“Healthy” Alternatives (Beware)
There are many popular alternatives advertised as “healthy” – but, they are actually far from healthy, and should be avoided. In fact, some of them are among the hidden sugars used in many processed and pre-packaged foods. So, do not be fooled by the marketing labels declaring them healthy.
- Brown Sugar – Many people assume that since it is brown in color, rather than white, that it is not processed and a healthier choice. That is not the case. Brown sugar is also highly processed (refined), but a little molasses was added back to add moisture and the brown color. It should be avoided just as much as white refined sugar.
- Agave Nectar – This substitute has been highly advertised as a healthy sugar alternative. Even celebrity Doctor Oz has been a supporter of this product. In fact, you may have even read that you can eat as much as you want because it is lower on the glycemic index than other alternatives. Do not believe the hype. It is still sugar and is not healthy. In fact, there are some recent studies that show its high fructose content can contribute to insulin resistance. The American Diabetes Association lists agave as a sweetener to limit along with refined sugars.
- Organic Cane Sugar – This is a pure marketing ploy. It is exactly the same as regular table sugar and affects your body the same way. Organic sugar is still sugar!
- Coconut Sugar – This sugar is made from the sap of coconut palm trees and is low in the glycemic index, but neither of those factors makes it healthy. It is still sugar. The only difference in this sugar and regular table sugar is that it contains some nutrients. However, it would be much wiser to eat actual food filled with healthy nutrients than to justify your sugar intake by eating “healthy” coconut sugar.
- Evaporated Cane Juice – Another pseudo healthy sugar. This is just sugar – empty calories with no nutritional value.
There are many types of sugars and sugar substitutes with names that are confusing and difficult to read. The good news is that they are usually listed on nutrition labels, which you must learn to read.
It is also important to stay up-to-date on sugar terminology because as people become more aware and knowledgeable, there is no doubt that the food industry and “health gurus” will change the names of sugars being used.
Common Substitutes to Avoid
Below is a list of some of the more common, and well-known substitutes. This is not a complete list. There are more, with new ones being added all the time.
More and more people are opting for “sugar-free” diets, but they still crave sweet food, which makes sugar substitutes a lucrative market. As a result, manufacturers who care nothing about the health of their customers will jump on the band wagon. Their only focus is making money, and they will do whatever they can to sell a new sugar substitute regardless of its impact on anyone’s health.
- Aspartame – This is the main ingredient in Equal® and NutraSweet®. It can also be found in candy, chewing gum, frozen desserts, gelatin, jams and fruit spreads, soft drinks, drink mixes, yogurt, and condiments. There are a few studies that indicate it can cause tumors, leukemia, and other cancers. It has been labeled, “The most dangerous of all sweeteners.”
- Truvia® – This is a new brand-name sweetener that has hit the market big. Coca-Cola®/Cargill marketing was smart to piggy-back on Stevia® a natural, healthy sweetener, with marketing slogans like, “The best sweetness comes from nature. Truvia sweetener is natural, great-tasting sweetness born from the leaves of the stevia plant.” The truth is that there is practically no stevia plant in the product and it does not contain any of the health benefits of Stevia®. It also has some additional additives that you do not want to ingest. A study conducted by Drexel University showed that Truvia® actually kills fruit flies – does not sound like something I want to put in my body.
- Saccharin – Sold as Sweet and Low®, Sweet Twin®, and Sugar Twin®. A number of years ago there was a reported link between saccharin and bladder cancer, which has resulted in saccharin being the most investigated of all artificial sweeteners. As of now, there is still no solid proof of the link in humans. However, there are side effects resulting from the use that have been reported for people who suffer with sulfa allergies.
- Sucralose – This is distributed in the yellow packet known as Splenda®. They did a great job advertising it as “safe to use.” Potential problems such as reducing good intestinal bacteria needed for digestion, decreasing medication effectiveness and possibly altering insulin response were discovered in a study at Duke University.
- Acesulfame Potassium – This is packaged and sold as Sweet One® and Sunett®. It has been available for a long time, but very few studies have been conducted to verify or negate its safety of use. There are preliminary studies that show a link to multiple cancers in laboratory animals.
My recommendation is to avoid using these sugar substitutes. The evidence regarding the dangers or safety of artificial sweeteners is actually mixed and the question of whether we should use them, or not, is highly controversial. The questions regarding their safety are enough to keep me away – how about you?
Studies do show that these sweeteners, like sugar, do not satiate your hunger. In fact, they make you hungrier and intensify your craving for sweets.
Sweeteners to Use in Moderation
I am happy to report that there are a few sweeteners that seem to be safer than the ones listed above. However, even these should be used in moderation.
- Stevia – This is made from the leaves of a South American plant, Rebaudiana. It is an herb that has been used for centuries. It has “0” calories, “0” carbs, and is also zero on the glycemic index. Be sure to buy the real thing – and not the “copy cats.” The taste is a little unusual and takes some “getting used to,” but I have used it for years and find it quite effective. It is a good choice for baking and as a sweetener for tea and coffee.
- Raw Honey (Local Variety Only) – This has been used for a long time as a natural remedy for allergies, but don’t go overboard. A nice cup of hot tea with one or two teaspoons of honey is plenty. Or – slowly eat a small teaspoon for a sweet treat that will help your allergies.
- REAL Maple Syrup – There are many products on the market that read maple syrup, but when you check the labels, it is basically sugar syrup with maple flavoring. When you shop, be sure you buy 100% maple syrup ONLY (the pricey one). It can be used in small quantities when baking and is a great sugar substitute on your morning oatmeal.
- Black Strap Molasses – My mother used to give this to us as an iron supplement when I was a child. She was actually on to something. It is good for you because of its high iron content. I have never liked the taste of it much except in cookies – baking is an excellent use for it. It is also quite tasty on whole-grain toast for a healthy snack.
- Sugar Alcohols – Erythritol, Xulitol, Xylitol, and Sorbitol. There are not many safety and toxicity studies on sugar alcohols, and at the moment, are generally accepted as safe. However, it would be wise to use them in moderation. Mints and gum containing these are a better choice than those filled with sugar. Be aware that the sugar alcohols can cause tummy distress.
- Yacon Syrup – Derived from the sweet root of the yacon plant, which grows in the Andes in South America. It has been used by the natives for over 100 years for medicinal purposes in treating diabetes plus kidney and digestive disorders. It is currently touted as a weight loss aid. The supporting studies are promising. As with Stevia and maple syrup, be sure to get the real thing.
- Dried Fruit – Dates, raisins, currents, apricots, and other dried fruit are very tasty – and sweet, but use them sparingly. They have a much higher sugar content than the raw, fresh versions of the fruit, which makes them a poor choice as a snack. But, they are great in baked goods or finely chopped and used for toppings.
Any of the above natural sweeteners used in moderation will help you move forward with a sugar-free diet, which will help you lose weight, feel better and clear your mind from the fog that sugar addiction creates.
Eat Well, Get Fit, Be Happy!