Knowing the best – and worst – sugar alternatives could be a game-changer for your health
Sugar has a bad rep, and rightfully so. After all, the overconsumption of sugar has become a modern dietary epidemic. Too much sugar can lead to diabetes, weight gain, heart disease, and tooth decay. So, what are your options for sugar alternatives?
You don’t need to have your sweet tooth pulled to avoid sugar-related health problems. If you’re creative, you can absolutely enjoy sweets while promoting your health.
Look for Nutrient Rich Sweets
When public health professionals discuss the overconsumption of sugar, they’re most often referring to added sugar. Always be sure to read ingredient lists and nutrition facts, particularly the “Added Sugar” line underneath “Carbohydrates.”
Some products may contain added sugar, but still provide plenty of nutrients to keep you feeling full and nourished. For example, you may choose to eat a cup of yogurt with 5 grams of added sugar because it’s rich in protein and vitamins.
The ultimate goal is to ensure you’re not eating products stuffed with added sugar and not much else, like muffins and cakes.
Fear not. Our list of the best sugar alternatives will help you get the best of both worlds. You can satisfy your sweet tooth while nourishing your body at the same time.
Keep an Eye on the Glycemic Index
The glycemic index is a scale from 0 to 100 that measures how the food you’re eating affects your blood sugar. Foods with a high glycemic index (55 and over) are readily absorbed, causing your blood sugar levels to spike. This can lead to health problems like diabetes, weight gain, and even muscle and organ damage.
If you’re craving something sweet, or you’re just not into gut-scorching black coffee, you can find sweeteners that have a low glycemic index.
In this list of the best sugar alternatives, we’ll denote the glycemic index of each option so you know what you’re getting into – and what’s getting into you.
As a baseline, you should know that white table sugar has a glycemic index of 60-65.
The Best Whole Sugar Alternatives
Yes, you can use whole ingredients as alternatives to sugar! The biggest benefit of using whole, natural foods as opposed to extracts is that your body gets the vitamins and minerals that come along with them.
The downside is that they aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. You probably won’t be tossing an apple into your morning coffee, for example – but each sugar alternative has a use that we’ll recommend below.
Honey, Agave, and Maple Syrup
These gooey sugar alternatives sweeten coffee, tea, oatmeal, and just about any other health food you might be struggling to get down. You can find all of them in natural and organic forms.
Honey, agave, and maple syrup are naturally occurring, but that doesn’t mean they score well on the glycemic index. Honey’s glycemic index ranges between 45 and 64, with agave and maple syrup in the mid 60s as well.
Regardless, these melt-in-your-mouth sugar alternatives are rich in calcium, iron, ascorbic acid, niacin, and more. So don’t feel too bad as you indulge in that last sweet sip of your iced tea.
We just can’t leave this topic without mentioning that a honey and sugar scrub can do wonders for your lips. Just don’t lick them clean!
You’ve doubtlessly heard the wonders that coconut oil can have on your hair and skin.
Well, it’s cousin coconut sugar is a tropical delight that you’d be mad not to try. This sugar alternative adds the mildest taste of coconut to your beverage or baked goods.
Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than table sugar at a cool 35 thanks to a sweet fiber called inulin. Inulin appears to slow the absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, leaving you free from unhealthy blood sugar spikes.
Plus, you get many of the benefits of eating raw coconut, such as fatty acids and antioxidants. Coconut sugar is also rich in iron, zinc, calcium and potassium.
If you’ve ever baked muffins, you probably had to do a double take when you saw your recipe calls for 1-2 cups of sugar.
Baked goods are loaded with added sugar, but they don’t have to be. Unsweetened applesauce is a low glycemic sugar alternative.
All you have to do is swap a cup of sugar for a cup of applesauce. Not only will your body appreciate the high dose of vitamin C and fiber, you’ll also get ooey gooey baked goods to soothe your sweet spot.
Apples have a glycemic index of 35, while applesauce is a little higher at 53.
This sweet spice is just as nice as a sugar alternative in coffee, oatmeal, and tea. While you can’t substitute cinnamon for sugar in baking, it’s the perfect fix for any food or beverage that could do with a sweet sprinkle.
Cinnamon has been shown to reduce the rate at which glucose enters your bloodstream. It’s often recommended to diabetics, but can be useful for anyone trying to lower their blood sugar.
Using Extracts as Sugar Alternatives
If you’re looking for an alternative that looks, feels, and tastes like sugar without the blood sugar spike, consider one of the following extracts.
Sugar alcohols are sweet extracts typically derived from plants, though they can be manufactured. Look for ingredients ending in “-itol,” like xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, and maltitol.
Sugar alcohols are not completely free of calories, but they’re much lower than your everyday white sugar. They also have almost negligible glycemic indices, typically around 1 or 2.
Best of all, sugar alcohols don’t cause tooth decay like white sugar does. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest they may protect your teeth.
You may already be consuming sugar alcohols as they’re often added to gum, ice cream, candy, and cookies. They’re perfect for adding to coffee and tea.
Take note, all ye who consume sugar alcohols: too much of these low-glycemic alternatives can actually be indigestible for your system. Overdo it on the sugar alcohols and you may experience stomach cramping, bloating, gas, and even diarrhea. As with any sweetener, knowing your body’s limit is key for consumption.
Stevia is in its own category. It’s a natural sweetener, unlike artificial sweeteners that are man-made, such as Equal or Splenda. Stevia instead comes from the refined leaves of the stevia brush plant in South America.
It’s glycemic index is a whopping ZERO! You can use Stevia just like you use sugar: bake with it, add it to your cereal, or mix it in your morning brew.
Live La Vida Dolce
You can continue to enjoy the sweet life as long as you’re willing to make some changes. Lucky for us all, these changes are getting easier to make as the food industry catches up with wellness.
Always be sure to double check labels. Replacing sugar with one of these sugar alternatives may improve your overall wellbeing. Just try cooking and baking with whole grains and sugar alternatives for a week and see how you feel!