Monday, July 6, 2015

Popular Sugar Substitutes: Which Ones Are Healthy?

There is conflicting research around the use of artificial sweeteners. While real sugar is fine in moderation, too much can contribute to the development of diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease, obesity, and more. Furthermore, too much can cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash very quickly which will not leave you feeling your best. Sugar has no nutritional value, and is highly processed and refined. Below, I've listed some of the most popular sweeteners that may (or may not!) be a healthier alternative to white sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Coconut Sugar: Coconut sugar is made from fresh coconut tree sap. The sap is heated to remove moisture, resulting in the crystal form of sugar. The taste is similar to brown sugar with a hint of caramel. Unlike table sugar, coconut sugar contains several nutrients including iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. Some studies have shown that coconut sugar has a low glycemic index than table sugar, meaning that it does not cause your blood sugar level to spike rapidly and drop rapidly after consumption. Although it is less refined than white sugar, it still has the same amount of calories and should be consumed in moderation.

Pure Maple Syrup: Pure maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees. The sap is tapped in the winter, then condensed and evaporated to reduce the water content and create its thick consistency. It takes about 40-50 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup! Maple syrup contains more nutrients than honey, sugar, brown sugar, and agave. It is an excellent source of manganese and riboflavin, and a good source of zinc which plays an important role in keeping the immune system healthy. When purchasing, be sure you are buying pure maple syrup. Most syrup in stores, like Aunt Jemima's and Log cabin, are just corn syrup sweetened with sugar. As with all sweeteners, use sparingly. Or, try cooking down fresh or frozen fruit as a substitute for syrup on waffles or pancakes!

Agave Syrup: Agave is liquid sweetener derived from the agave plant- the same plant used to make tequila! It is slightly sweeter than sugar, with a taste similar to honey. It is made from the starchy agave root (not the sap), so it is highly processed resulting in a fructose content of about 70% (higher than high fructose corn syrup!). Overall, it is not a healthier choice.

Honey: Honey is made by honey bees from the nectars of flowers and plants. It consists mainly of sugar and water, but also nutrients such as B complex vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc. Raw honey also contains antioxidants, which helps fight off damaging free radicals. It contains more calories than table sugar, but less honey is needed since it is sweeter. Keep in mind that refined pasteurized honey is no better than table sugar, so be sure to buy raw honey.

Stevia: This sugar substitute comes from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant, native to South America. Stevia has NO artificial ingredients, contains little to no calories, and is 200-450 times sweeter than sugar. It does not have any effect on blood sugar making it a healthier alternative for diabetics (versus Equal, Splenda, and Sweet and Low). If the powdered form is too bitter tasting for you, try the liquid stevia drops (I recommend SweetLeaf!) Check out this link for Vitacost to purchase some of these healthier sugar alternatives. They have the best prices!! 

Keep in mind: If you are only consuming one to two packets of sugar a day because you enjoy it in your coffee and tea (and you're not diabetic), that's totally fine!! A packet of sugar is only 16 calories, so it will not make or break your day.  

Any other sugar alternatives you want to learn more about? Comment below!