Is There Such a Thing as a Healthy Sugar Substitute?

39SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  21 comments   :  28,167 Views

These days, sugar can seem like a four-letter word, especially if you're trying to lose weight or adopt a healthier lifestyle. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an excess of added sugars is one of the main culprits behind not only weight gain and obesity, but also an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The FDA recommends consuming no more than six to 11 teaspoons of the sweet stuff each day.
 
The problem is, the sweet stuff is practically everywhere, and it doesn’t always come in obvious forms, like when you sprinkle it in your coffee or drizzle chocolate sauce on strawberries. The practice of adding sugar to packaged foods is rampant—it can be found in everything from veggie snacks to juices and sauces.
 
As part of the anti-sugar trend, many people are turning to substitutes as a lower-calorie way to sweeten things up. But are sugar swaps any better than the real deal? SparkPeople nutritionist Becky Hand gives us the skinny on today's trendiest sugar substitutes.

Agave Syrup


Derived from the nectar of agave plants, this syrup can sometimes be sweeter than white table sugar, but it contains more calories (60 per tablespoon as opposed to 48). "The nutritional boost of agave syrup is very minimal," says Hand. "There are only trace amounts of iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium." In addition, while most sweeteners contain around a 50/50 mix of glucose and fructose, agave syrup is around 90 percent fructose—and some research has shown that high fructose consumption is linked to higher body fat and lower physical activity.

Coconut Sugar


Also known as coconut palm sugar, this sweetening agent is made from boiling down the nectar of flowers from the coconut plant. It contains the same amount of calories (16) and carbohydrates (four grams) as white table sugar.
 
Although it's touted as more nutritious than regular table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, Hand points out that coconut sugar contains only trace amounts of nutrients like zinc, iron, potassium, vitamin C and thiamin. It also contains almost as much fructose as regular sugar.
 
Is coconut sugar a good option for diabetics? According to the American Diabetes Association, it's fine to use coconut sugar as a sweetener, but it should be treated the same as regular sugar in terms of consumption.

Brown Rice Syrup


To produce this natural sweetener, enzymes are used to break down the starch in brown rice into simple sugar. The liquid is then boiled down into syrup.
 
Depending on how it's processed, brown rice syrup can contain anywhere from 55 to 75 calories per tablespoon. With only trace nutrients of magnesium, zinc and manganese, it offers little to no nutritional value.
 
Although brown rice syrup is made up of three different types of sugars, it is broken down into glucose during digestion, so it ultimately has the same effect on the body as regular sugar.

Date Sugar


Date sugar is different from other natural sugar substitutes in that it's not an extract, but is instead made by grinding dried dates into a fine powder. It contains the same nutrients as whole dates—potassium, calcium and several antioxidants—and has only 30 calories per tablespoon. Hand points out that under the latest FDA draft guidelines, whole fruit, fruit pieces and dried fruit don't fall into the category of added sugars.
 
However, Hand warns that date sugar has some restrictions. Because it doesn't melt well, its uses are limited. "It can primarily be used as a replacement for brown sugar in quick breads and bar cookies, sprinkled in yogurt, added to a smoothie or used to top a hot cereal," she says.

To Sweeten or Not to Sweeten?


While some sugar substitutes may be marketed as healthier or more natural than others, Hand cautions that the body can't distinguish between these and regular white table sugar.
 
"There is no nutritional boost to these sweeteners," she says. "If you like the flavor, then make the substitution—but don't assume that you're giving your body a health-promoting boost. Like the real thing, substitute sweeteners should be consumed in moderation."

What do you think of sugar substitutes?
 
Join us each month as we sift through the so-called life hacks and miracle cures to get to the bottom of the latest buzzworthy trend. Get the facts and decide for yourself if you should Spark It or Scrap It.


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Comments

  • 21
    I don't use subs.... the 'real' thing works for me, I cook most of my meals, no processed foods. I cut out allot of sweetener in my 1 cup of coffee, I drink almost black, now. When I want something sweet, I eat raw carrots.... yummy! - 1/26/2017   6:03:38 PM
  • 20
    Last time i tried to lose weight i went with sugar substitutes and i did not feel good at all. When i stopped using them i felt so much better. I've just learned to slowly cut back on adding sugar to things...especially my coffee. - 1/25/2017   4:26:43 PM
  • 19
    I've been working hard to wean myself off table sugar and that would be the answer for a healthier body for me. I don't care for hardly any substitutes, with the exception of a rare Diet Coke or sparkling waters. - 1/25/2017   2:45:12 PM
  • 18
    I must use care with substitutes due to allergic reactions.
    I can use Sweet 'n Low and Splenda so I do.

    I can use honey but still must count the calories, but at least my body is able to burn the honey better than the sugar.

    Since most of my allergies come from plants, I won't try Stevia and Truvia as they can be fatal for me.

    I kind of feel that people should do whatever works for them and am always interested in learning about new things. - 1/25/2017   2:18:24 PM
  • 17
    Try Monk Fruit to sweeten things! It is awesome!
    Also if you are craving something sweet look for Arctic Zero! Yes its ice cream but its healthy for you! Trust me you will thank me later! Its the best! (Arctic is lower then advertised ice cream Halo) - 1/25/2017   2:14:05 PM
  • 16
    I use Stevia, no calories and it comes from a plant. - 1/25/2017   11:39:07 AM
  • 15
    I never use sugar or sweeteners in anythiing. - 1/25/2017   10:40:41 AM
  • 14
    If I want sugar, I use maple syrup as it is 100% real and is very little processed. I do not eat transformed or refined sugar so when I need it in a recipe, this is what I use! - 1/25/2017   10:07:27 AM
  • 13
    Just my own opinion, that I choose for myself. If I'm going to have sugar it's going to be the actual sugar. There's such an increase in cancer including my family. My Mom did all the substitutes and I choose again, my personal choice, to not do as Mom did. I have a friend in the medical field who did some in-depth research into how some of these products were discovered. A few, not all,,,are scary!! I only add sugar to cereal and it's an individual package a day, if I have cereal. It's not that much calories so it's not concerning to me, personally. Now why when I was consuming 6-8 regular pepsi a day along with at least a 1/2 box of Twinkies was the sugar? That WAS a problem. I hear my friends freaking out over a couple of tablespoons of sugar, I don't. - 1/25/2017   9:35:00 AM
  • 12
    Just my own opinion, that I choose for myself. If I'm going to have sugar it's going to be the actual sugar. There's such an increase in cancer including my family. My Mom did all the substitutes and I choose again, my personal choice, to not do as Mom did. I have a friend in the medical field who did some in-depth research into how some of these products were discovered. A few, not all,,,are scary!! I only add sugar to cereal and it's an individual package a day, if I have cereal. It's not that much calories so it's not concerning to me, personally. Now why when I was consuming 6-8 regular pepsi a day along with at least a 1/2 box of Twinkies was the sugar? That WAS a problem. I hear my friends freaking out over a couple of tablespoons of sugar, I don't. - 1/25/2017   9:35:00 AM
  • 11
    I use stevia for iced tea, but in hot tea I need the honey. For me, the stevia tastes like sugar in the iced tea, but funny in hot. I know that is strange. I was told today to have tea with honey in it to help get rid of my cold/stop the coughing. (that was by a physician's assistant). I just read something about some research showing the honey had the micro-nutrients, but that was good. At least micro-nutrients are more than plain sugar, aren't they? - 1/25/2017   12:18:57 AM
  • 10
    I don't think I could exist without a sweetener...I use stevia put out by Truvia. - 1/24/2017   4:38:31 PM
  • 9
    I use agave in my coffee usually only have 1 cup a day. Hot teas i usually go without any sweeteners or sugar. I just don't like the artificial or stevia ones so don't use them. I would rather do without something than have to use those. - 1/22/2017   3:41:43 PM
  • 8
    What about stevia? That's what I prefer to use if I use a substitute. - 1/18/2017   11:03:11 PM
  • 7
    I enjoy Stevia in my herbal tea, or home-made cacao drinks. I limit myself to 3 packets per day and normally don't go through more than one per day. - 1/17/2017   7:39:25 PM
  • LCALLIS
    6
    what about stevia? it can help repair your pancreas, which is what gets damaged by insulin. also theres conflicting research on fructose. i read that it had a GI of 27, according to the montignac method, and when i used it on my oatmeal, i suffered no ill effect. i.e. i lost weight and looked the best i had ever. - 1/17/2017   1:05:06 PM
  • 5
    I use brown sugar, honey or maple syrup for sweeteners, but I am not a sweets person, so very little of any of them, the date sugar sounds like it would be good on oatmeal or cream of wheat. - 1/16/2017   4:12:32 PM
  • TAMMMYK123
    4
    Has anyone tried Date sugar? It sounds like it might be an option. I have tried sugar alcohols- I find they and...I dont even know, I dont like them. They seem to make me crave sugar more than eating regular sugar. Stevia, I HATE the after taste!!! - 1/15/2017   8:47:39 PM
  • 3
    Personally, regarding weight loss, when I have used any type of sugar especially artificial sweeteners, I have gained weight and constantly stayed bloated.
    Excellent article! - 1/15/2017   4:19:03 PM
  • 2
    Odd that the article doesn't mention Stevia, Erythrinol, Xylitol etc (sugar alcohols). I listened to my body when I tried Agave the first time and realized I had the same "hit" as I did when I had foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)...that fructose is bad mojo for me... - 1/14/2017   6:03:15 PM
  • 1
    I'm a big fan of stevia - but I only add it in tea, or maybe yogurt. Not much else. - 1/13/2017   7:17:06 PM

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