What is the best natural sweetener for diabetics?

I am often asked about what the best sweeteners are for people with diabetes and what can be used as a replacement for sugar that won’t raise blood sugar. That’s why I have created this in-depth guide to natural and artificial sweeteners for people with diabetes.

I get a little frustrated when reading or hearing outright incorrect claims and marketing spin about how some of the natural and artificial sweeteners affect your blood sugar. As a person with diabetes, I want to know exactly what will happen to my blood sugar when I eat or drink something, and I don’t take kindly to half-true marketing claims.

I’ve decided to focus on which natural and artificial sweeteners are good for people with diabetes as it relates to impact on blood sugar, rather than on whether they are healthy choices in general since I think that is somewhat out of my domain and because plenty of others have already covered that.

Table of Contents

What are natural & artificial sweeteners?

The FDA defines sweeteners as: “…commonly used as sugar substitutes or sugar alternatives because they are many times sweeter than sugar but contribute only a few or no calories when added to foods”.

This means that regular sugar, honey, and Agave nectar/syrup don’t fall into the sweetener category. However, I do want to address these shortly before moving on to the real natural and artificial sweeteners, since I’ve seen claims of how honey and agave won’t impact blood sugar in the same way as sugar.

Sugar substitutes that are NOT blood sugar friendly

Honey

Let’s start with honey because, let’s face it, it’s sugar in liquid form (82% of honey is sugar, the rest is water and small amounts of pollen, etc.).

It’s delicious, but a 2015 study in the Journal of Nutrition found that when subjects were given honey, cane sugar, or high-fructose corn syrup, they saw no notable difference in blood sugar increase.

The only benefit of honey over regular table sugar from a blood sugar perspective is that honey is slightly sweeter so you can use a little bit less of it and achieve the same sweetness. But that still doesn’t make it a good option for people with diabetes!

Agave Nectar

As for agave, I think that the corporate marketing machine has been very clever when declaring this a health food, for as Dr. Jonny Bowden points out“..It’s basically high-fructose corn syrup masquerading as healthy food.”

Agave nectar may have a lower glycemic index than sugar or honey, but it’s still up to 90 percent liquid fructose.

At the end of the day, sugar is sugar. Honey or agave nectar may be slightly better for you than pure white sugar from an overall nutrition perspective, but don’t get tricked into thinking that they are healthy alternatives.

Natural & artificial sweeteners that won’t affect blood sugar

None of the natural and artificial sweeteners I list below will affect your blood sugar in their raw form, but you have to make sure that the manufacturer hasn’t added anything else to the product such as fillers or flavors.

With the exception of aspartame, none of the sweeteners can actually be broken down by the body, which is why they won’t affect your blood sugar. Instead, they’ll pass through your systems without being digested, so they provide no extra calories.

Natural Sweeteners

Stevia

I’m often asked if Stevia is good for people with diabetes. And I love that I can answer YES! Stevia is great for people with diabetes and will not raise blood sugar levels. It’s actually my sweetener of choice.

So, what is Stevia? Stevia is a completely natural sweetener since it’s simply an extract from the leaves of the plant species Stevia Rebaudiana. Most grocery stores carry it and you can purchase it as a powder, extract, or as flavored drops.

In its purest processed form, Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than regular table sugar but the products available on the market have varying degrees of sweetness so it’s important to know the sweetness of the product you use.

Stevia powder: I used to buy the standard supermarket brand Stevia powder until I realized that they mix it with fillers to make it behave more like sugar. This actually has some calorie impact as well as a minimal effect on your blood sugar if you use large amounts.

The nutritional label will claim that it’s a zero-calorie food, but that’s only because the FDA allows all food with less than 0.5 g sugar per serving to be categorized as having zero calories.

All that being said, I do still use powdered Stevia as a sugar replacement for baking as it reacts well to heat. If you use a brand like Stevia in the Raw, it substitutes one-for-one to sugar and I just acknowledge that it might have a minimal/neglectable impact on blood sugars.

Stevia extract: In general, I recommend buying Stevia extract instead of powdered stevia because it’s pure Stevia with nothing added.

The extract has a more intense flavor but you’ll get the sweetness without any calories or blood sugar impact whatsoever. To me, that’s a winner if you want a natural sweetener to sweeten up your morning coffee or oatmeal. I use the NOW brand Stevia Extract.

Flavored Stevia drops: If you have a hard time drinking enough water (or just think plain water is boring), you have to try Sweet Leaf’s Liquid Stevia Drops. You simply squirt a few drops into your water and it tastes like lemonade, but without the blood sugar impact.

Monk fruit

Monk fruit is another good choice for people with diabetes since it’s a natural sweetener that won’t affect your blood sugar. I’ve tried it, but it’s not a product I really use simply because I prefer the taste of Stevia (monk fruit has a slightly fruity aftertaste). But that’s a personal preference, many people really like monk fruit.

It’s a good alternative if you are looking for a natural sweetener but don’t like the taste of Stevia.

Always carefully read the nutrition label when buying monk fruit extract as some brands combine the monk fruit with sweeteners like Erythritol or even sugar and molasses. I recommend the brand Monk Fruit in the Raw.

Artificial Sweeteners (FDA approved only)

The list below covers the FDA approved artificial sweeteners and their brand names. None of them should affect your blood sugar but there is a lot of controversy about whether or not they have long-term health implications. I won’t go into that in this post, but my personal preference is to stick to the natural stuff. I mean, if it pretty much tastes the same, why take the chance?

  • Acesulfame potassium (also called acesulfame K) – Sunett & Sweet One
  • Aspartame – Equal & Nutrasweet
  • Saccharin – Sweet ‘N Low, Sweet Twin & Sugar Twin
  • Sucralose – Splenda
  • Neotame – NA
  • Advantame – A Sweet Leaf, Sun Crystals, Steviva, Truvia & PureVia

Low-calorie alternatives

Other sweeteners, which are often used in diet foods, food labeled as “sugar-free”, and sugar-free gum, are sugar alcohols. Per the American Society for Nutrition: “Sugar alcohols are slightly lower in calories than sugar and do not promote tooth decay or cause a sudden increase in blood glucose.”

The most common sugar alcohols are Maltitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol, Erythritol, and Isomalt (that’s a lot of names to remember, so I generally just categorize them as the ‘ols’). They do indeed affect your blood sugar less than regular sugar, but their main problem is that they also work as laxatives. This means that they most likely will give you gas or cause bloating. I can eat some of them in small amounts but my body reacts badly to Xylitol.

Sugar alcohols give you about 2.5 calories/gram versus 4 calories/gram for regular sugar so if you can stomach them (pun intended), you can reduce the blood sugar impact by 50% by using any of these sweeteners. To me, this is not really worth the potential health issues and side effects.

So what are the best sweeteners for people with diabetes?

In general, there is no reason not to choose one of the natural sweeteners that don’t affect blood sugar – Stevia or monk fruit. They are both great for people with diabetes and you can choose whichever one you think tastes the best. For baking, Stevia in the Raw is my preferred sweetener as it retains its taste and acts the most like sugar when heated.

Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are not terrible, but they do potentially have side effects, the most common of which is digestive issues. I, therefore, see no reason to use them when natural and safe alternatives are available.

Sugar substitutes such as honey and agave nectar are essentially identical to normal sugar when it comes to blood sugar impact. I do keep both sugar and honey in the house for the rare occasions where I want to bake something really decadent (like a birthday cake), but I try to use it as little as possible.

Suggested next posts:

  • 5 Low-Carb Alternatives to White Rice
  • Low-Carb Vegetables: The 10 Healthiest Choices

If you found this guide to the best sweeteners for people with diabetes useful, please sign up for our newsletter (and get a free chapter from the Fit With Diabetes eBook) using the form below. We send out a weekly newsletter with the latest posts and recipes from Diabetes Strong.

10 Healthier Sugar Alternatives You Should Try

Is too much saccharin bad for you? Does agave nectar live up to the hype? What in the world is monk fruit? Find out the scoop on sugar substitutes, which ones are best for your diet, and how to use them in the kitchen.

We all have our dietary weaknesses. Often, sugar is the culprit. It can be difficult to avoid, too, as everything from sodas and decadent dessert, to processed foods contain added sugar. But if you or a loved one have a sweet tooth, it is essential to keep an eye on your sugar intake, especially for older adults. Not only does excess sugar increase the risk of insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, it has also been linked to mild cognitive impairment. Fortunately, there are a wide range of sugar substitutes available, both natural and artificial, to help you reduce the amount of sucrose in your diet.

How Sugar Affects Your Health

The health benefits of reducing our sugar intake may be incalculable. High sugar intake has been linked to a wide range of health conditions, either directly through its effect on the body or indirectly due to complications from obesity. Complications include:

  • Tooth decay and cavities
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Malnutrition or poor nutrition
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Low HDL (“good cholesterol”), which is a risk factor for heart disease

In addition, certain types of cancers may be linked to obesity and poor nutrition.

10 Healthy Alternatives to Sugar and How to Use Them

There are so many sugar alternatives on the market these days that it can be a chore to simply decide among them, let alone figure out how to use them in your day-to-day diet. One critical factor in your decision should be your reason for reducing sugar. If someone is diabetic, for instance, artificial sweeteners are a better choice than sugar alcohols like xylitol, or natural sweeteners like honey, which can still raise blood sugar, though to a lesser extent. Always consult with a doctor if you are not sure of your best option.

Understanding the different categories of sugar alternatives out there can help you figure out which one is best for your diet. The Mayo Clinic describes four common types: artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, novel sweeteners and natural sweeteners. Some of these, especially the artificial sweeteners, are also high-intensity sweeteners, which provide many times the sweetness of regular sucrose but without as many calories. Use our list below as a handy guide to some of the most common sugar substitutes and how to incorporate them into your diet.

1. Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)

Type: Artificial sweetener.

Why It’s Healthier: As an artificial sweetener, it doesn’t contribute to tooth decay or raise blood sugar, and it has virtually no calories. However, to avoid any other potential health issues, always be careful not to exceed the FDA’s recommended daily amount.

How to Use It: Besides adding it to food at the table, Ace-K is also heat-stable, which means you can use it in cooking and baking. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar but doesn’t provide the same bulk or volume, so be sure to make appropriate recipe modifications when you use it in the kitchen.

2. Agave nectar

Type: Natural sweetener.

Why It’s Healthier: It’s low on the glycemic index and doesn’t lead to spikes in blood sugar. However, it does contain a lot of fructose — even more than high-fructose corn syrup — which can lead to weight gain and obesity in excessive amounts, and may also increase insulin resistance. For this reason, it may not be a good choice for diabetics.

How to Use It: Agave is sweeter than sugar, has a long shelf life, and can be used in place of other sweeteners in nearly any cooking situation. Its taste is similar to honey, and it lacks the bitter aftertaste of some sugar substitutes. But because it is a liquid, you might have to make some other changes to your recipes, especially when baking.

4. Coconut Sugar

Type: Natural sweetener.

Why It’s Healthier: It’s unrefined, so it retains all of its vitamins and minerals, and it doesn’t lead to fluctuations in blood sugar, though diabetics will still want to consult a doctor before incorporating it into their diets. It has the same amount of calories as sugar.

How to Use It: Coconut sugar can be used as a one-to-one replacement for white or brown sugar, so it is easy to use in the kitchen. However, it can be very coarse, so Mother Nature News recommends putting it in a blender or food processor for a few moments before using it for baking or in place of powdered sugar.

5. Honey

Type: Natural sweetener.

Why It’s Healthier: Says Doctor Oz, “Raw honey has less fructose than most agave and is the only natural sweetener with other health benefits, which include anti-microbial, heart-healthy and anti-inflammatory effects.” However, in your body, honey breaks down to glucose and fructose just as sugar does, so it poses some of the same health risks.

How to Use It: Honey can be particularly tasty in smoothies, baked goods, sauces, marinades and salad dressings, but it can be sweeter than sugar, so you’ll have to reduce the amount you add, as well as reducing the liquid in baking.

6. Monk Fruit extracts (Nectresse, Monk Fruit in the Raw, PureLo)

Type: Novel sweetener (high intensity).

Why It’s Healthier: You don’t need to use as much, since it’s 150-200 times sweeter than sugar, so it’s good for cutting calories. However, commercially available monk fruit extracts have all been processed to some extent, and may contain other sweeteners in addition, such as sugar alcohols or even sugar itself, so make sure to check the label.

How to Use It: Some find that monk fruit sweeteners have an aftertaste, so if you’re sensitive to that type of flavoring, be cautious when incorporating it into cooking and baking. As with any other high intensity sweetener, you may need to make alterations to your recipes.

7. Date Paste

Type: Natural sweetener.

Why It’s Healthier: Date paste is an easy sugar alternative you can make at home in a blender using 3/4 water, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and about one cup of warm, pitted dates.

How to Use It: Dates can be particularly tasty in smoothies, baked goods, sauces, marinades and salad dressings, but it can be sweeter than sugar, so you’ll have to reduce the amount you add, as well as reducing the liquid in baking.

8. Stevia extracts (Pure Via, Truvia, Rebiana)

Type: Novel sweetener (high intensity).

Why It’s Healthier: Since this plant extract is non-caloric, it’s safe for diabetic use and won’t contribute to obesity. It’s also much sweeter than sugar, so you need less of it to provide the same amount of sweetness.

How to Use It: Though it’s non-chemical, it has a noticeable aftertaste even after it’s been refined, so some people won’t enjoy using it as a sweetener for coffee or tea. It comes in various forms, including powder and liquid, so you may need to experiment to find out which ones work best in different recipes.

9. Sucralose (Splenda)

Type: Artificial sweetener.

Why It’s Healthier: Sucralose is a whopping 600 times sweeter than sugar, but without the calories, so it’s been marketed heavily to dieters and diabetics alike.

How to Use It: There is a wide range of Splenda products available, including sugar-sucralose blends specifically for baking, since sucralose is heat-stable. It can also be added to beverages and foods at the table. Pay attention to amounts: even with the baking blend, you usually don’t need to use as much of it.

10. Xylitol (Birch sugar)

Type: Sugar alcohol.

Why It’s Healthier: Xylitol, sorbitol and other sugar alcohols are usually 25-100% as sweet as sugar. Says the FDA, “Sugar alcohols are slightly lower in calories than sugar and do not promote tooth decay or cause a sudden increase in blood glucose.” However, they do have some effect on blood sugar levels, so diabetics will still want to pay attention to dietary carbohydrates. Also, sugar alcohols may have a laxative effect in large amounts.

How to Use It: Because it comes in granulated form, it is easy to use in place of sugar in beverages, on fruit or cereal, and in cooking and baking — as long as the recipe “doesn’t require the sugar to break down into liquid form,” says BBC Good Food, because xylitol doesn’t caramelize.

Tips for Reducing Sugar

Although not always easy, here are some ways that you can reduce the sugar in your diet on a daily basis.

  • Use sugar free preserves to sweeten plain yogurt instead of eating already sweetened yogurt with fruit in it
  • Substitute healthy whole fruits for sweetened, processed desserts
  • Put fruit on your cereal instead of adding sugar or eating a sweetened cereal
  • Instead of a chocolate bar, try a lower-calorie, sugar-free hot chocolate drink
  • Snack on dried fruit or trail mix, instead of candy
  • Buy unsweetened versions of applesauce, nut butters, non-dairy milk and other products that can hide added sugars
  • Add flavors like vanilla, spices, or citrus to add a kick (and the illusion of sweetness) to your tea, coffee, and even oatmeal

With the wide selection of sugar substitutes on the market today, there’s no reason to go cold turkey off the sweet stuff — just do your research and incorporate some of these tips, and you’ll find it doesn’t take much effort to satisfy your sweet tooth while still maintaining a healthy nutritious diet.

Which sugar substitutes do you use most often? What are your favorite tips for reducing sugar in your family’s diet? Join the conversation below.

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Artificial Sweeteners or Natural Sugar: Which is Best for People with Diabetes?

Here’s what you need to know to understand the impact of sweeteners—both nutritive and non-nutritive—on your blood sugar. Written by Marina Chaparro, RD, CDE, MPH 12

Understanding the impact of sweeteners on your blood sugar is essential for people with diabetes.

Walk down the supermarket aisles and you’ll find a dizzying array of sweeteners. Everything from ordinary (white) table sugar to newly-formulated sugars, sugar substitutes and more. Some claim benefits for people with diabetes that promise to have no effect on blood sugar. But with so many choices—from ordinary table sugar (aka cane, sucrose), maple sugar and agave to newer arrivals like coconut sugar, monk sugar and stevia, to nonnutritive sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, etc.)—how do you know which one is best for you and your blood sugar?

It’s important to know that use of the word natural is not a term regulated by the FDA, nor does it have a clear definition. These so-called “natural” sweeteners, also referred to as nutritive sweeteners, are a type of sugar (typically sucrose), which provide calories from carbohydrates.

All nutritive sugars have about 14 calories per teaspoon and contain 5 grams of carbohydrates. Food companies seem to use the word “natural” as a marketing gimmick to give consumers a sense of additional health benefits. Popular nutritive sweetners include: brown sugar, honey, coconut sugar and agave syrup. But remember, sugar is sugar. Whether honey or table sugar, they all contain carbohydrates and will raise blood glucose levels.

Having Sugar Knowledge is Important

Contrary to popular belief, people with diabetes can consume sugar but it’s best when consumed in foods where it occurs naturally as it does in whole fruits. Understanding the type of sugar you consume and how much, is essential for successful diabetes management.

People with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes, don’t have the adequate insulin needed to maintain steady blood sugars and have trouble absorbing simple carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have the greatest impact on blood sugars because they are converted into glucose or energy for the body.

Unlike natural (nutritive) sweeteners, non-nutritive products—also called artificial sweeteners—are regulated by the FDA and do NOT affect blood sugars. They were formulated to enhance flavor without additional calories and are many times sweeter than sugar. Artificial sweeteners are considered a “free food” since they have few to no carbohydrates.

Currently, there are eight sugar substitutes that have been approved in the US by the FDA:

  • Aspartame (the blue packet—Equal and NutraSweet)
  • Saccharin (the pink packet—Sweet N’ Low)
  • Sucralose (the yellow packet—Splenda)
  • Stevia (the green packet—Truvia, PureVia)
  • Luo han guo, also known as monk fruit extract
  • Acesulfame Potassium, also called Ace-K or acesulfame K
  • Neotame
  • Advantame (which is made with aspartame)

Artificial sweeteners have been one of the most studied food additives and remain controversial as they’ve been linked to everything from insulin resistance, weight gain, distorting healthy gut bacteria and even cancer.

However, it’s important to note that many of these studies have been conducted in rats and those results have never been reproduced in humans.
Other studies linking artificial sweeteners to weight gain and insulin changes remain inconclusive with varying results.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states “consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and nonnutritive sweeteners when consumed within an eating plan that is guided by current federal nutrition.” What the research tells us now is that artificial sweeteners are safe to consume, but more studies are needed to further explore these association. (The good news is, many such studies are in the works!)

Know Your Supermarket Players

Below is what you need to know to understand the differences between natural and artificial sweeteners.

Sugar Sweeteners (Nutritive): Impacts Blood Sugar

Natural, or nutritive, sources of sugar have calories and impact blood sugar. Ordinary table sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey and agave are members of this group.

  • Table (Cane) Sugar. Cane sugar is the most common form of sugar and when processed, a variety of refined sugars result—ordinary white table sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar (brown in color and less processed than cane sugar), confectionary (or powdered) sugar. They all contain about 14 calories and 4 grams of carbs per teaspoon. The only difference is the crystal size and color.
  • Honey. Made by honey bees from the nectar of flowers it is slightly sweeter than table sugar and contains more calories and carbs per teaspoon—21 calories and 6g of carbohydrate. Honey, may contain small amounts of vitamins like zinc and selenium and has no preservatives.
  • Agave Nectar. A nutritive sweetener produced from the heart of the agave plant (and also used to make tequila). Agave syrup originally claimed to be ideal for people with diabetes due to its low glycemic index. It has a glycemic index (GI) of 11; table sugar’s GI is 68 and honey’s is 50. Plus, since it’s sweeter than table sugar most people use less to satisfy a sweet tooth. But here’s the rub: it still has the same calories as honey—1 teaspoon of agave syrup has 21 calories and 4.6 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Coconut Sugar. The newest type of natural sweetener on the market, is made from the sweet sap of the coconut palm tree. It consists of 70% table sugar and contains inulin, which is a type of fiber linked to an improvement in gut health, digestion and even type 2 diabetes. More recently, it’s been revealed that the amount of inulin fiber can vary depending on the manufacturer and apart from that it’s worth noting that improvements in health were only seen when participants ingested up to 30g of inulin. Getting that amount of inulin from coconut sugar is nearly impossible. It also contains about the same amount of calories and carbohydrates as table sugar: 1 teaspoon has 15 calories and about 5 grams of carbohydrates

Artificial Sweeteners (Non-nutritive): No Impact on Blood Sugar

Artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners have no impact on blood sugar. Popular name brands include: NutraSweet, Sweet N’ Low, Splenda and Truvia,

  • Stevia. Also called rebaudioside A, or steviol glycosides, Stevia is extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant but should not be confused with the Stevia plant. The Stevia plant contains active ingredients and is sold as a dietary supplement. Stevia is 200-400 times sweeter than sugar. Brand names include: A Sweet Leaf, Sun Crystals, Steviva, Truvia and PureVia.
  • Sucralose. Six hundred times sweeter than sugar, sucralose is heat stable and can be used in cooking and baking. Brand name: Splenda.
  • Luo Han Guo, also known as Monk Sugar. This newer sweetener is 150 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). Brand names include: Monk Fruit in the Raw, Nectrese, PureFruit, PureLo.
  • Neotame and Advantame. If you aren’t familiar with these products, it’s probably because they aren’t widely-used commercially and aren’t available as tabletop sweeteners.

Bottom Line

Knowing what to eat when you have diabetes can be overwhelming. Having to decide which sugar to use can add another perplexing layer. People with diabetes need to understand which sweeteners will impact their blood sugars and account for it in meal planning. Research shows meeting regularly with a registered dietitian is associated with improved cholesterol levels, weight management success, decreased need for medications and a reduced risk for other diseases.

Just because a sugar is labeled “natural” or “organic” does not make it a healthier choice. Honey, agave syrup and cane sugar might come from natural sugar sources, but they still raise blood sugars. Whether a sugar is natural or not is less important than whether it will be absorbed into the blood stream.

As a certified diabetes educator and a person with type 1 diabetes, I believe in making choices that work for you. Fortunately for people with diabetes, it’s safe to enjoy a range of artificial sweeteners without impacting blood sugars. Artificial sweeteners give people with diabetes more options and help them feel less deprived when sweetening their favorite foods.

But truly the best thing you can do for your blood sugar is to avoid adding sugar (no matter what form it comes in) to your food. To satisfy a sweet tooth, try adding sweetness without adding sugar. Try a little unsweetened almond milk to flavor your morning coffee or add berries (fresh or frozen and defrosted) to plain Greek yogurt, for example.

For overall health, it’s best to focus on a wholesome diet that includes less processed foods, more whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables and a very limited amount of sweets or food with added sugar. That goes for people without diabetes too!

Updated on: February 27, 2019 View Sources

  1. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Use of Nutritive and Nonnutritive Sweeteners. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2012;112:739-758.
  2. US Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services. Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020. http://www.cnpp. usda.gov/dgas2010-dgacr
  3. Guess ND, Dornhorst A, Oliver N, Bell JD, Thomas EL, Frost GS. A randomized control trial: the effect of inulin on weight managment and ectopic fat in subjects with prediabetes. Nut Metab (Lond). 2015. Oct 24; 12:36. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26500686)
  4. US Department of Health and Human Services. FDA Artificial Sweeteners (https://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/foodadditivesingredients/ucm397725.htm)

Continue Reading 10 You-Won’t-Miss-the-Sugar Snacks, Plus a Recipe

What are monk fruit and stevia?

Share on PinterestMonk fruit is 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Monk fruit is also called luo han guo or swingle. It looks like a small gourd, and it grows on a vine.

Monk fruit is native to regions of Southeast Asia, including some parts of Thailand and China. Buddhist monks in the 13th century were the first to cultivate the fruit, which is the reason for its name.

Fresh monk fruit spoils rather quickly. Traditionally, people used dried monk fruit in herbal medicines.

Today, monk fruit is most popular as a natural sweetener. The fruit’s extract contains substances called mogrosides, which are intensely sweet.

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, monk fruit is around 150–200 times sweeter than sugar. Some manufacturers mix the extract with different sugars to balance out the intensity.

A variety of monk fruit sweeteners are available to purchase online.

Monk fruit pros

A monk fruit sweetener has several benefits when compared with sugar:

  • Zero calories. Monk fruit extract contains no calories, which is helpful for people on diets that restrict a person’s caloric intake.
  • Zero carbohydrates. The extract also contains no carbohydrates, which may make it ideal for people on low-carb or keto diets.
  • Zero sugar. There is no sugar in pure monk fruit extract, which means that consuming it will not affect blood sugar levels.
  • No harmful side effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers monk fruit sweeteners to be generally regarded as safe. There appears to be no evidence that monk fruit sweeteners cause harmful side effects.
  • Available in multiple forms. Monk fruit sweeteners are marketed as granules, powders, and liquids. Some products may be easy to carry and use throughout the day.

Monk fruit sweeteners may also have some health benefits:

  • Antioxidants. Some studies in animals suggest that mogrosides extracted from monk fruit may have potent antioxidant properties. Further research is needed to understand the effects in humans. Also, it is unclear if eating the processed sweetener has the same benefits as eating the fruit.
  • Diabetes. Research in animals also suggests that mogrosides play a role in controlling blood sugar levels. Results of another study indicate that mogroside extracts may help prevent diabetic complications. However, researchers have yet to investigate these effects in humans.

Monk fruit cons

For the following reasons, a person may think twice before using monk fruit sweeteners to replace sugar:

  • Availability and cost. Monk fruit is difficult to grow and costly to export, which means that it is not as widely available as other sweeteners, and it can be expensive.
  • Taste. Monk fruit sweeteners taste different from regular table sugar, and some find the taste unusual or unpleasant. The sweeteners can also leave an aftertaste.
  • Other ingredients. Some manufacturers balance the taste of monk fruit by mixing it with other sugars, such as maltodextrin or dextrose. This can change the sweetener’s nutritional profile and make it unsafe or undesirable for some people.

Beware! The Truth About Truvia

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You’ve seen Truvia on the shelves at the grocery store, and even in some of your favorite restaurants. You’ve also seen “Nature’s Calorie-Free Sweetener” marketed as a safer sugar alternative that has no calories, is sweet, and all natural. Truvia’s website even says: “the first great-tasting, zero-calorie natural sweetener that’s a miracle of nature, not chemistry.”

But do you believe the marketing? Is Truvia really one of nature’s miracles? Is it healthy for us? Or are we being deceived?

Photo Credit: JeepersMedia via Compfight cc

Thanks to a false-advertising job well-done, many health conscious consumers have been tricked into believing that Truvia is a great choice for those who want to eat healthy and not gain weight from their sweetener. They’ve convinced many people that it is really just the same thing as stevia. On the “About” page of their website, it says: “Truvia sweetener is natural, great-tasting sweetness born from the leaves of the stevia plant.” While technically there is some stevia in the product, it is actually made from 99.5% erythritol (a sugar alcohol) and only 0.5% rebiana (an extract from the stevia plant – but not at all the same thing as stevia).

Let’s break that down.

The sugar alcohol erythritol is made from yeast fed genetically modified corn derivatives. Like all other sugar alcohols, it is notoriously known for its unpleasant side effects because our bodies do a poor jobat digesting them. Because they aren’t completely digested, they linger in our intestines where they are fermented by colonic bacteria. The lovely side effects of this include gastric distress, diarrhea, cramping, gas and bloating…

Like I mentioned above, Truvia is only about 1/2 of 1% rebiana. This is the only reason Truvia can mention anything about stevia in their marketing…because rebiana is derived from the stevia plant. It is definitely not the same thing. It’s only a molecule of the plant, which undergoes a highly refined process to extract it.

Next let’s talk about the zero calories claim. While it’s true – Truvia doesn’t have any calories (like mostly all other artificial sweeteners), but “healthy eaton” (see that pun??) is not all about calories anyway. Since our bodies can’t figure out how to metabolize these fake sweeteners, they are actually more than likely interfering with your metabolism and causing weight gain! That kind of defeats the purpose of choosing a 0 calorie product to begin with, right? This explains why people who make the switch from sugary foods and drinks to artificially sweetened ones don’t lose a single pound.

Finally, this point is a big one, a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE has found that Truvia is actually a potent insecticide!Researchers found that fruit flies fed with food that contained erythritol or Truvia itself died much sooner than flies fed with food containing other types of sweeteners. No other sweetener killed the fruit flies.

The study found that while fruit flies normally live between 39 and 51 days, those that ate the main Truvia ingredient erythritol died in less than a week. It really is an amazing insecticide! If it’s doing that to those little flies – what is it doing to humans over time??

The FDA has declared Truvia to be safe for human consumption, but then again, the FDA has also declared aspartame to be safe for human consumption, so to me that doesn’t carry any real credibility. We just don’t know if there’s some unknown contaminant in erythritol that’s causing these toxic effects in humans, or maybe it’s the GMO connection, since most erythritol comes from genetically modified corn.

The bottom line: After reviewing all of those reasons, I’d personally not take the chance on using Truvia in my diet. Whatever you choose to use for a sweetener, use it in moderation. None are really good for you. I use 100% pure organic stevia with no other ingredients when I am in need for a sweetener (mostly in my favorite DandyBlend morning drink!) and alternate between organic raw honey and organic pure maple syrup in any desserts I make.

Feature Photo Credit: dziner via Compfight cc

Is agave syrup the best sweetener for diabetes?

Share on PinterestAgave syrup is not a healthful alternative to added sugar.

Agave is the name for a group of succulent plants that grow in warm climates, particularly the southwestern United States and Mexico.

Some people use blue agave as a sweetener. However, it is high in carbohydrates. The agave plant also produces nectar containing large amounts of a sugar called fructose.

Parts of the alternative health community have turned to agave as a potential alternative to table sugar and other sweeteners. Support for agave stems from its role as a vegan-friendly sweetener and its low glycemic index (GI), between 10 and 19 depending on the product.

The higher the GI of a food is, the faster the increase in blood glucose after eating it. Agave has a lower GI than most other sweeteners, which means that it is less likely to cause blood sugar spikes.

GI, however, is not the only way to assess the impact of a particular food for people with diabetes.

A 2014 study gave four groups of participants four different diets to follow: The researchers divided groups following high-carb and low-carb diets into a further group eating only carbs with a high GI ranking and another eating only low-GI carbs.

Those following high-GI diets saw a drop in insulin sensitivity and an increase in LDL cholesterol in the group that ate more carbohydrates when compared to the low-GI group.

In the low-carb group, however, the GI ranking of the foods did not make a difference to insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, or many of the risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease apart from reducing triglycerides by a small amount.

Triglycerides are fats that store excess calories. They can be harmful in combination with high cholesterol levels.

For people already following a diabetes-friendly diet plan, the study found that low-GI foods produced no improvements in cardiovascular risk factors in the blood. The findings suggest that limiting overall carb intake supports a safe diabetes diet.

Agave contains higher levels of fructose than table sugar and most other sweeteners. The body releases less insulin in response to fructose. This means that blood sugar may remain higher after eating agave than other sugars.

A 2014 study on mice suggests that agave syrup might be a healthful alternative to table sugar. Mice who consumed agave nectar had lower blood glucose levels compared with mice that consumed table sugar. They also gained less weight.

However, not all data gathered from research on mice applies to humans. The study also only compared agave to table sugar, which is harmful to people with diabetes. Agave may be marginally better than table sugar for people who have the condition, but it is not necessarily a healthful addition to the diet.

More importantly, agave is still a sugar. As with table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and other sugars, people with diabetes should avoid it.

People who are following a healthful diet to manage diabetes should reduce their sugar intake rather than switching from one type of sugar for another.

A high-calorie alternative to table sugar

For people with diabetes who want to try agave syrup instead of table sugar, there is another reason to avoid changing over.

Agave is a higher-calorie sweetener than table sugar. It contains 21 calories per teaspoon, compared with table sugar’s 16 calories per teaspoon.

Supporters of agave highlight its enhanced sweetness when compared to table sugar, potentially allowing people to use smaller quantities to achieve the same flavor. However, this potential benefit is small when considering agave syrup’s negative health impact.

A Diabetic’s Guide to Natural Sweeteners

Many assume that a diabetes-friendly diet lacks sweetness and excitement, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Using wholesome ingredients and interesting alternatives can make your meals delicious and nutritious. One way you can do this is by using a diabetic-safe sweetener in place of granulated sugar in your favorite recipes.

Sweeteners Diabetics Should Avoid

Not all natural sweeteners are safe alternatives for people with diabetes. For example, while agave has a low glycemic index (meaning it’s less likely to cause spikes in blood glucose levels), it has more calories than granulated sugar and higher fructose content. Fructose (compared to the sucrose in table sugar) can cause the body to produce less insulin and put more strain on the liver as it breaks down the sugars.

In short, an alternative sweetener’s side effects or impact on insulin resistance may outweigh the benefits. Practice caution in your consumption of artificial sweeteners and even natural ones like maple syrup, corn syrup, and xylitol.

4 Safe Sugar Substitutes for Diabetics

Monk Fruit Extract

Monk fruit naturally contains mogrosides, a type of antioxidant that’s responsible for this treat’s sweet flavor. Researchers have found a way to extract this antioxidant to create a sugar-free sweetener that contains no calories and doesn’t affect blood sugar levels.

Stevia

To create stevia sweetener, manufacturers collect the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant and process them into fine crystals. Stevia is low in calories and maintains its flavor during heating, so it’s an optimal sweetener to use in baking or hot beverages.

Erythritol

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that comes from the fermentation of cornstarch or wheat. It has very few calories and has no impact on your blood sugar. While erythritol is less likely than others to do so, sugar alcohols can upset your stomach. Start with small amounts and discontinue use if it causes any discomfort.

Fresh Fruit

Did you know you can find the most natural sweetener in the produce aisle? Fresh fruit can be a great addition to your recipes, as they contain fiber to help slow down your sugar absorption and, in turn, reduce the impact on your blood sugar levels. Try using mashed bananas, unsweetened applesauce, or date paste in your next recipe.

A Diabetes-Friendly Dessert

Put what you’ve learned into practice! Try our Oatmeal Raisin Banana Cookies:

Oatmeal Raisin Banana Cookies

Ingredients:

2 bananas

¼ cup natural peanut butter (without added sugar)

1 ½ cups rolled oats

¼ cup oat flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ cup raisins

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Mix the rolled oats, oat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and raisins together. Set aside.

  3. Mash the bananas, and mix with the peanut butter. Incorporate the dry ingredients until you have a smooth dough.

  4. Take a large spoonful of dough, roll it into a ball, place it on a cookie sheet, and gently press it down. Continue until you use all the dough.

  5. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

If you have diabetes, you don’t have to give up the meals you love. Schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician or endocrinologist for advice on how you can modify your diet and achieve better health.

Sources:
Medical News Today | What are the best sweeteners for people with diabetes?
American Diabetes Association | Glycemic Index and Diabetes
Healthline | The Best Sugar Substitutes for People with Diabetes
Diabetes UK | Sugar, sweeteners and diabetes
Healthline | Monk Fruit Sweetener: Good or Bad?
Healthline | Erythritol — Like Sugar Without the Calories?
Medical News Today | Is agave syrup the best sweetener for diabetes?

Does stevia have any side effects?

According to the FDA, the acceptable daily intake for stevia glycosides is 4 milligrams (mg) per kilogram of body weight.

When used as a sweetener or to flavor foods, experts do not consider highly purified stevia to cause adverse side effects.

While several studies have identified potential side effects of stevia over the last few decades, most were done using laboratory animals, and many have since been disproved.

Potential side effects linked to stevia consumption include:

Kidney damage

Stevia is considered a diuretic, meaning that it increases the speed at which the body expels water and electrolytes from the body in urine. Because the kidney is responsible for filtering and creating urine, researchers initially thought that long-term consumption of stevia could damage the organ.

More recent studies, however, have concluded that stevia may help prevent kidney damage. A 2013 study carried out in a laboratory found that stevia reduced cyst growth in kidney cells.

Gastrointestinal symptoms

Some stevia products contain added sugar alcohols that may cause unpleasant symptoms in individuals that are very sensitive to the chemicals.

Although hypersensitivity to sugar alcohol is rare, its symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • indigestion
  • cramping
  • bloating

Several studies using rodent and human cell cultures have demonstrated the potential gastrointestinal benefits of steviol glycosides. Stevia use has been shown to help limit and reduce diarrhea and the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Allergic reaction

According to a 2015 review, there are very few reported cases of stevia allergy. Both the FDA and European Commission concluded that the number of individuals who are hypersensitive to stevia or at a risk of having an allergic response to it is low.

Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar

Although stevia may help control blood sugar in people with diabetes, it was also once thought that long-term or heavy stevia consumption might cause hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.

This has since been proven highly unlikely, except in individuals with abnormally low blood sugar levels.

Low blood pressure

Stevia is known to act as a vasodilator, causing the blood vessels to widen and lowering overall blood pressure. Currently, researchers have only explored the potentially positive aspects of this use.

Anything that actively lowers blood pressure can cause health complications with excessive, long-term use. People with chronic low blood pressure should speak to a doctor about prolonged stevia use.

Endocrine disruption

As a type of steroid, steviol glycosides can interfere with hormones controlled by the endocrine system. A 2016 study found that human sperm cells exposed to steviol experienced an increase in progesterone production.

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