Sugar is the food that many people crave yet nobody really needs it. It has become an everyday part of most individuals’ diets. Many foods naturally contain sugars and most of the time, they are still added for increased sweetness. Sugars add desirability and enjoyment to the food we eat yet are more addictive than Cocaine. We need to carefully watch how much we are truly eating, however, controlling ourselves can be a little bit hard sometimes and I feel you!
There are different types of sugars or but the one commonly used is sucralose or table sugar which is present in a number of refined forms. Being the traditional sugar used, the global consumption of table sugars reached 174 metric tons in 2018 and 2019. This overconsumption of sugars increases public health concerns for its association with the risk of developing dental caries, Type II diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and other non-communicable diseases.
Due to these reasons, people opted for other alternatives such as zero-calorie and naturally derived sweeteners. The use of synthetic or artificial sweeteners has grown over the years. However, these were also subject to a number of controversies such as having effects on liver and bladder toxicity, carcinogenicity, fetus malformations, and other negative side effects. Even with these investigations, synthetic sweeteners are still considered safe up to date, although some types are not allowed in the US, while other types are allowed in the EU, raising trust issues among consumers.
The purpose of natural sweeteners is to provide the sweet flavor without the additional calories or side effects of artificial ones. Moreover, studies also found that healthy sweeteners have greater antioxidant effects compared to refined sugars. There are a number of natural sweeteners you can choose from. How will you know what’s the best? Here are some of the top natural sweeteners we recommend to you.
Erythritol is a type of sugar alcohol known as polyols used as sugar alternatives. Polyols are naturally present in fruits and vegetables specifically in grapes, mushrooms, and fermented soy sauce. Aside from providing sweetness, sugar alcohols are non-cariogenic. Compared to other sugar alcohols, erythritol is special for its different structure that allows it to be mixed with other intense sugars without giving an aftertaste. Erythritol is commonly used as a tabletop sweetener, added in beverages, used in chewing gums, chocolates, candies, and other bakery products. With the mild sweetness of erythritol, it is the fittest substitute for table sugar unlike other sweeteners with higher sweetness levels that fillers are still added to cover it, affecting the texture of baked products.
Aside from being non-cariogenic, erythritol is also non-caloric, non-glycemic, a free radical scavenger has high digestive tolerance, and has anti-oxidative and endothelium-protective properties. There were no observed side effects of erythritol, although overconsumption was shown to result in some flatulence less than its sibling Xylitol,
Just like erythritol, xylitol is also a type of sugar alcohol or polyol, commonly used as a sweetener. Compared to erythritol, xylitol is already an established and widely used natural sweetener. Xylitol has a low-calorie index, low glycemic index, and is non-carcinogenic. Moreover, xylitol improves dental health, has protein-stabilizing effects (protecting salivary proteins and reducing AGEs), improves breath odor, and helps in reducing infections in the mouth and nasopharynx. It also helps to break down Biofilm, the sticky substance that bacteria, fungus, and parasites like to create and hide in. Compared to erythritol. Xylitol has more biological effects on the body. Xylitol is also known to have anti-ketogenic effects, reducing serum-free fatty acid levels and improving utilization of peripheral glucose. In terms of vitamins, this also favors the absorption of calcium and B vitamins making them more available in the body. For the gut, xylitol helps in inhibiting the growth of yeasts especially Candida Albicans, maintaining a healthy gut function.
With all these benefits, the only reported side effects of xylitol are temporary laxation and gastrointestinal discomfort. Other than that, it’s perfectly safe to use!
Monk fruit is a small and round fruit used as a sweetener. The fruit is crushed to extract its juice as well as the mogroside which is the sweetest part of the fruit. Take note: mogroside provides a high level of sweetness without calories! Great right?
Aside from it not having calories, monk fruit sweeteners contain antioxidants that fight free radicals that cause cancers and other diseases. Monk fruit is tagged by the GRAS designation from the US FDA as “generally recognized as safe” and has no side effects upon consumption. It still should be taken into account that the consumption of monk fruit shall be in moderation and it is important to check food labels first in buying monk fruit sweeteners since in some cases, other sweeteners are combined with it.
Stevia or Steviol Glycoside sweeteners are derived from the Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant. The plant is native to South America and has been used for years in maintaining normal blood sugar levels and promoting weight loss. Stevia has a sweetness level that is 50 to 350 times higher than sugar making it a good alternative. To date, evidence shows that stevia sweeteners are safe, non-cariogenic, non-hypertensive, and have minimal impact on the gut microbiota. Moreover, its use has also been shown to reduce postprandial glucose for diabetic and healthy individuals. It has also been recommended in the American Diabetes Association’s list of sugar substitutes to use.
With the continuous improvements and innovations for stevia, in making it better-tasting, natural-origin, and high-purity, more consumers are coming for it. It also has no reported side effects and is available in liquid drops, packets, tablets, and blends.
Coconut has many forms — oil, butter, milk, and flour — has a wonderful health reputation. When it comes to coconut sugar though it is not as sweet as others. It also has, in lower amounts, a similar effect as cane sugar… That doesn’t make it bad, but treat organic coconut sugar like you would regular sugar.
Honey is one of the most popular natural sweeteners used by consumers. It contains enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, vitamin E, vitamin C, riboflavin, and niacin. These nutrients neutralize free radicals and promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. The glycemic load of honey is lower compared to other forms of sugars, although moderate consumption is still recommended since it still contains calories, unlike non-calorie sweeteners. In order to maintain the healthy benefits of honey, it is recommended to consume the raw form from direct bee farmers. If you can find it local then that is best as it can help with allergies as well. However, honey should not be fed to infants since it can sometimes contain botulism bacteria spores which pose a serious health hazard for babies. If you have Diabetes then Honey and the next two sugar should be avoided due to the fact that they still have an effect on blood sugar levels.
Maple sugar or maple syrup is native to North America. It is obtained through the collection of sap from the tree and then boiling it to remove the water content as well as filtering out the other sediments. Just like honey, maple syrup also contains a number of nutrients such as manganese, calcium, potassium, and zinc. It is also rich in antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative damage. Maple syrup comes in grades A (lighter) and B (darker), with the latter containing more antioxidants than the lighter ones. Just like in honey, a moderate intake of maple sugar should be observed since it contains calories compared to non-calorie sweeteners.
Agave syrup is a sweetener from the agave plant, a succulent belonging to the dry regions of Mexico. It is also a natural sweetener identical to honey and maple sugar. However, it contains fewer nutrients compared to the two. This contains the same level of carbohydrates as table sugars but a small amount can give you more flavor and it also has a lower effect on blood glucose levels. Just like in honey, Agave nectar should not be given to babies since it still has not gone pasteurization. Same as with honey and maple sugar, control intake of agave syrup for it still contains the same amount of calories as sugars.
Is derived from the roots of the yacon plant, yacon syrup provides a rich source of the prebiotic fiber fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Studies show FOS can increase satiety to help manage weight, as well as conditions like diabetes. If you have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), then you could experience bloating with prebiotic fibers like FOS and Inulin. So take notice if you experience bloating or GI upset.
These little “miracle berries” have been a little new to the market. They help transform fruits and veggies into something a little sweeter than they are. Basically, a protein in miracle berries (called miraculin) binds to the sweet receptors on your tongue. When it experiences acids (the things that make foods sour), they change the shape of the receptors causing them to send sweet signals to your brain instead of sour. They have been helping picky eaters eat more veggies and a variety of foods along with helping those wanting to lose a little weight. One particular issue they have been used for is to help those without an appetite or who have lost their sense of smell and taste. They can help you experience food in a new way without the side effects.
So What is the Healthiest Sugar?
There really is no perfect sugar though some have more benefits than others. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, the better solution is to learn to appreciate the natural sweetness in foods like berries, vegetables, and nuts.
“There’s only one long-term solution to the sugar problem: We all need to wean ourselves off sweetness as much as possible,” says Hyman. “As long as we keep eating sweets, we’ll keep wanting more. Learning to live without them may take some time. It requires cultivating an appreciation for all the other tastes that make food so delicious—the savory, the sour, even the bitter. But it’s possible.”
These are some of the top natural sweeteners you can try. Always seek professional help from your health provider in case you experience adverse side effects from using sweeteners. Also know that every person has different tolerances and it can take time to find what works best for you!
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