Sugary temptations lurk around every corner. If only there were a sugar substitute that was just as delicious but healthier? Or maybe it already exists? Find out all the pros and cons of popular sugar alternatives in this article.
Why is it Worth Avoiding Sugar?
We were born with a sweet tooth because sweetness signifies readily available energy. Earlier, it ensured survival. Today, however, the supply of sugar (sucrose) and power is omnipresent, and at the same time, everyday life is less active. These opposing effects cause many people to consume too much sugar. The WHO recommends no more than 25 grams of free sugar per day. But, according to statistics, American adults consume an average of 77 grams daily. And this has long-term health consequences:
- Overweight and obesity
- Diabetes type 2
- Fatty liver disease
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Increases water retention
Best Alternatives to Sugar
Among sugar alternatives, a distinction is made between sugar substitutes and sweeteners. In addition to the classic table sugar, other types of sugar, such as fructose or milk sugar, are also used as alternatives.
Sugar substitutes: These are sugar alcohols (hydrogenated carbohydrates). They are very similar to carbohydrates and are usually derived from plants. Their advantages: fewer calories than sugar, insulin-free metabolism, and non-cariogenic (do not cause tooth decay). However, some of them are less sweet.
Sweeteners: They are a diverse group of chemical compounds. Sweeteners have a significantly higher sweetening power than sugar and are almost energy-free and non-cariogenic.
Xylitol and Erythritol
Both sweeteners are sugar alcohols. Xylitol is often used in chewing gum and dental care products because it does not cause tooth decay. Moreover, it is supposed to protect against it.
Xylitol is easy to use because the sugar substitute has a sweetening power similar to regular sugar, and you can also use it for baking. Xylitol contains only half the calories. Those who are not used to sugar alcohol should not overeat because it has a laxative effect.
Erythritol is usually better tolerated. However, it only has half the sweetening power of sugar. Therefore, you cannot simply swap it out 1:1 in recipes. However, there are just 20 calories in 100 grams of erythritol.
Both sugar alcohols are derived from plants. Xylitol can be made from birch wood. However, the alternative is obtained from other woods, corn cobs, or straw in most cases. The raw material for erythritol is often corn.
Canada is worldwide famous for its maple syrup. This sugar substitute always has a long way to go before it ends up on your pancakes. It can be a little less sweet than table sugar, depending on the quality level. In addition to sucrose, it contains a small proportion of fructose, water, 1.6% minerals and vitamins, a few amino acids, and polyphenols.
You can buy honey regionally from the beekeeper. That's a definite plus for the sugar substitute. However, the product is not vegan as bees make it. Honey is slightly sweeter than table sugar and is made up of three types of sugar: sucrose, glucose, and fructose. It also contains water, enzymes, flavorings, acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Derived from the tropical plant Stevia, it's 300 times sweeter than sugar with zero calories. Therefore, using stevia in recipes, especially when baking, is not so easy - you can't just replace sugar with stevia.
Moreover, stevia also has an (unpleasant) aftertaste. That is why it is often combined with other sweeteners or sugar.
In Europe, commercially available sugar is made from sugar beet. In countries like Brazil or India, sugar is extracted from sugar cane. If the final cleaning process is omitted, the result is darker and slightly moist raw cane sugar. If sugar cane syrup is boiled down and then ground, the sugar obtained from it is called the whole cane sugar. Both types of sugar have a similar sweetening power to beet sugar and hardly differ in their calorie content. The taste, on the other hand, is somewhat caramel-like. It also contains traces of minerals and vitamins. Compared to beet sugar, cane sugar is always imported from distant countries and is not a sustainable alternative.
The syrup originally came from Asia, but it is now also produced in Europe, for example, in Italy.
The starch in rice is broken down by adding enzymes, and the resulting sugar syrup consists of glucose, maltose, and oligosaccharides. It contains almost no fructose. Rice syrup is, therefore, an alternative to sugar in the case of fructose intolerance and a substitute for honey in a vegan diet. The sugar substitute is slightly less sweet and contains minerals and B vitamins traces. Its calorie content is slightly lower compared to table sugar.
Fruit and Dried Fruit
While baking, you can replace sugar with banana or apple puree. Fruits are a great alternative because they contain only natural sugar. However, if you use too much fruit puree or dried fruit, you can get indigestion because fruit contains more fructose. The body can only absorb this sugar up to a certain amount. If you overeat, the fructose gets unprocessed into your intestines, where intestinal bacteria digest it with gas formation. Too much fructose can also cause fatty liver disease in the long term. You can eat two servings of fruit a day without discomfort.
Coconut Blossom Sugar
Coconut blossom sugar is made from coconut palms. Apart from the taste (intense caramel note), there are no notable differences from regular sugar:
- They contain similar calories.
- The sweetening power is comparable.
- The primary type of sugar is sucrose.
- It only contains traces of minerals and vitamins.
In recipes, you can replace table sugar 1:1 with the sugar substitute. But coconut blossom sugar is never regional. It is mainly produced in Southeast Asia.
Conclusion: The Best Alternatives to Sugar For Your Health
The healthiest, lowest-calorie and most sustainable alternative to sugar is not to eat any sugar. Because the sweetness is something you get used to. If you don't eat sweet substitutes for a long time, even a carrot will taste sweet. Industrially produced sweets then seem over-sugar, and you quickly lose your appetite for them. But the way there is not easy. Fasting is an excellent start to a sugar-free life for many.
However, it is also a good idea to reduce sugar consumption. Ultimately, the motive is always a decisive factor in finding the ideal alternative for you. Local products such as beekeeper honey or beet syrup are more sustainable. Xylitol is better for the teeth, and dates or fruit puree are more natural.
Disclaimer: this article is a collaborative effort of the CLAV editorial team, created on the current literature base. All our publications are supplemented with passion and expertise for naturopathy and a healthy lifestyle. Our medical experts approve all texts before publication.
Please Note: Dietary supplements are no substitute for a balanced, healthy diet or medical advice.