Let’s get one thing out of the way immediately – sugar is the devil. Sugar raises blood sugar, provides no real nutrition, and over time can lead to insulin resistance. This combination of effects drive a path to diabetes and all the many complications of that terrible disease including heart disease, kidney disease, amputations, and blindness. Diabetes is rampant in the United States and the continual indulgence in sugar and in processed foods which turn to sugar in the body is a major contributor to this illness.
Sugar by Any Other Name is Still Sugar
Getting sugar out of our diets is no easy trick. You must be a vigilant label reader and you must develop the skill of recognizing the many alternative names for sugar or sugar-like substances. There are over 50 names for products that are really just sugar. A few of these are cane sugar, corn syrup, HFCS, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice, malt, maltodextrin, molasses, rice syrup, and barley malt. The list goes on and on. Just because the label doesn’t say “sugar” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain sugar. Sugar under any of these names is still sugar and can still send you on a path of sugar addiction, insulin resistance, and eventually diabetes. Stop this cycle now.
Beware of Hidden Sugar
But avoiding sugar in the obvious locations (desserts, processed baked goods and cereals) does not mean that you have eliminated sugar from your diet. Sugar is being hidden in many other products such as chewable vitamins, cough syrup, salad dressings, yogurt, and prepared meats. If you are on a quest to eliminate sugar, be thorough and examine every label like your life depended on it. It does!
If you are not going to eat sugar, what can you when you “just have to have” something sweet. Some people might be able to live their life without desserts, but others just can’t do that. For many, part of the joy in life is sharing a great birthday cake, making holiday cookies, or sharing a delicious ice cream with family. Just because you want to give up sugar doesn’t mean you need to give up all of these delicious desserts. You just need to cook up some delicious treats with some safe sugar substitutes and you will never miss having sugar in your diet.
Before we talk about safe sugar substitutes, let’s first discuss the artificial sweeteners that you don’t ever want to include in your diet. These chemical sweeteners are dangerous and should never be in the foods and beverages you consume.
Top Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid
- Aspartame – Also known as Equal or NutraSweet. A recent study reported in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine recommended a re-evaluation of aspartame based on the carcinogenic effects found in this study. Carcinogenic means cancer causing! This same study found that aspartame hurt memory performance. Aspartame is not heat-stable. This means it can change chemical structure when heated. In fact, aspartame can give off formaldehyde when it is heated and formaldehyde is an extremely dangerous compound. When shipped in high temperatures or stored in high temperatures, the aspartame can change form and turn into formaldehyde. Do not use under any circumstances.
- Sucralose – Also known as Splenda. Sucralose was first created as an insecticide! Studies have shown that cooking with sucralose at high temperatures can produce dangerous chloropropanols. It can also be metabolized and have a toxic impact on the body since it is not biologically inert.
- Saccharin – Also known as Sweet ‘N Low. Saccharin once required a warning by the FDA but that has been removed. None the less, there is still concern about this chemical and that concern is particularly worrisome since saccharin is frequently found in children’s medications such as chewable aspirin.
Natural Sweeteners that are Safe in Limited Amounts
Some natural health practitioners recommend switching to natural alternatives – true food items that can add some sweetness but are not filled with chemicals. Even though these natural sweeteners can be safe in limited amounts, they do still have the capacity to raise blood sugar levels. People with metabolic syndrome or with diabetes must be extremely careful before using any of these alternatives since they will raise blood sugar levels. In fact, anyone concerned about blood sugar should test their blood sugar levels after consuming foods with these natural sweeteners. People vary greatly and you need to know exactly how these sweeteners affect your blood sugar levels.
Some natural sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, dates, and coconut sugar. Honey contains numerous enzymes and minerals. While it does supply healthy nutrients, it can raise blood sugar levels. Be sure to use raw honey since processed honey no longer has all of these healthy components.
Maple syrup and blackstrap molasses both contain numerous minerals and antioxidants. Maple syrup can be heated and used for baking and the taste is generally enjoyed by most. Molasses has a stronger flavor and may not be appreciated alone but could be used in a marinade or in baking.
Natural sweeteners are good choices for creating desserts for children that do not have blood sugar issues. Limit the quantity of frequency of use so that children do not become “hooked” on having a sweet taste to all of their food.
Safe Sweeteners That Do Not Raise Blood Sugar Levels
If you are an adult, there is a good chance that you might have elevated blood sugar levels. If you are an overweight adult, there is an excellent chance that this is the case. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is probably one of the most important things you can do to maintain cardiovascular and brain health. Alzheimer’s Disease is even called Type 3 Diabetes and is strongly associated with a history of excessively elevated blood sugars.
With this in mind, finding safe substitutes for sugar is extremely important. By safe we mean that the ingredients are not dangerous chemicals and that the product does not raise blood sugar levels. With those two criteria in mind, we recommend the following sweeteners:
- Stevia is a natural food product that has a sweet taste. It does not raise blood sugar and is safe for your use. It is available as a liquid or as a powder. The powdered stevia is sometimes mixed with inulin which is also safe and acts as a healthy prebiotic. Beware of stevia that has been mixed with unhealthy chemicals. In some cases, it is mixed with maltodextrin which is another name for sugar. Before buying stevia, read the labels carefully. Many stevia products are not pure stevia and are not good for your health. Pure stevia or stevia with inulin is the only stevia you want to purchase.
- Monk fruit is a very popular sweetener derived from a fruit. It has a sweet taste but does not have a bitter aftertaste. Again, read labels carefully to be sure the monk fruit hasn’t been mixed with any unhealthy substitutes. One product, Lakanto, is a mixture of monk fruit and erythritol and is both safe and delicious. This product is also sold in various forms to substitute for white sugar, brown sugar, or even maple syrup.
- Erythritol has 70% the sweetness of sugar. Some find it gives a cold aftertaste but most enjoy the flavor and find it excellent for cooking or baking.
- Inulin is a fiber with a slight amount of sweetness. It acts like a prebiotic which helps feed the good bacteria in the gut. Although not as sweet as some of the other sweeteners, it does satisfy many and provides the additional health benefit of being a prebiotic.
If you have questions about the best sweeteners for your specific medical condition, be sure to talk to your physician. Understanding your individual weight, blood sugars, and propensity to diabetes is key to making the best decision. If in doubt, stick with the suggestions for people with diabetes. Those choices will be good for all adults.