There’s almost no end to the list of negative health effects that can arise from having a diet too high in sugar, so it’s almost always wise to limit intake of it when possible. At its worst, it’s been linked to higher rates of obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Despite the pitfalls of sugar, its still consumed at alarming rates. While it may not be reasonable to have a diet completely devoid of flavor, it’s still possible to cut back and use alternatives in things like your coffee and smoothies, if needed. Being conscious of your sugar intake and limiting it where possible will help your overall health in the long term while still having a noticeable impact on your short term diet.
Although there’s almost no end to the number of sugar alternatives, it’s wise to be picky as some can come with their own host of problems. If you need your morning coffee or post-workout smoothie with just a little bit of flavor, let’s take a look at the best and worst sweeteners available.
Worst Sweeteners: Avoid These Like They Were Sugar!
It makes no sense to go out of your way to find a sugar alternative if that alternative is going to be equally bad or worse for your goals. So let’s start by looking at the sweeteners which you should just skip past when it comes to flavoring up your next coffee or smoothie.
Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin are commonly found in tableside packets like Sweet N’ Low or Splenda. First, they increase your desire for even more sweet foods. They also bring a wide variety of their problems, some similar to sugar: such as weight gain, disturbing your blood sugar levels, and potentially causing autoimmune problems. Besides the little packets you see at the table, they are also found in ice cream, sodas, and fruit juices. While you’ll probably those, just be sure to avoid the sweetener packets for your coffee, no matter how convenient!
Alternative #2 to Avoid: Agave Nectar
Agave nectar is readily advertised as low on the glycemic index and therefore a much healthier sugar alternative. However, that is easily misleading as to its overall healthiness, as it is still extremely high in fructose – even more so than regular sugar. …This fructose is processed by the liver and can contribute to insulin resistance at larger quantities. Essentially, it raises the risk for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes much as sugar does. Stay away!
Alternative #3 to Avoid: Turbinado (Raw Cane Sugar)
Raw cane sugar is often touted as being healthier as it has fewer calories per serving than white sugar due to its moisture content. It’s also slightly less refined. But for all intents and purposes, its best to look at raw cane sugar as being identical to regular white sugar: the fructose and glucose are still broken down the same way in your digestive tract and will have the same effects on your metabolism.
The Best Sweeteners: The Top 3 to Look For
Resorting to natural options may still have their own negative effects, but they are often limited in scope compared to sweeteners like agave or sucralose. But these top 3 sweeteners are sometimes accompanied by a host of health benefits as well which we will touch upon for each.
Better Alternative #1: Honey
Honey is best found in its raw, unfiltered, and unpasteurized form. More commercially processed honey goes through ultrafiltration which removes the positive benefits from pollen, enzymes, and antioxidants.
While honey possesses some of the same traits of sugar, the antioxidants and polyphenols found in its unfiltered form can promote heart health and fight off cancer. While pricier, consider manuka honey which is loaded with nutritional value. Honey may not be the best option for your morning coffee (many find the flavor off when they combine the two), but just a tad may help sweeten up your next smoothie.
Better Alternative #2: Stevia
Like honey, there’s “good stevia” and “bad stevia” depending on what you buy. The best option is to look for the raw, organic variety. Commercial brands can be heavily processed and even potentially bleached, which leads to a host of other chemicals and preservatives.
The best stevia is found in its natural form, which is green. Stevia is good because it’s low on the glycemic index and has zero calories. With purified stevia coming in at 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, only a very small amount is needed when sweetening. It won’t affect blood sugar, insulin, or contribute to cavities like sugar.
Better Alternative #3: Coconut Sugar and Nectar
Coconut sugar is derived from the sap of the flower bud stem of the coconut tree. While regular sugar doesn’t contain any vital nutrients and is largely comprised of empty calories, coconut sugar retains a lot of nutrients found in the coconut palm: healthy minerals like zinc, iron, calcium, and potassium, along with antioxidants and polyphenols. It’s also lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar but is still very high in calories.
Coconut sugar shouldn’t be the first go to when looking for sugar alternatives, but if it absolutely came down to coconut sugar or white sugar, then it would be a safe pick to go coconut sugar every time.
The End Goal: Reduce Reliance on Sweeteners Altogether
At the end of the day, the best sweetener is no sweetener at all. It may be a large task to undertake at first, but slowly reducing the amount you intake regularly will lead you to become comfortable with using little to none. If you do have to resort to using some sort, sticking to the healthy alternatives will prove to have a noticeable impact on your short and long term goals as well as helping you maintain overall better health.