How many times have you heard that Sugar is not good for you? So many of online posts, print media articles and WhatsApp forwards that have highlighted the bad side of sugar. So is your sugar that bad? If yes then what are the sugar substitutes that are good enough for replacing sugar. Are you a person with a sweet tooth or do you know someone who has a sweet tooth? So many questions so many speculations just to determine whether sugar is good or bad.
You must have also read that honey is better than sugar, brown sugar is the future and jaggery is very much effective sugar alternative. Am I right? Then what according to you is a best sugar substitute or best sugar alternative? Can’t say anything right now? Then today let’s try and come to a conclusion on all these statements.
So let you and I get in there and start dissecting this topic just like how ants dissect the sugar grains. This post is going to be a detailed one. Discussing the glycemic index, and effects on body of each sugar substitute. I will try to explain the best sugar substitutes available in the market so that you can compare for yourself and choose wisely, if you want to make a switch.
- Understanding the Glycemic Index (GI)
- Why Sugar Substitutes?
- List of Sugar Substitutes
- Final Discussion:
Understanding the Glycemic Index (GI)
Have you heard about the term Glycemic index? Don’t you worry even if you haven’t, because I am here for you. I used to teach this unit on nutrition to my undergrad students and this is how I know about Glycemic Index. I just stated the fact so that you can trust me with this information. Getting back to the topic of GI, in simplest term it is a number which defines the conversion rate of carbohydrates to glucose in your body.
So it is generally considered that a food with lower glycemic index is good for your blood sugar levels, weight loss and controlling cholesterol. At the same time not every food which is low in glycemic index is healthy. So to understand the sugar and sugar substitutes it was important to give you an idea about GI and I hope you know the concept now.
Sugar has a high glycemic index of 65, which spikes the blood sugar levels instantly and is a reason that the body doesn’t burn body fat and over a period of time it is responsible for increasing bad cholesterol. Food with low GI, slowly release the sugar which gives insulin a fair chance to perform its duties. Now you know the core of story why a billion dollar industry is focused on one thing that is finding best sugar substitutes.
Why Sugar Substitutes?
By now I assume you must have figured out on your own that why in first place we need to replace sugar. As you know sugar is packed with just sheer calories and it is addictive which makes sugar a bad influence for your body. Sugar substitutes are those wannabe heroes who challenge sugar in terms of taste and that too at very less or negligible calories as compared to sugar. This is why the urban people are shifting towards a diet comprising of sugar substitutes.
Though most of the sugar substitutes are consumed on a small scale as compared to sugar consumption. So a huge data set is unavailable to definitely say or make a statement in favour of any sugar substitute. So we can just have a glance at each one to know if it can be a better sugar alternative.
List of Sugar Substitutes
Here we begin the real discussion. You will get to see a list which will directly be compared to sugar that is called sucrose scientifically. As a sugar substitute you can expect to see some substances that are similar in taste, gives the same results but are packed with lesser or negligible calories.
Can you guess how much sweet this compound is? It is 200 times, I repeat 200 times sweeter than sugar. With more than 90 studies establishing an image of this compound to be safe for consumption. Even FDA has approved its use in food. The Glycemic Index is zero for this and thus it can be a sugar alternative which has a slight bitter after taste. There is a solution to mask this after taste and that is to treat it with sodium ferulate.
It is generally used in baking products due to its high heat stable nature and acid based stability. Many food products such as chewing gums, protein supplements, carbonated drinks and other similar products use this compound along with other complementary substance which bring out the best sweet taste that has a faint or no after taste. Some studies claim this to be a carcinogen but there is not enough data out there to prove this claim.
Aspartame is a product of one crazy discovery by Jim Schlatter who while working on ways to treat gastric ulcer accidentally licked aspartame and found it to be sweet. Do you know any such crazy stories? I licked picric acid once and damn, I warn you that never ever in life you need to do that stunt. So Aspartame is basically 2 amino acid compound (aspartic acid and phenylalanine) which is not heat stable and tolerates mild acidic conditions. With 180-200 times sweeter than sugar this is a good sugar substitute.
This also has a glycemic index of zero which increases its credibility to be a best sugar alternative. With 50 plus years of research since 1965, this compound is regarded as safe for consumption. Only people having Phenylketonuria (disability to metabolize phenylalanine) should not consume Aspartame.
One more artificial sugar substitute which is widely used worldwide but is banned in United States. It is only 40 times sweeter than sugar, but is least potent while compared to other sugar alternatives. Would you consume a substance which is banned in America? I guess no, because in general the world perceives America as the standard authority which should certify a food or a commodity to be safe. It also has a zero glycemic index but needs to be taken in higher amounts than other sugar substitutes.
It needs to be mixed with saccharin and sold as a generic sweetener. It is a heat stable compound and hence it is used widely in food industry. It is known to mask the after taste of other compound which otherwise can hinder the overall taste profile.
A sugar substitute that is 300-500 times sweeter than sugar. It has a Glycemic Index zero thus it becomes an effective sugar alternative which is a chemical in nature. Holding zero calories of its own and tastes almost like sugar. Did you know that your body can’t break down saccharin? Yes it is a fact that humans can’t break it down yet its taste is detected by your taste buds.
If you consume more than 226 grams or 8 ounces on a regular basis then you could be at a higher risk of developing bladder cancer. So if you choose this as a sugar alternative then you need to watch your consumption closely.
One more great sugar substitute which is 600 times sweeter than sugar. With a glycemic Index of zero it is blood sugar level friendly. The body can’t metabolize sucralose. It is fat insoluble in nature so it is not going to get accumulated in your fat tissues. It is simply created by chlorinating either sucrose or raffinose where the 3 chlorine atoms replace the hydroxyl groups. This is the real magic which fools the body.
So basically sucrose or raffinose is given new clothes in form of chlorine molecules so that they are not recognized in the body. How cool is this con artistry? It can’t be broken down by the body as it needs dry heat and the digestive system is just not the place for that. With no proven side-effects it is a best sugar alternative that is chemically produced.
It is present in some fruits and veggies in trace amounts, so it is not a substance which is alien to your body. It contains 40% less calories than sugar. It has a glycemic Index of 7-12, which depends upon the source from which it was extracted. While extracting only pure xylitol remains and you won’t find any vitamins, minerals or protein which were present in the source.
Eating sugar causes tooth cavity. Xylitol is a solution, this is a reason that most chewing gums contain xylitol which starves the harmful mouth bacteria to death. So many ear and yeast infections can be arrested by use of xylitol as it blocks and chokes the bacteria which are sugar dependent. It improves collagen production which makes your skin look younger and helps in improving bone health.
Introduce it slowly in your diet as your gut needs a little time to adjust to this new sweet source. You can use it in same amount as you use sugar. One of the few sugar alternatives which has almost no ill-effects and has multiple health benefits.
Glycemic Index of just 1 and having just 6% calories when compared to sugar this is another good sugar substitute. It is not absorbed in your bloodstream and thus doesn’t breaks down and is eliminated unchanged from the body. Only 10 percent is absorbed and reaches the gut where it is fermented by your gut microbe.
It has 70% the sweetness of sugar, so you need to add it more than sugar in your food. For example if you drink a tea with 1 teaspoon sugar, you will need to add 1.3 teaspoon of sugar to get the same level of sweetness. Taste wise it is exactly the same as sugar. Some studies say that few adults gain fats after consumption of Erythritol. It has some negligible digestive issue causing ability but apart from these, it is safe for usage.
Not generally the kind of sugar substitute that we are looking for. It has glycemic Index of 35 for syrup and 52 for powder. Which is marginally lower than that of sugar. This one can be used by you if you have a very small weight loss as your target. It is just 75-90% sweet as compared to sugar. Widely used as sugar alternative in production of candies, chewing gums, chocolates, frozen dessert and baked goods.
It has a laxative effect if not consumed in moderation. The upper limit for consumption is 90 grams. In India we consume about 40-50 grams sugar daily on an average. So you can easily thrive on Maltitol if you want to.
It has 2/3rd of the calories as compared to the sugar. It is just 60% sweeter as compared to sugar. It is more palatable and has a glycemic Index of 4. It is a natural sugar alcohol that is found in some berries and fruits. Its lesser sweetness means that you need it in large volume to achieve the desired sweetness.
The increased volume can also lead to laxative side effects of sorbitol. Like all the sugar alcohols that are used as sugar substitutes, sorbitol is dental friendly.
Made out of Agave plant that is native to Latin America and southern United States. Yes the same plant that gives you tequila. Agave syrup is extracted from agave plant. It has a Glycemic Index of 15 but has a high fructose content which is around 85%.
So do not fall in trap of a low GI, this much high amount of fructose is capable of disrupting your metabolism and put a pressure on your liver. High fructose consumption is linked with increase of bad cholesterols and fat gain. So you should choose wisely.
High fructose corn syrup
As the name itself suggests, it has a very high fructose and thus has only a slightly lower Glycemic index than sugar. The GI is 55-60 which is not that great for any sugar substitutes. It has all the problems stated earlier as agave syrup. Most of the famous fast food products use this instead of sugar to save cost.
The ill-effects of excess consumption ranges from fatty liver to unhealthy heart and type 2 diabetes. So even though it is a sugar substitute it should be avoided. It would be safe to say that this sugar alternative can do more damage than the sugar itself.
You must have seen this product often as a healthier sugar alternative. But with Glycemic Index of 64-65 it is just the same as white sugar. It gets its brown colour because of the molasses that are added at the end process. These molasses provide trace amounts of nutrient like vitamins and minerals.
As they are just found in negligible quantities they are anyway not going to help your diet goals. So be careful when you opt out for brown sugar as it is not going to give you any added benefits but will weigh heavy on your pocket.
Monk fruit sweetener
One more natural sugar substitute that is roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar. It has a glycemic index of zero and is packed with many antioxidants that are good for your health. The antioxidant called Mogrosides is present in the fruit and while processing the juice it is retained to be there in final product.
The fructose and glucose are separated from the juice. Thus it is possible to make a very healthy sugar alternative. That can be used by you to replace sugar from your diet.
Produced from a plant native to South America called Stevia rebaudiana, it is a widely known sugar substitute. Most of the western countries are using it as a sugar alternative and in India and the sub-continent the market share is gaining rapid momentum. All these facts highlight that how people have trusted Stevia to be a healthier alternative of sugar. Its Glycemic Index of zero is another added advantage.
As sugar consumption operates in a feedback loops that send signals to the brain to eat more in short time, stevia manages to stop this debacle and helps in controlling hunger pangs. It also improves insulin sensitivity and can lower high blood pressure if consumed optimally.
It is a plant based substance extracted from Yacon plant. A natural sugar substitute with just 1/3rd calories of sugar. The Glycemic Index of 1 helps in weight loss. It contains high amount of fructooligosaccharides that are good to aid the growth of beneficial gut microbes.
It is also known to solve digestion issues and helps in addressing constipation issues. All because it has high amount of soluble fiber. So for people with constipation who want to lose weight, this is a great option.
It is made out of sap of the coconut tree flower. The extract is evaporated to shed all the water content and what is left behind is called as coconut sugar in a crystalline form. Though the GI keeps varying as per different geo-locations, the average Glycemic Index of coconut sugar is around 35. This GI is usually the result of the trace amounts of soluble fibers in it.
Coconut sugar scores extra marks in comparison to other sugar substitutes because it has good amount of nitrogen, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur and some amount of vitamin-C. Which is way better than just empty calories of sugar.
Now you must be wondering that it is well known fact that honey is a better sugar substitute of all time. Aren’t you? Just hold on and keep reading. Yes I agree that it has only 75% calories of actual sugar and is sweeter than sugar marginally. It has a Glycemic Index of 50 but is metabolized just like sugar. It contains just trace amounts of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, of which many are beneficial polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids.
So to meet your daily requirements of this nutrients you will probably need to drink a glass of honey and I hope you know how many calories that will put in your body. So it is fair to conclude that it is slightly better than sugar. It is known to slower digestion thus controlling blood sugar spikes slightly. One of the best benefits of honey is that it reduces oxidative stress of the organs.
Made out of maple tree sap this is very famous sweetener since ages now. Pancakes with maple syrup is a hit combination. It has a Glycemic Index of 54 but is packed with calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese which are some nutrients that improve your health.
It is said to have 24 antioxidants and thus it can be used for health purposes along with being a sugar substitute. It has a compound called quebecol that prevents the development of cancer causing cells. So you can replace your sugar with maple syrup for overall health benefits and very limited weight loss benefits.
A natural sugar sweetener that is off late being consider to be a great sugar substitute. Dates have Glycemic Index of 42-46 which is lower than sugar. It has lots of fibers that helps slowing down the absorption of sugar in the blood stream. Dates are good source of polyphenols and vitamin-C. It also has, copper, potassium, minerals, iron and B vitamins.
The best way to use dates as a sugar substitute is to soak it in water and make a paste in grinder and use in almost same quantities as of sugar. It has slightly lesser calories than sugar and is always a healthier option than sugar.
Made from sugarcane juice it is a non-refined sweetener. It has a Glycemic Index of 84, yes it is that high in jaggery. So from a strict weight management perspective, it is not advisable to consume jaggery. But if you want to have some health benefits with your source of sugar then jaggery can be your sugar substitute.
Jaggery has traces of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and vitamin B. It has small amounts of protein, it purifies blood, cleanses the internal organs, and improves functioning of nervous system. Since it is metabolized just like sugar it needs to be consumed in moderation.
You can read this fun and informative post on Sugar Vs Honey Vs Jaggery from the wholetruthfoods.com.
This was a very long list of possible sugar substitutes than could be used as sugar alternatives to replace the normal sugar from your diet. Replacing sugar from your diet is totally your call, if you eat very less or negligible sugar then you can do away with it. But if you have a genetics of diabetes or your sugar consumption is in line of giving you type 2 diabetes then you should start thinking on it.
Diabetics need to replace sugar and for them many of the above mentioned options will work. If you are looking for a healthier sugar substitutes then I would suggest go for a natural sweetener rather than chemical sweetener as at the end of the day putting too many chemicals in your body is not good in the long run.“So when someone asks you what is better Sugar vs Honey vs Jaggery, forward them this blog post. Full stop!!!” Click To Tweet
There is one study conducted in Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel and published on Sept 17th 2014, which says that Saccharin, Aspartame and Sucralose were shown to effect the bacteria in the bowel in adverse ways. This leads to a disruption in normal metabolism and might lead to cancer of cells.
Each kind of sugar substitute has its own benefits and ill-effect. Like chemical sugar substitutes might be cancerous, Sugar alcohols may disturb your digestion, and so on. So you should check what is working well for you and your diet goal, then you can finalize it to be consumed as a sugar alternative in your diet.
Anything consumed in excess is bad for your body, let this be a thumb rule. So if you can control your sugar cravings then you are good with sugar. But still eating just blank calories is always going to cause problems sooner or later. Eating natural sugars such as honey, jaggery, and dates can give you added advantage along with the calories and this why you should consider including them in your diet. These sugar substitutes will prove beneficial for your overall health.
With this I rest my case and leave it up to you for deciding. I am not a nutritionist or dietician and hence I recommend that you should consult with a nutritionist or dietician to take your call on these sugar substitutes. I just wanted to let you know that you have so many sugar alternatives available that can easily replace sugar from your diet.
If you liked this detailed blog post then do share with the people you care for. If you have any complaints or suggestions then do mail me at foodie_khiladi007 or foodie_khiladi007. I keep bringing up such educational content. If you are yet to read my recent post on Yogurt vs Curd then here is the link for you. With this your foodie_khiladi signs off for the day and hope to see you in my next blog post soon. Till then keep smiling and spreading the smiles.