Natural Sugar Alternatives: Everything you Need to Know
Updated: Dec 30, 2020
Have you ever wondered what may be the best sweetener that's not sugar? Here is a list of some of the top 4 choices. Sugar is addictive and the body fills with serotonin and dopamine as soon as this little molecule hits your tongue. Many people do not realize that sugar is found in almost all processed foods which is part of the reason we have challenges with obesity and diabetes. Fortunately, there are a variety of natural sweeteners without sugar that you can use to trick your taste buds, while minimizing the metabolic effects of sugar.
One sweetener that you have probably heard of, but it’s about 300x sweeter than sugar, so if a recipe says use 1 cup of sugar, you may only need 1 tsp. Just remember than the next time you are shopping to flip that bag over and look at the back because it's usually combined with other ingredients like dextrose, maltodextrin, or other fillers to reduce the sweetness and mimic sugar in a cup for cup ratio. However, these fillers so have a minimal amount of carbs and calories which will ultimately influence your body blood sugar. If you find pure stevia, it should not increase blood sugar. Most people tolerate this well, unless it is mixed with a sugar alcohol (like maltitol) which can cause diarrhea and bloating. Some people find the flavor of pure stevia has a slightly metallic bitter after taste, and do not forget to decrease how much you use since it is so much sweeter than sugar.
Another sweetener option that is derived from the Buddha Fruit, is the byproduct of the dried and powdered pulp and juice from this brown fruit. It is usually between 200-300x sweeter than sugar, so again it's traditionally combined with a filler. If its combined with fructose or dextrose it will affect insulin response, but if it's combined with erythritol it shouldn't cause a change.
Monkfruit does contain fructose and glucose, but through the processing into powder, the sugar is removed, and the remaining extract contains mogroside which is the compound for the sweetness without calories. Thus, this product has not been shown to increase blood sugar levels. Just like stevia, the pure produce does not cause gastrointestinal issues, unless it is combined with other sugar alcohols like xylitol or maltitol and the side effects might be diarrhea, gas, or bloating. The taste is a bit more fruit and less bitter than Stevia, but there may be a slight aftertaste. Many people prefer this sweetener but just remember to start by adding in smaller quantities to find the right level of sweetness.
This is a sugar alcohol that is found naturally in some fruits, vegetables and fermented foods. This was found in 1950 in fermented blackstrap molasses, and then in the 1990's it was commercialized as a natural sweetener in Japan. It is produced by hydrolyzing corn starch into glucose, and then fermenting it using a yeast or fungus. The resulting product is only about 70% as sweet as sugar, so it is a lot easier to use this in baked goods and in proportion to sugar making this a common reason it's used in low-carb baking. It is often combined with stevia and monk fruit to reduce their sweetness, create a product that is like sugar in volume. This is not a zero calories product, but one that has about 1/4 a calorie per gram, where sugar has 4 calories per gram. Sugar alcohols are indigestible by the human body, which is why these do not raise blood sugar or insulin levels. This product is believed to only have about 10% make it to the digestive system with the other 90% being absorbed in the blood steam. If you have to much of this product in the gastrointestinal system, erythritol is resistant to the microbiota fermentation process which means it is not absorbed, and people can experience discomfort with excessive intake. Most people find this taste remarkably like sugar (it can even caramelize) but the main difference is that it has a cooling effect in the mouthlike mint.
One of the newest low-calorie sweeteners on the market. It has the same taste and texture of sugar, without after taste. This is considered a rare sugar because it only found naturally in a limited number of foods like figs, raisins, and wheat. It has the same chemical makeup as fructose, but a slightly different chemical structure. To produce allulose, manufacturers take fructose from corn and other plants, and then expose it to an enzyme that converts the fructose structure into D-psicose. While it has about 1/10th the calories or table sugar, since the product is not digested, it has a net carb of zero. It is like Erythritol since it is absorbed primarily in the blood stream and does not raise glucose or insulin. In small amounts, this product should not cause any digestive discomforts, which makes it a more preferred option to sugar alcohols. It does however in large quantities can cause bloating and gas. Since this is new, there is still limited research on the long-term effects of its use or the effect on the microbiome. Flavor wise, it is similar to sugar, without an after taste, but it is only about 70% as sweet as sugar, which means that it's a solid choice if you want to taper your sweet tooth.
Here's a few others that are not the most optimal choices, but you are bound to see on the store shelves. While these may not be considered "natural" they are worth looking at.
Malitol is a sugar alcohol and often added as a sweetener to stevia and monkfruit, it has a high glycemic index and will likely cause a spike in blood sugar. It is also highly fermented in the colon, which may frequently cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Xylitol another sugar alcohol, which does not spike insulin levels. It does however have potential for the gastrointestingal issues as with most other sugar alcohols, but a bit less than malitol. It's also important to note that this can be toxic to dogs and cats.
Sucralose is the main ingredient in Splenda, and artificial sweetener. Sucralose has zero calories, however it is usually paired with dextrose and maltodextrin in Splenda, which can cause a spike in blood sugar and contribute to total calories. It is also unstable in cooking, because it breaks down and interacts with other ingredients like glycerol, which can produce negative substances.