Yes, our taste buds love it but our blood sugar and the belly fat doesn’t! Which is exactly why we’re going to chat about the best sugar substitutes for diabetes today.
But first, a short story.
Quite a few years back now, it was shocking to see Jamie Oliver walk out on stage and tip a whole wheelbarrow full of sugar cubes on the stage as a representation of the amount of sugar a person now consumes per year – around 140 pounds annually!
Yep, experts now agree that a lot of our health problems around the globe are due to excessive sugar intake. The World Health Organization now recommends people eat no more than 25 g or 6 teaspoons of ‘added’ sugar per day.
Even good ‘ol vegetables have natural sugars, so we’re not talking about those. We’re predominantly talking about all the hidden sugars found in grocery store products.
The Hidden Names of Sugar
Sugar is hidden everywhere, under 59 different names of sugar in more than 70% of grocery store items!
Take a look at this chart – it’s no wonder it can all get confusing!
Should you completely avoid sugar?
Unfortunately the ‘white poison’ as some call it, is highly addictive. In fact, Dr Eric Stice, neuro-scientist, has done studies on the brain showing that the same ‘addiction’ receptors are activated when we consume sugar as they are if we consume cocaine.
Quite shocking but true!
So you know, you could try to limit sugar but that’s hard to do, and there’s a reason why – those parts of the brain Dr Eric Stice discovered – they get stimulated, along with various hormones. And when that stimulation occurs, we want more of the sweet stuff.
Of course, it’s not going to kill you to eat small amounts of sugar. But, the truth is, eating sugar is hard to moderate so turning to sugar substitutes can be a good solution, if you choose the right ones.
Aspartame, Saccharin, Acesulfame-K
- Saccharin – Brand names: Sweet’N Low, Sugar Twin, Necta Sweet.
- Aspartame – Brand names: Equal, Nutrasweet, Natra Taste.
- Acesulfame-K – Brands: Sunette, Sweet One, Swiss Sweet.
Interestingly, aspartame and many of the ‘old hat’ artificial sweeteners were first implemented to help the obesity problem. In came diet coke and Coke Zero a whole range of ‘diet’ products and foods. Years later, research now shows that these may contribute to weight gain in many people – not weight loss as you’d expect.
Although it’s okay to use aspartame and artificial sweeteners on the odd occasion, or perhaps in social situations where ‘sugar free’ foods may contain them, they are not really a great everyday option.
- Sucralose – Brand name: Splenda
Sucralose is also an artificial sweetener.
In terms of safety, the large majority of research gives it a tick of approval, so much so that it has been given the tick of approval for the entire population, including pregnant women and children as well.
Out of all the artificial sweeteners, it is definitely the best one to choose over the ones mentioned above.
Sugar Alcohols – the ‘tols’
The ‘tols’ are sugar alcohols – not really sugar or alcohol but named that way.
The ‘tols’ are claimed to be natural because sugar alcohols are naturally occurring in lots of fruits and veggies. However, these ‘tols’ are usually processed from pure glucose and sucrose taken from wheat and/or cornstarch. The end result is a zero calorie sweetener that does not affect blood sugar levels (in most people). The ‘tols’ are generally a safe option for people with diabetes and prediabetes to choose.
Erythritol is a commonly used product in sugar substitutes like Truvia and Natvia, which are a blend of erythritol and stevia. Many people find these more palatable than stevia or erythritol alone.
Out of all the ‘tols’ erythritol is more digestible and tolerable for the digestive region. Be cautioned that the other ‘tols’ can have a laxative effect or cause stomach cramps in many people.
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Stevia is an herb from South America that has been used for centuries. It comes in a white powder (more processed), green leaf (unprocessed but can taste weird) and a liquid extract (much less processing required).
Considering the evidence and the pros and cons of stevia, overall it’s a good natural plant source sweetener to use.
Here at DMP we prefer using stevia over all other sweeteners and it’s what we most often recommend to people.
We use a liquid stevia extract because we find it’s more convenient and mixable – and being less processed, that’s obviously an advantage too.
Monk fruit is a small melon that naturally grows in Asian regions like southern China and northern Thailand. The extract from this fruit is turned into a sweetener. And like many other sweeteners in this category, monk fruit contains no calories, fats, protein, or carbs. You can find it in both a liquid and a powered form.
What About Honey and Natural Sugars?
While many people think of honey differently, as more ‘natural,’ honey is just another form of sugar.
Sugar is around 12-14 grams carbs per tablespoon. Honey around 17 grams. Most sugars (natural of not) compare the same.
The same applies for manuka honey.
Although manuka honey is the best form of honey in the world (with medicinal properties), it is still honey – high in fructose/sugar that can increase blood glucose and A1c, not help it. In small doses it is definitely a better option. But avoiding most sweeteners (most of the time), even natural ones – honey, molasses, maple syrup – is going to be better for your health overall.
What About Agave Syrup?
This question comes up a bit so we better add agave to the list.
Agave has been hyped up for quite a few years as a safe option for diabetics because it’s “low GI.” While that may be the case, it doesn’t make it good. In fact, my recommendation is to stay away from agave, it is NOT a good sweetener for diabetics.
Interesting, when researchers discovered high fructose corn syrup, they also thought they’d found the halo for an obesity and a possible diabetes cure (because fructose gets processed by the liver and does not require much insulin). Well, it turns out they didn’t have their handle on the whole story because fructose is said to be the CAUSE of much of our obesity and diabetes issues – many researchers agree.
How does this relate to agave? Agave is 80-90% fructose, which is a lot!
Fructose is 100% metabolized by the liver, this then leads to fatty liver, which then leads to insulin resistance and contributes to the development of diabetes. Not to mention fructose gets stored as fat at 3 times the rate of sucrose – talk about bring on obesity!
And, like most other “natural” sugars, agave still contains approximately the same amount of carbs – 5 grams per teaspoon.
You can read more about fructose and it’s affects on the body here.
Best Sugar Substitute for Diabetes?
We prefer using stevia over all other sweeteners and it’s what we generally recommend to most people. Because based on the research we’ve evaluated, we think it has better outcomes for all of us, including people with diabetes.
In saying that, at the end of the day it’s going to be a personal choice. Other suitable options include monk fruit, tagatose, erythritol and xylitol.
Some people hate the taste of stevia. So move up the ladder and try the ‘tols’ or a little sucralose. If anything, try to avoid the nasty ones mentioned first – Aspartame, Saccharin, and Acesulfame-K.
It’s also good practice to try to move away from eating too many sweets and focus on eating more vegetables because they are much better for your health.
One Word of Caution Too…
Although stevia is a good option for most people, and the other artificial sweeteners aren’t ‘meant’ to effect blood sugar, some people do still react with high blood sugar readings.
It’s important to be aware that just because something is labelled “diabetic friendly,” doesn’t mean it will work for you!
It’s not common to react to sugar substitutes but this is where your individualism comes into play. It’s always important to listen to what your own body tells you (and your glucose meter!).
So, what sugar substitute do you use? Leave your comments below.
Or maybe now you’ve learned more, perhaps you’ll make the switch???