. I’ve researched all the sweeteners, and sifted through marketing claims, to land on the truth.
I’m so excited about the gift we’ve been working up for you, to clear the confusion!
I’ve made you a free Sugar Alternatives chart, so you know not only which sweeteners are the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY, but also how to use them, in what amounts. So that ingredient swaps are easy, when following a recipe.
(Some of the “good” ones are great for baking, and some are great for adding to your tea or coffee.) Print it and tape it inside your cupboard for reference!
You can have your sweets, without the downside to those ugly processed and chemical sweeteners.
The Best Sweeteners and Sugar Alternatives
First, I need to say that the end goal here is not to tell you to just keep eating all you want of sweet stuff, even if you use only sweeteners on the “good” list. “Good” is still relative. The BEST sweet foods are fruits! They come in a whole-foods package with fiber, lots of micronutrients–God made it perfect, and nobody ever got diabetes from eating fruit in its whole form! EVER.
And the point of moving toward a high-vibration, whole-foods lifestyle is to retrain your palate to enjoy the natural sweetness of whole foods, where “treats” are once in awhile, and not an all-day habit.
When swapping out sugar for a whole-food substitute, consider these 11 sweeteners first:
- Honey: In its raw state, honey is extremely nutritious and high in minerals. Look for raw local honey for its anti-allergy, immune-strengthening properties. It’s very sweet, so you can substitute about half the amount of honey when sugar is called for in a recipe (and cut ⅛ of the liquid). Its effect on your blood sugar is virtually identical to sugar, and it’s high in calories, so use it sparingly.
- Real Maple Syrup: Don’t confuse this mineral-rich whole food for the maple-flavored corn syrup that passes as “syrup” on the shelves! It’s a great topping, or sweetener for beverages or dressings. Like honey, it is high in calories, so use a light touch with it.
- Blackstrap Molasses: Buy blackstrap, organic, and unsulphured, and you have a very nutritious sweetener, high in iron and B vitamins. Not everyone likes its strong taste, but it makes great ginger cookies, and I use it in granola.
- Yacon Syrup: With a glycemic index of 1, yacon syrup has burst onto the scene as a healthy sweetener that also happens to contain one of the best known prebiotics. It’s harder to find than the other liquid sweeteners, and has a fairly strong taste, but is nice as a light topping or beverage sweetener.
- Stevia: Available as a powder or liquid, stevia is non-caloric, 200 times sweeter than sugar, and has virtually no impact on blood sugar. It’s so concentrated that you’ll just want to use a pinch or a few drops to sweeten foods or beverages. It has none of the body or volume of regular sugar, so it’s not a good substitute when baking.
- Sucanat: This is the brand name of dehydrated cane juice, the same as white sugar but without the nutrition removed and the product bleached. It is perfect for baking, as the taste is familiar and neutral and can be used in a 1:1 ratio when sugar is called for. However, don’t consider this product’s superiority to refined sugar to be a free license to indulge in an unlimited way. It’s still a concentrated sweetener (glycemic index: 65) and should be used sparingly.
- Raw Organic Coconut Palm Sugar: This is my favorite sweetener for baking, with its neutral taste, low glycemic index of 35, and easy 1:1 substitution (for refined sugar) in a recipe. It’s also rich in minerals and can be grown sustainably, making it nutritionally superior to Sucanat.
- Raw Organic Dates: Dates are an ancient food, very sweet with lots of nutrition. I put a couple of them in my Hot Pink Breakfast Smoothie every morning! You can get or make the pureed form to substitute 1:1 for refined white sugar in a recipe.
- Mesquite: Made from the pods of the mesquite tree, it has a sweet nutty flavor. It’s high in minerals, soluble fiber, and even has protein! Use to add sweetness to smoothies and other beverages. It can also be used to substitute about 25% of the flour in a baking recipe, and you can then reduce some of the added sugar, to taste.
- Lucuma: With a Glycemic Index of just 4, lucuma is a great choice for diabetics. Use lucuma powder 2:1 for sugar in a recipe.
- Luo Han Guo (Monkfruit): Like stevia, luo han guo (monkfruit) has no calories, is extremely sweet and is best used by starting with a tiny amount, and adding bit by bit to taste.
I don’t recommend these plant-based sweeteners, but they do beat out artificial sweeteners:
- Fructose: This sugar is found naturally in fruit, and is fine in small amounts. But it can only be metabolized by the liver–excess amounts (as added sugars) are acid-forming, disease-promoting, and have to be converted to fat since most bodily cells can’t use it.
- Agave: I personally don’t react negatively when I eat this plant-based sweetener like I do to high-fructose corn syrup, but it is high in fructose and easy to overuse, and controversial. For about 10 years, it was the darling of the sugar alternatives and has fallen from favor.
- Erythritol, Xylitol, Maltitol, Sorbitol: These and other sugar alcohols have a low glycemic index. They are usually made from cornstarch (likely GMO) and are but altered chemically so they aren’t well-absorbed–leading to gastric distress for many people.
NEVER use these! I would rather feed my family sugar than these toxic chemicals:
- Saccharine (brand name: Sweet n Low): This neurotoxin was one of the first artificial sweeteners, first made from coal tar. Despite being connected to cancer, it’s still available, though not as prevalent as it once was. I’d choose this, actually I’d choose ANYTHING, versus the ugliest of the ugly, #2, next.
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal): Saccharine’s bad name gave rise to aspartame, one of the most neurotoxic food additives ever created. I’ve written about the extensive documented side effects of this poison, which has the dubious honor of being the FDA’s most-reported food additive for causing seizures, migraines, depression, weight gain, insomnia, joint problems, fatigue, and triggering or worsening chronic conditions. Of about 5,000 approved food-additive chemicals, aspartame has more complaints against it than any other food additive. It’s a powerful billion-dollar industry, and that’s the ONLY reason it’s still in the food supply.
- Sucralose (Splenda): Besides being linked to gut problems, weight gain, metabolic issues, and elevated insulin, sucralose breaks down when heated and can interact with other cooking or baking ingredients, forming yet MORE toxic substances.
- Truvia: This sweetener is newer on the market, and touted as “stevia based,” but is still chemically altered. It’s actually mostly erythritol (sugar alcohol) with a highly concentrated stevia isolate called Rebaudioside A, plus mystery “natural flavors” to mask the bitterness. I predict it will be as problematic as the other fake sweeteners have been. Every time industry creates a fake molecule, the body reacts badly.
- Corn Syrup: Nearly all corn is genetically modified, but that’s not even the most important reason to avoid corn syrup. It’s highly-refined concentrated fructose that inflames and ages your cells, erodes your gut lining, and is highly acid-forming. It easily overwhelms the liver’s ability to get rid of it, so it gets stored as fat. That’s why high-fructose corn syrup is linked to metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, candida, diabetes, heart disease, and food addictions. Not only do I academically know too much about its detrimental effect on health, but it sends my lifelong anxiety, completely under control on whole foods, into instantaneous orbit. Please don’t ever eat it.
I know this is a LOT of information to remember! That’s why I’ve condensed it all into my printable Sugar Alternatives chart, and even included conversions for swapping out sugar for one of the better sweeteners. I’d LOVE to send to you, so you can print it and put it up in your kitchen cupboard for handy reference. Grab it here!