I don’t know why but when we choose to go sugar free, many of us seem to want to substitute our sugar with some kind of sugar substitute.
But is honey the best?
Maybe an articficial sweetener that has no calories?
Which one should I choose?
And is there such a thing as healthy sugar substitutes?
Well here are a few tips to help you decide and some links to a few extra resources that you’ll probably find helpful too.
Choose From Nature
Of course sugar itself does comes from nature but the white stuff is highly refined. While the raw sugar is a more natural form, both are stripped of all nutrients, which is why we want to avoid them most of the time. They taste good but only provide extra calories and nothing else of value to our body.
So if you do want another sugar substitute then choose something else that comes directly from nature.
Sometimes I use a small amount of honey in cooking, or some fresh fruit juice or pureed fruit in cooking and for flavour. You can also use molasses, coconut sugar, maple syrup, or rapadura sugar. I’ve got links to some more info on these below.
Don’t Over Do It
Sugar is 100% empty of any nutrients and things like raw honey, molasses and maple syrup do contain more nutrients than sugar BUT they are still sugar. They contain roughly the same amount of calories as sugar and if you eat them all the time they will still cause weight gain, blood sugar issues, excess insulin and so forth.
So I guess the message here is that even natural ‘healthy’ sugar substitutes are only meant to be eaten in small amounts or they also become unhealthy too.
The Best Sugar Alternative
Personally I try and avoid sugar and all sugar substitutes the majority of the time as I’m usually quite happy to eat my clean tasty food as it is. Of course that doesn’t mean I’m a saint as I do eat sugar sometimes.
My prefered choice when I do use a sugar alternative is stevia because it doesn’t contain any empty calories. In fact it contains no calories at all. I wrote a great article about stevia here.
BUT There’s More To The Picture if you’re trying to lose weight…
If you are trying to lose weight or improve your health, it is best to avoid sugar…period!
All sugars and sugar substitutes can contribute to weight gain or prevent your weight loss…even non caloric sugar substitutes.
When the body detects sugar, it’s natural reaction is to release insulin, insulin puts your body in fat storage mode. So even the sugar substitutes are having a direct impact on your metabolism, slowing it down and preventing weight loss or maybe contributing to some extra pounds.
In order to lose weight you need to regulate your blood sugar levels so you can burn fat naturally and easily, and that means trying to avoid all sugar and sugar substitutes most of the time.
With something like stevia this effect is not going to have as great an impact as honey, molasses or other natural sugars, which is why I also recommend it as a good option.
Stay A Mile Away From:
Whatever you do, stay a mile away from aspartame (aka equal), saccharin, sucralose (aka splenda) and other sugar substitutes claiming to be healthy substitutes with no calories (unless it’s stevia).
A lot of the time these are chemical sweeteners, that have been chemically processed and are toxic substances that are definitely not healthy!
Studies have also shown that these still contribute to weight gain and bad health.
Always Read The Labels
If you are buying products make sure you always read the labels.
Be a sweetener detective and look for hidden sweeteners in common foods & snacks.
Here’s a few tips on how to do that:
• Check the total carbohydrate grams in the food, then check the sugar grams – remember that 5g of sugar is 1 teaspoon, so this will give you a better indication of the amount of sugar you are consuming.
• Look for ingredients that end in “-ose” or “-tol” – this means it’s a sweetener. For example: sucralose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, lactose, levulose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol
• Look for the words sugar, nectar, syrup, crystals. These are typically derived from more natural sources, but are still sweeteners and you should be aware of their presence.
Source: 21 day sugar detox guide, page 30.
So Is There Such A Thing As A Healthy Sugar Substitute?
I guess the moral of the story is…no sugar substitute is really super optimal for health but if you are going to use a sugar alternative, the healthy sugar substitutes are the ones that come from nature.
Your best sources are raw honey, molasses, mape syrup, coconut sugar, fresh fruit juice, and pureed fruit. Just don’t over do it on the stuff!
And for the best alternative choose stevia.
Here are links to more info on some of the sugar substitutes.