I decided to write this blog after being asked about sugar substitutes at a recent presentation I was giving to a wonderful group of buyers at ASOS whilst discussing the perils of imbalanced blood sugar. This made me realise what a minefield of information it is out there and a lot of you are super confused! Therefore, if you are keen to understand what is the best alternative, least likely to make your blood sugar spike, then read on.
Making sense of all the sugar substitutes out there….
The first thing to understand is that, broadly speaking, substitutes fall in to 3 categories; 1. Natural alternatives like raw honey & raw cane sugar 2. Sugar subsitutes such as Truvia & Xylitol and 3. Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda. So let’s have a look at each of these and discuss the pro’s and con’s….
Let’s start with raw honey as there is A LOT being written about the health benefits of this at the moment. Firstly, the word ‘raw’ means that it must be good for you, right?! It is indeed loaded with lots of nutrients, such as important proteins like Vitamin B6, as well as minerals like magnesium, potassium and zinc. Studies have also found it to contain oligosaccharides which act as fuel for the beneficial bacteria in your gut. However, before you go racing off to stock up research suggests you would need to consume 3-5 tablespoons to get any meaningful health benefits. Unfortunately, from a blood sugar perspective that quickly outweighs the benefits as your body essentially breaks this down in the same way it would do table sugar, into glucose and fructose. How disappointing! That said, don’t skip this entirely as organic, raw honey can be used therapeutically, for example in terms of helping to strengthen your immune system about half a teaspoon will do. However, as a staple sweetener that doesn’t raise your blood sugar (via glucose) or stress your liver (via fructose) there are definitely better options out there. Furthermore, if sugar is on the label in any form (be it organic cane sugar, molasses, agave syrup or maple syrup) then best to just to avoid.
Where does that leave us in terms of other options? This is where alternative such as Sweetleaf and Truvia have a role to play. They are made from Stevia, a herb found in Central and South America that is up to 40 times sweeter than sugar but has zero calories and won’t cause a jump in your blood sugar. Stevia was slow to catch on because of its bitter, licorice-like aftertaste, but makers of Truvia and SweetLeaf have solved this problem by using the sweetest parts of the plant in their products. As such, these offer some of the most promising alternatives out there because the evidence, right now, suggests that whilst it takes just like sugar it has a (pretty much) non-existent impact on your blood sugar. You may also want to consider trying Xylitol. This naturally occurring sugar alcohol is found in foods such as beets, berries, and corn. It tastes almost as sweet as sugar but is only partially absorbed by the body, so it has only about nine calories per teaspoon and a lower glycemic index. Xylitol also prevents bacteria from causing plaque to stick to teeth, which is why it’s often used in sugar-free gum and can help prevent tooth decay. However, it can also cause stomach aches, gas, and diarrhea if you have too much of it so I would advise approaching with a little bit of caution, don’t go too heavy and cut it out if you feel you are having a gut reaction to it.
Finally, we have artificial sweeteners such as Splenda & Sweet’N Low and quite simply put, avoid these at all costs! Whilst these were originally developed to help combat the issues associated with sugar-sweetened foods, new evidence states that people who frequently consume these artificial sweeteners, particularly in soft drinks, may actually be at an increased risk of these health concerns, such as weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, they have an absolutely devastating effect on the gut flora, the trillions of microorganisms that inhabit the gut and which have wide reaching effects on our digestion, mood, immunity and weight. As such, a comprehensive study has now shown (almost unequivocally) that artificial sweeteners can in fact impact health via altering these gut microbes.
The best sugar substitute for balancing blood sugar
In conclusion, there is a lot of info out there and a lot of marketers peddling you info that is not may not only be inaccurate but is potentially harmful too. Therefore, if you want to protect your blood sugar and health then one of the nearer sweeteners then I would recommend trying Truvia or Xylitol. Whilst raw honey has other benefits, you need to need to consume a quite a large amount to get the achieve these effects. Whatever your end goal, avoid sweeteners at all costs! They are toxic and damaging to your gut flora. The final question to ask yourself is why are you looking for sugar alternatives in the 1st place? Even if you are using ‘healthier’ substitutes, the reality is you are probably still consuming quite a lot of stuff that isn’t hugely helpful (coffee, cakes, biscuits etc) so don’t see these products as a get out clause and try, rather think about ways you can reduce your intake of these foods & drinks more generally.