Sugar is associated with all sorts of negative health effects. But sometimes (okay, many times), we want something sweet either way. So, what can we do?
Some sugar substitutes can make for a healthier alternative to table sugar. And, because many of them are low in calories, they can even help maintain a healthy weight.
Read on to find out which sugar substitutes are best — and which should be avoided.
What’s a Sugar Substitute?
A sugar substitute is basically anything that replaces sugar (sucrose) — of which there are many different types.
Sugar substitutes can be natural or artificial, and while some can have health benefits, others can be detrimental to your wellness.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic (read: made in a laboratory). Natural sweeteners, on the other hand, are already found in nature. Some may have zero calories, while others may be as high as 120 calories per serving.
Remember that just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you! Some natural sweeteners, like agave, tend to be very high on the glycemic (GI) index. This means they can rapidly spike your blood sugar and leave you craving even more sugar than before.
Some natural sweeteners high in fructose — a type of sugar that the body can’t easily metabolize — can also get stored in the body as fat. This is why knowing which sugar replacement to choose makes all the difference between having your cravings satisfied and having your cravings skyrocket.
Well, don’t worry. We did the work so you don’t have to.
Keep reading for some of our favorite sugar substitutes to quell your sugar cravings.
What Are Some Healthy Sugar Substitutes?
1. Monk Fruit
Monk fruit is a fruit grown in Asia. While the fruit contains glucose and fructose, the juice (used to make monk fruit sweetener) does not. Instead, it gets its sweet taste from antioxidants called mogrosides.
Mogrosides are not absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract, which means they don’t provide calories to the body. This means that monk fruit extract is a zero-calorie sweetener.
Stevia is derived from a plant called stevia rebaudiana. It’s 200 times as sweet as regular white sugar, so very little stevia is needed to add sweetness.
Stevia has zero calories and doesn’t impact blood sugar levels thanks to its lower glycemic index — of zero, to be exact. However, some people don’t enjoy stevia’s bitter aftertaste, so it may not be everyone’s favorite.
Xylitol is one type of sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in some plants. It is not digested by the small intestine, so it only has a marginal impact on blood glucose levels — which is a win if you are trying to cut down on sugar intake.
However, xylitol can end up in the large intestine, where gut bacteria feed on it, releasing carbon dioxide. For this reason, it can cause gas, bloating, and upset stomach in some people.
Xylitol is low in calories, but it’s definitely not a zero-calorie sweetener. Compared to sugar’s 4 calories, xylitol still has 2.4 calories per teaspoon.
Erythritol is another sugar alcohol. It’s very low-calorie (fewer calories than xylitol), which makes it a good option for those following keto (or low-carb) diets. It also tastes very similar to sugar and has about the same sweetness, making it easy to substitute one for the other.
However, erythritol is still not zero calories, so moderation is key!
Allulose is naturally found in small quantities in certain plant foods. It is about 70% as sweet as regular sugar with only 10% as many calories.
Allulose is a small molecule called a monosaccharide, meaning “one sugar.” It’s rapidly absorbed by the body, and because allulose is not digested, it’s excreted intact without affecting blood glucose levels.
Allulose is another popular sweetener amongst those who follow a low-carbohydrate diet. However, it’s not a zero-calorie sweetener, which means it should be consumed in moderation for those restricting their carb or calorie intake or those on a weight loss journey.
6. Pure Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a natural sugar extracted from maple trees. It contains certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which means that it can offer some nourishment.
But maple syrup is still high in sugar. One tablespoon of maple syrup contains 14 grams of sugar, which can raise blood sugar levels and lead to increased cravings.
That said, it’s still lower in calories than refined sugar.
We definitely don’t recommend using maple syrup regularly. But as far as treats go — if you must have one — then maple syrup may be a healthier option.
Just make sure that you’re buying pure maple syrup. One easy way to check is to read the ingredient label. If there’s added sugar, then it’s probably not the genuine stuff.
Honey is probably the O.G. of natural sweeteners. It’s been used for millennia to sweeten desserts and provide healing properties — which is why we reach for honey at the first sign of a sore throat. Honey also contains some vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
That said, honey is higher in calories than sugar. Plus, it doesn’t contain any fiber — which means that it can quickly spike blood sugar levels. For this reason, we recommend honey only during a cold or as a special treat.
Which Sugar Substitutes Should You Avoid?
Now that we understand which sugar substitutes are the best, let’s talk about which ones to avoid.
1. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, are probably first on our list of sugar alternatives and additives to skip.
In the first place, there’s something sketchy about the fact that they’re made in a lab. This is probably why there’s some concern about their carcinogenic effects on humans. Aside from that, artificial sweeteners can spike cravings, leading to weight gain as a result.
2. High Fructose Corn Syrup (and Company)
Some natural sweeteners may be very high on the glycemic index, meaning they can spike your blood sugar and lead to increased sugar cravings. For this reason, we recommend avoiding certain natural sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup, rice syrup, and agave syrup.
3. Sugar Alcohols (for Some People)
While sugar alcohols tend to be a safe option, not everyone can process them the same way. Because sugar alcohols aren’t broken down by the body, they travel to the large intestine when they’re consumed by your gut bacteria.
For some people, sugar alcohols can cause indigestion — and a host of other stomach issues. If you notice similar problems, try experimenting with different sugar alcohols (or avoiding them altogether) to see if they subside.
Try To Limit Sugar Substitutes as Much as Possible
We love some sugar substitutes (like monk fruit) because they don’t have the harmful effects of refined sugar. But it’s still better to limit them as much as possible — training your tastebuds for the better.
As a hack, try using warm spices when you want to sweeten something. For instance, cinnamon has not only been shown to reduce appetite but also to stabilize blood sugar levels.
While you reduce your sugar and sugar substitute consumption, you should increase your fat and protein intake. These macronutrients can keep you full for much longer than sugar.
Craving a snack? Sweetkick’s Clusters contain a high amount of fat from nuts and seeds, helping to keep your sugar cravings at bay.
Sweetkick Can Help You Break Up With Sugar
Sugar is so last year. Break up with it and use one of our favorite sugar substitutes instead.
And if you still find yourself getting cravings, Sweetkick can help.