Which Sugar Replacements Are Good and Which Are Not so Good for Sweet Snacking?

Which Sugar Replacements Are Good and Which Are Not so Good for Sweet Snacking?

Snacking helps us get through the day so we can enjoy little treats and keep from getting hunger pains and cravings between our main meals. Done sensibly, snacking can be healthy and satisfying and keep us from overeating. Snacking can also be tricky if you’re trying to eat healthy. The culprit is often sugar.

Sugar makes our treats taste so good, but sugar contributes to health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. But there’s a workaround. You needn’t give up sweet treats because natural sugar substitutes can take their place. They can be just as sweet, satisfying, and do not take a toll on your health or diet.


The Problem with Sugar

Sugar can spike blood sugar. Elevated sugar levels can cause a sugar energy rush and then a sharp energy decline causing a vicious cycle of eating sugary snacks and desserts – a characteristic of foods high on the glycemic index. It can be tricky identifying what sugars are in your packaged treat because you have to rely on what the label ingredients tell you.

Face it, most packaged goodies contain not so healthy sugars. Some are cleverly marketed as natural and wholesome treats on the label. Sugar often goes by other names, like fructose, dextrose, raw sugar, evaporated cane juice, and brown rice syrup, for examples.

But identifying sugars can get much more confusing when they are derivatives of or substitutes for sugar. Some sugars may start with a whole food but then are converted into highly processed sweeteners with added chemicals. High fructose corn syrup is an example of a sugar that starts off using corn, a whole food. HFCS is a degraded form of sugar made by cooking the natural sugars from corn at high temperatures and added chemicals during processing.

HFCS has destructive nutritional qualities. Sweeteners made from corn are in many cases genetically modified. HFCS and other highly processed super sweet sweeteners also happen to be highly addicting. The more we eat, the more we want.


Unhealthy Sugar Substitutes

Some sugar substitutes are derived from foods; others are completely synthetic, made with chemicals. Some boast that they are sugar-free, sweeter than sugar, and even low or no calories. Saccharin, one of the most common artificial sweeteners, fits that category. Saccharin is used in soft drinks, fruit juices, pharmaceuticals and many other consumer products to make them taste good. But are they good for you? The consensus is no.

Many low or no-cal sugar substitutes contribute to weight gain; ironic because those very same substitutes are often used in diet sodas.

Health concerns with some sugar substitutes are that they are high on the glycemic index, derived from GMO foods, highly processed, made using extremely high heat, have added chemicals, and cause side effects, heart disease, cancer, and weight gain, to name some of them.

Studies have found a link between the use of aspartame – an artificial sugar substitute – and cancer. HFCS is also considered a carcinogen by many health food advocates and U.S. government agencies generally concede it should not be considered completely safe.

Sugar substitutes you may want to avoid include:

  • Aspartame (brand name NutraSweet)
  • Saccharin (brand name Sweet’N Low)
  • Sucralose (brand name Splenda)
  • Cyclamate (brand name Sucaryl)
  • Mannitol


Healthy Sugar Substitutes

On the safe side of sweet, there’s raw honey and pure maple syrup. These are natural sugars but they each have health caveats. Not all honey is created equal; some are higher on the glycemic index. Likewise, maple syrup comes from the sap of a maple tree, so you want to make sure you purchase 100 percent maple syrup and not a blend that contains less healthy sugars. Another consideration with maple syrup is that it’s going to give you a concentrated energy rush and resulting crash, just as refined sugar does.

Some healthier, low glycemic sweeteners are:

Stevia.  Sweeter than table sugar by 200-300 times and zero calories, stevia is a natural sweetener. It is an extract from the leaf of the South American plant used for hundreds of years. Stevia is a sure bet if you have questions about the potential health risks of sugar substitutes. Over 200 research studies report high-purity stevia it is safe for use in foods and drinks.

Coca Cola’s version of stevia is Truvia – their brand name. But stevia and Truvia are not the same. Truvia is refined from stevia and also contains other ingredients including erythritol (granted, a healthy choice) and natural flavoring. Just know that with Truvia you’re not getting pure stevia.

Erythritol. Called a blood sugar alcohol, erythritol is made by fermenting the natural sugar in corn. Check package labels for “non-GMO” before you buy. It’s about 60 to 80 percent as sweet as sugar, is easy to digest, not a carcinogen, and has antioxidant properties. Erythritol is widely used in many countries: Japan, the European Union, Mexico, and Canada. It’s great for baking because it can be used 1:1 in recipes calling for sugar.

Coconut (Palm) Sugar. Made from the sap of coconut oil, the oil is then extracted, boiled, and dehydrated. Like erythritol, it also has a 1:1 usage. However, if you’re trying to lose weight you wouldn’t want to use coconut sugar in large quantities; it has about the same amount of calories as regular cane sugar. Read the package label carefully; cane sugar is sometimes mixed in.

Monk Fruit. Monk fruit is a melon of the subtropics with extracted compounds 300–400 times the sweetness of cane sugar but with no calories and no effect on blood sugar, with no aftertaste, like many other sugar substitutes. Nicknamed the “longevity fruit” because of its high antioxidant levels, monk fruit can actually act as a natural aid for those who are severely overweight. There’s also no GMO risk in monk fruit, since the extract comes from non-GMO tainted fruit, unlike table sugar and corn syrup.

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