A study from 20151 shows that the average American:
[C]onsumes more than 126 grams of sugar per day, which is slightly more than three 12-ounce cans of Coca-Cola. That’s more than twice the average sugar intake of all 54 countries observed by Euromonitor. It’s also more than twice what the World Health Organization recommends for daily intake, which is roughly 50 grams of sugar for someone of normal weight.
When it comes to sugar, there are good sugars and bad sugars. The difference comes down to the source of the sugar, and how it’s refined. There’s a difference between pure cane sugar, coconut sugar, or xylitol, and the common, granulated, white sugar most people are familiar with.
The Good, the Bad, and the Simple
Harvard Health2 puts it this way:
Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is okay. Plant foods also have high amounts of fiber, essential minerals, and antioxidants. Dairy foods contain protein and calcium.
Since your body digests these foods slowly, the sugar in them offers a steady supply of energy to your cells. A high intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
However, problems occur when you consume too much added sugar — that is, sugar that food manufacturers add to products to increase flavor or extend shelf life.
The good news is that there are options for healthier alternatives for the commonly used sugar.
‘Sugar’ is a simple carbohydrate. Our bodies need sugar in order to be able to function. Sugar supplies energy for the body’s systems, organs, and jobs. Sugar also supports brain functions.
The body needs eight kinds of sugar, specifically: glucose, xylose, galactose, fructose, mannose, N-Acetylgalactosamine, N-Acetylglucosamine, and N-Acetylneuraminic.
The body needs these sugars for its everyday function. Unfortunately, these aren’t the ones we normally take in.
The main source of sugar in the common American diet is the “simple sugar”, sucrose—table sugar. Sucrose is a hybrid of fructose and glucose and normally makes it into the American diet through things like cereals, sodas, and heavily processed foods. These simple sugars break down quickly and provide a quick and brief spike in blood sugar. Table sugar is an over-processed, altered version of sugar that doesn’t provide benefit to your health.
Complex carbohydrates, in contrast, come from starchy vegetables and whole grains, are processed more slowly by the body. The sugars that your body needs, mentioned above, are recognized by the body, and thus are processed more safely and thoroughly by the body.
The unnatural sugars to avoid are the added sugars found in soda, juices, processed foods, and candy. That’s not, however, the only places these added sugars come from.
Mayo Clinic3 explains these added sugars as follows:
“Added sugars” are the sugars and syrups added to foods during processing. Sodas, desserts, and energy sports drinks are the top sources of added sugars for most people in the U.S. but these aren’t the only foods with added sugars.”
So, what other foods have added sugars? How about ketchup? Salad dressings? Yogurt?
Harvard Health4 says this:
In the American diet, the top sources are soft drinks, fruit drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candy, and most processed foods. But added sugar is also present in items that you may not think of as sweetened, like soups, bread, cured meats, and ketchup.
Processed sugars can impact your health for the worse. To find out how, check out the article Sugar’s Bitter Aftertaste.
How to Avoid Added Sugars
Read food labels carefully to catch added sugars that sneak in under other names. If you see any of the following foods on the ingredients list, put the item in your hand back on the shelf.
- brown sugar
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrates
- high-fructose corn syrup
- invert sugar
- malt sugar
- syrup sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose).
- Cane sugar, cane juice, evaporated cane sugar, or cane juice crystals
- Beet sugar
- Confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar or icing sugar)
- Demerara sugar
- Ethyl maltol
- Golden sugar
- Turbinado sugar (or raw sugar)
- Carob syrup
- Fruit juice or fruit juice concentrate
- Malt syrup
- Golden syrup
- Barley malt
- Acesulfame K
- Stevia with chemical fillers (pure stevia extract with no fillers is okay)
Instead, try an alternative sugar option.
Healthy Sugar Alternatives
Maple syrup is a sugar substitute that holds onto the sweet taste of the sugar that most are familiar with. Make sure you’re choosing 100% pure maple syrup and that there are no added ingredients like sugar or corn syrup. Using ¾ cup of maple syrup for every cup of sugar as a general rule. Just remember, you are dealing with a liquid instead of a solid, so baking recipes may need adjusting.
Coconut sugar tastes great and is a 1::1 ratio with the common granulated sugar most people are familiar with. It does also have a bit of a “brown sugar” flavor which adds to some of those family favorite recipes. WebMD5 says the following about coconut sugar:
Coconut sugar retains many nutrients found in the coconut palm — mostly iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium. These nutrients can support the body in numerous ways, but coconut sugar does not contain enough of them per serving to offer a measurable benefit. Coconut sugar also contains the soluble fiber inulin, which is linked to a lower risk of blood sugar spikes.
Raw Honey is a wonderful alternative to sugar and corn syrup. It has a variety of health benefits, including relief for upper respiratory tract infections. It is also a powerful natural antioxidant, with anti-inflammatory properties. PubMed6 also says the following in a study done on honey:
Studies revealed that the medicinal effect of honey may be due to of its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, apoptotic, and antioxidant properties.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol whose sweetness is comparable to sugar. Dentists have been recommending it for years because of its possible benefits for dental health7. One benefit many people watching blood glucose levels may find helpful is that xylitol doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels8, and may improve bone density and aid in preventing osteoporosis9. The biggest drawback is that even tiny amounts of xylitol are toxic to dogs, so be sure it’s safely stored away from canine sniffers.
It is important to note that xylitol can be produced from either birch bark or corn. Due to purity and health benefits, we always recommend using xylitol sourced from birch bark. The label may also read “hardwood” in place of bark.
Stevia is extracted from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana, a plant that has been known for its sweetness and medicinal value for centuries. It is many times sweeter than sugar and has virtually no calories. While sugar alcohols, like xylitol and erythritol, have no effect on blood sugar, stevia has actually been shown10 to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics. More than that, it can11 even lower elevated blood pressure12.
WebMD13 lists vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous as benefits in Yacon root, a tuber native to South America. Yacon also helps improve gut health, support diabetes management, and supports mineral absorption.
Diarrhea and digestive upset have been noticed as effects of eating Yacon. This likely goes back to the fact that it helps improve gut health; what it helps get rid of has to come out, and diarrhea can be a result.
Dates are often used as a sweetener, and MSN14 lists some of the health benefits as follows:
…dates also provide vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium, and copper says, Taub-Dix. These nutrients help runners by supporting the immune system. Iron, in particular, is super important because it helps carry oxygen to your muscles through your bloodstream. And magnesium helps to maintain healthy blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as maintain muscle and nerve function—it’s also easy to lose through sweat and urine so it’s key to get in your diet.”
How to Use These Sugar Alternatives
We here at The Wellness Way know how difficult it can be to cut something that has become as much of a staple in the American diet as table sugar. That’s one of the reasons we have recipes we’d love you to try! From breakfasts to desserts, these meals are sure to thrill both your family’s taste buds and support their bodies. Just remember to keep allergies in mind!
Cutting the sugar from your diet doesn’t have to be overwhelming, even if you feel withdrawals at first—given how addicting sugar is. Check out this article for ways to limit sugar cravings. For ways to continue to support your body or get your allergies tested, contact a Wellness Way clinic, today!
- Where people around the world eat the most sugar and fat: The Washington Post
- The sweet danger of sugar: Harvard Health Publishing
- Added sugars: Don’t get sabotaged by sweeteners: Mayo Clinic
- The sweet danger of sugar: Harvard Health Publishing
- Coconut Sugar: Are There Health Benefits?: WebMD
- Honey and Health: A Review of Recent Clinical Research: NIH
- Xylitol and caries prevention—is it a magic bullet?: Nature
- The effects of xylitol on the secretion of insulin and gastric inhibitory polypeptide in man and rats: Springer Link
- The effects of oral xylitol administration on bone density in rat femur: PubMed
- Antihyperglycemic effects of stevioside in type 2 diabetic subjects: ScienceDirect
- Efficacy and tolerability of oral stevioside in patients with mild essential hypertension: A two-year, randomized, placebo-controlled study: ScienceDirect
- A double-blind placebo-controlled study of the effectiveness and tolerability of oral stevioside in human hypertension: British Pharmacological Society Journals
- Yacon Root Syrup: Are There Health Benefits?
- You Might Think of Dates as a Sweetener, But They Bring Health Benefits, Too: MSN