Top Six Healthy Sugar Substitutes

by Sam Marshall on May 31, 2014

Description: Reducing your sugar intake to healthier levels or cutting back on calories would require you to find the best available sweeteners on the market. Some of the more popularly-used sweetening substitutes listed in this article can provide information to enable you to make better and wiser food choices.

Sugar substitutes

Sugar substitutes can be found in today’s wide variety of beverages and food. These sweeteners may answer some of your questions regarding what is the best sugar substitute from among the plethora of food products marketed with labels such as “sugar free,” “less sugar,” “diet,” and “all-natural sugar” on soda, baked pastries and goods, ice cream, chewing gum, cookies, jelly, cocoa mix, and hard candy, among others.

There is probably as many terms as there are interpretations of what sugar substitutes should be. Some manufacturers label their products as “natural” although these are refined or processed like Stevia.

Some derive theirs from substances that occur naturally in the very food that they are supposed to substitute for such as sucralose which comes from, what else, sugar. Regardless of classification, however, even the best sugar substitute is not a guarantee for healthy eating or weight loss.

In any case, here are your best options:

1. Artificial Sweeteners

Several times sweeter than sugar, these are synthetic substitutes but some are manufactured as derivatives from substances that naturally occur such as the herb known as stevia with zero calories and roughly 40 times more sweet than sugar.

In spite of the intense sweetness, artificial sweeteners have none of the glycemic index that spikes blood glucose levels. These work to sweeten coffee, milk, tea, yogurt, cereal, and fruit but they don’t do as well for baking or cooking as sugar, lacking the color, bulk, texture, and volume required for these methods.

2. Sugar Alcohols

These are contained in processed food items rather than used in home preparation of food. Most frozen desserts, fruit spreads, chocolate, chewing gum, commercial jams, and baked goods have sugar alcohols to add texture, sweetness, and bulk; they also help these foods stay moist. Sugar alcohols may be used alongside artificial sweeteners to give food products an enhanced sweetness.

Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates which occur naturally in some vegetables and fruits, albeit they may also be manufactured. Less sweet than sugar, their use is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA). They are non-nutritive and contain calories, although their amounts are lower than those found in sugar. And contrary to their name, they haven’t got the ethanol found in alcoholic drinks.

3. Xylitol

Xylitol can be found in corn, berries, and beets. Although it tastes nearly as sweet as processed sugar, Xylitol has a low glycemic index, making it one of the more healthy sugar substitutes available today.Xylitol is absorbed only partially by the body with just nine calories in a teaspoon serving. Xylitol is used as an ingredient to make sugar-free candy, breath mints, and chewing gum.

This is because of its capability to prevent bacteria from sticking to the teeth to develop into cavities. While Xylitol helps in preventing tooth decay by reducing the possibility of a plaque build-up, its sugar alcohol content isn’t well digested and gives gas, stomachaches, and even diarrhea in some cases. Yes, Xylitol will not raise your blood sugar level, but if you consume it in excessive amounts, you get bloated and give off a lot of gas.

4. The Peruvian Ground Apple (Yacon)

Often referred to as “the Peruvian ground apple,” the tuber is known as yacon, indigenous to the South American country of Peru. The root of yacon contains its sweet part and a soluble fiber called fructo-oligosaccharides or FOS; this root is usually eaten raw. Sliced like an apple, yacon tastes twice as sweet. Ground down for extraction of its juice, yacon is subsequently heated for moisture content reduction and results in yacon sweetener.

Yacon syrup sweetener

The syrup and nectar which result from this process is touted as “truly organic” and “naturally low” in both calories and glycemic index, two claims which have made yacon an emerging choice in many households alongside molasses syrup. The FOS content in yacon cannot be fully digested, making the tuber ideal as dietary fiber; yacon helps in fermenting beneficial bacteria in the intestines to improve digestion and prevent constipation.

Yacon is ideal for diabetics as shown by its capacity to regulate levels of insulin, cholesterol, and blood sugar and providing only a third of the calories found in sugar; sweet as it tastes, yacon doesn’t cause cavities that can lead to tooth decay. Its nature as a prebiotic, however, is a concern for some as it can cause bloating and gas, a fact that may be keeping yacon from making it to the Top 10 of the world’s most healthy sugar substitutes.

5. Blackstrap Molasses as Sugar Substitute

Cultivated for millennia, sugarcane is processed to provide sugar which can be dark brown or white, granulated or powdered, with molasses as a concentrated byproduct. Left over after the sugarcane’s juice has been boiled, sufficiently cooled, and removed of residual sugar crystals, the resulting product is called “first molasses;” another boiling process would result in “second molasses.”

A third boiling process becomes “blackstrap molasses,” considered to be the most nutritious type of molasses with its content of iron, calcium, copper, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. A teaspoonful of blackstrap molasses contains around 32 calories; because of its strong flavor, however, the use of blackstrap molasses syrup in cooking or baking should be done sparingly.

What is the best sugar substitute for baking? A 1½ cup of nutritious blackstrap molasses can replace a cup of unhealthy refined or processed sugar in baking recipes. Liquids in such recipes would have to be reduced roughly by five tablespoons and any use of baking soda would have to be increased by half a teaspoon. Blackstrap molasses imparts a dark coloring and an intense, albeit less sweet, flavor to baked goods.

6. Novel Sweeteners

This type of sugar substitute is hard to place into a specific category because of its wide range of ingredients and manufacturing processes. Trehalose and Tagatose are the Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee of sugar substitutes, categorized as GRAS or “Generally Recognized As Safe” substances by the USFDA.

The latter is similar to naturally-occurring fructose but may be manufactured from the lactose in several dairy products while the former may be found in mushrooms. Both Tagatose and Trehalose don’t require USFDA approval to be used or sold; however, food made with Tagatose, unlike yacon sweetener products,may not be labeled as “sugar free.”

Yacon Molasses healthy sweetener

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