The Best Sugar Substitutions

There is a lot of debate out there about sweetners and how they affect our bodies.  Which ones to choose?  Should we just stick with regular sugar?  What side effects could I have from using other sweetners?

Well, I can tell you, straight off, that if it’s been created in a laboratory by man, you probably don’t want to ingest it.  Most artificial sweenters have not been around for enough years for us to truly know what effect they could be having on our bodies.

For me, personally, I find that artificial sweenters tend to spike my craving for anything and everything sweet (and they’ve been shown to spike insulin levels just like sugar).  Perhaps you’ve experienced this too?  I know that I like to stay away from things that are overly sweet because they send my energy levels all over the charts, and they don’t really leave me satisfied either.

I read this article in Body+Soul Magazine, and I wanted to share it with you, because it provides some great info about some NATURAL options out there to use for sweetening our foods…


The Best Sugar Substitutions
from Body+Soul Magazine



Despite its association with all things chaste, white hardly reveals
innocence with sugar. Those seemingly pure-as-the-driven-snow granules
are in fact typically refined at least six times, which means that any
ensuing nutritive value is nil. But our collective sweet tooth has only
been growing — and the health risks, increasing.

Americans currently consume an average of 60 pounds of sugar a year.
“That’s about 20 teaspoons a day in added sweeteners — more than twice
the amount recommended by the USDA for the average American, explains
naturopathic doctor Cathy Wong, author of The Inside-Out Diet. (When you
add other sweeteners, like corn syrup, those numbers jump to about 140
pounds a year, and 44 teaspoons a day.) All the extra calories, along
with the boomerang effect sugar has on blood

sugar levels, contribute to our obesity and diabetes
epidemics — and conditions like Crohn’s disease, nonalcoholic fatty
liver disease, and elevated triglyceride levels (a risk factor for
stroke and heart disease).

By no means do natural sweeteners
give us license to spoil a sweet tooth rotten, but they’re an
improvement over sugar. Some provide trace minerals and other nutrients,
and they send your blood sugar on a slower, steadier journey — which
benefits both your in-the-moment energy level and your long-term health.
“It’s about upgrading your sweets, health-wise,” says Beth Reardon,
R.D., an integrative nutritionist for Duke Integrative Medicine in
Durham, North Carolina.

But don’t assume every natural sweetener is healthier across the
board. Fructose, for instance, a fruit-derived sugar, converts to
triglycerides more easily than table sugar does. Others are high in
calories. “And in terms of their impact on your blood sugar, a lot of
the natural alternatives — honey and maple syrup,
for instance — aren’t that different from table sugar,” says Wong. The
bottom line: Every sweetener has pros and cons, the most notable of
which we’ve culled here. If you’re diabetic or have health issues
related to your diet, consult with your doctor to find the best option.

Agave Nectar

spoon in photo)
Derived from a spiky, desert-dwelling succulent
plant, agave nectar (also known as agave syrup) has the same botanical
parentage as tequila. Of the two, the sweetener will get you into far
less trouble. With 60 calories per tablespoon, it’s not low-calorie, but
it’s about 33 percent sweeter than sugar — so you can use less.


easy to find in supermarkets (look in the health-food section), agave
nectar has a light, slightly fruity taste. Though research is still
scant, agave appears to have a minimal effect on blood sugar and insulin
levels, according to Wong.


syrup is high in fructose; besides the triglycerides
issue, some research suggests that fructose doesn’t shut off appetite
hormones, so you may end up overeating.


agave nectar in coffee, tea, and baked goods. But in the last case,
expect some trial and error: “When you use liquid sweeteners in baking,
you need to reduce the liquid content in the recipe,” says Reardon.
Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof equation, but experiment with a 1/4
cup reduction for every cup of liquid sweetener. You may also want to
subtract 25 degrees from the recipe’s suggested baking temperature to
compensate for the added liquid content.

Brown Rice Syrup

spoon from top)
When combined with sprouted rice or barley, cooked
brown rice yields this sweet liquid that tastes vaguely of butterscotch
or caramel. Brown rice syrup contains about 13 calories per teaspoon and
is less sweet than sugar.


syrup breaks down relatively slowly, providing more of a time-release
energy flow than sugar does. Unlike sugar, this rice derivative contains
magnesium, manganese, and zinc.


is still glucose in there, says Wong, so diabetics should avoid using
this sweetener.


its distinct flavor, brown rice syrup works better in baked goods than
in coffee and tea. When baking with it, replace each cup of white sugar
with 1 1/4 cup of brown rice syrup. As with agave nectar, slightly
reduce other liquids in the recipe to accommodate for this liquid


spoon from top)
Once solely an ingredient in packaged foods, this sugar alcohol is now available in a
powdered form. With a clean, cool taste and nearly no calories,
erythritol is most commonly the result of breaking down, fermenting, and
filtering sugar cane or
corn starch. “After heating the
resulting liquid until the water evaporates, you are left with whitish
crystals,” explains Wong.


it is low in calories, erythritol is good for people with weight
concerns. “It is promising for diabetics, too, as it doesn’t affect
blood sugar or insulin levels,” says Wong. Bonus pros: Erythritol won’t
decay your teeth (the offending bacteria don’t metabolize it), and, in
moderate quantities, it doesn’t cause the stomach upset that other sugar
alcohols do.


consumption (over 20 teaspoons a day) can cause problems like gas,
bloating, and diarrhea.


it’s clean tasting, erythritol works well in coffees and teas. But you
can also bake with this heat-stable powder. Know that it’s only about 70
percent as sweet as table sugar, though, so you’ll need to account for
that difference.

Maple Syrup

Though typically limited to the role of pancake and waffle
adjunct, this boiled down maple tree sap has a lot more to offer —
particularly USDA Grade B syrup. “Usually made toward the end of the
season, it has a stronger flavor than Grade A and is thought to contain
more minerals,” says Wong. Either way, you’re looking at about 17
calories per teaspoon.


and barely processed, pure maple syrup is a good source of minerals
like manganese and zinc.

diabetic no-no, maple syrup can boost blood sugar levels. Then there is
the distinctive flavor, which limits the sweetener’s application.


you probably don’t want to start squirting syrup into hot drinks, it
enhances baked desserts. Try substituting U cup for 1 cup of sugar, and
reduce the recipe’s liquid content.


spoon from top)
A case study in semantics, this native South
American plant is technically a supplement, not a sweetener, according
to the FDA. Citing “lack of safety evidence,” they’ve yet to approve it
for use as a food. However, many experts, including Reardon, don’t place
much stock in the FDA’s position. Stevia is available in liquid and
powdered form in the vitamin aisle. You can also grow your own plant, or
buy the dried herb from sources like


it’s about 300 times sweeter than sugar, stevia is potent in minute
quantities, and it contributes zero calories. In addition, says Wong,
some evidence shows that stevia may help lower blood sugar levels.


people find that stevia has a bitter aftertaste.


you’re interested in baking with stevia, look to specialty books or Web
sites; since the herb’s sweetness and volume are drastically different
from that of sugar, there’s no easy substitution formula. Stevia works
well in hot beverages like coffee or tea, however. (The liquid and
powder forms will dissolve; if you’re using the fresh or dried leaf,
strain it out.) Also try it for sweetening cold foods, such as plain
yogurt, salad dressing, or grapefruit. But keep the extreme sweetness in
mind; start small and add gradually.

The Latest on
Results of a 2005 European study
showed an increased risk for lymphoma and leukemia in rats fed the
artificial sweetener aspartame in doses proportional to what would be
considered safe in people. Another, published in 2007, also found an
increased risk of breast cancer. Citing studies that found no link
between aspartame and cancer, the FDA maintains aspartame is safe. But
plenty of experts disagree. “In my opinion, the results are concerning
enough that people should avoid aspartame,” says Cathy Wong, N.D. “If
they do use it, they shouldn’t use it as their sole sweetener.”

Text by Abbie Kozolchyk

First Published: April 2008


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