According to the CDC, over 1 in 10 Americans has diabetes and approximately 1 in 3 has prediabetes. (1) It’s starting at younger ages too, which doesn’t leave a good future outlook. One recent study found that 18% of American adolescents have prediabetes. (2) But even before it gets to the point of prediabetes or diabetes too much sugar consumption can lead to insulin resistance, liver problems and lowered immunity. Sugar can contribute to many of the health problems that bring people to our network of clinics looking for different answers. The thing about sugar is that it can be addictive, so you might crave it because of insulin resistance or yeast problems, only making things worse.
It’s hard to avoid if you are eating a standard American diet. Many packaged foods are full of highly processed sugars and artificial sweeteners, like aspartame or sucralose, aren’t doing your body any favors. Fake sugars can be even more harmful than regular sugar. For example, aspartame has also been linked to conditions like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and cancer. (3) Avoid the fake sugars!
Breaking the Sugar Habit
But after years of sweeter and sweeter foods, it’s hard to break the sugar habit. So, it’s important to reevaluate your relationship with sugar, reduce your sugar cravings, and find some healthier sugar swaps for the occasional sweet treat. Having options can help while you transition to a healthier lifestyle so that you can accomplish your goals. I have you covered with 5 healthier sugar swaps.
I know what you are thinking… “Doc, why the options? Can’t you just tell me the best one so I can just use that one?” I can’t because everybody is different and has different health goals. A sugar that might be okay for one might be an allergy for another. Some might have more insulin concerns or are reducing their addiction to sugar with a “no-sugar challenge” so they will need to avoid any sugars that have an effect on insulin altogether. There are also other factors that come into play like cost and how you are cooking or baking with them.
These are, in my opinion, the 5 best, healthier sweetener options but you need to consider your needs and health goals.
5 Healthier Sugar Swaps
- Monk fruit
- Yacon Syrup
- Coconut Sugar
1 – Monk Fruit
So if we put cost and availability aside this is my hands down favorite. There are so many healthy benefits including the fact that it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels making it safe for diabetics, promotes weight loss, feeds the gut flora and can be anticarcinogenic. Yes, studies have shown mogrosides from monk fruit have been shown to slow the growth of cancer cells. (4) (5) The downfall of this sweetener is that it is challenging to grow which makes it expensive to import and process organically. If you find it doesn’t cost much it is probably mixed with another sweetener or it’s full of chemicals. While this sweetener is great, the price is prohibitive.
2 – Yacon Syrup
My next favorite sugar swap is yacon syrup, which is full of fructans and the gut beneficial fiber inulin. The fructans are great for the bacteria in your gut and they can shut off the hunger hormone grehlin which is one of the reasons this alternative sweetener is great for weight loss. Studies have shown this sweetener to lower BMI and insulin resistance. (6) (7) Even those with blood sugar concerns can use this sweetener. It’s got a great sweet taste that is almost a chocolatey flavor and tastes great in my wife’s peanut butter pie.
3 – Coconut Sugar
Now while this sweetener does have an effect on insulin levels, it has many benefits and is lower on the glycemic index than traditional sugar. It’s an easy swap for cooking and baking. It’s also not processed very much as it is made from coconut sap. It has many beneficial nutrients like iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium and calcium plus the fiber inulin which is great for gut health. It’s also great for your heart because it has nitrogen.
4 – Raw Honey
This sweetener does have fructose and would not be ideal for anyone working on fatty liver or insulin concerns. I’ve actually had to tell a beekeeper he had to cut out enjoying honey for a while. But I would actually recommend it for someone with E-coli or H-pylori. This superfood is antimicrobial and has enzymes that produce hydrogen peroxide. It’s also great for allergies, your skin and reduces inflammation. Learn more in our article on the benefits of raw honey.
5 – Xylitol
This is another one of my favorites as long as you are getting birch xylitol, not the majority of xylitol that is made from corn. Food manufacturers will try to make a good thing as cheap as possible and xylitol is not good if it is made from GMO corn. Xylitol has been shown to be beneficial for preventing strep, ear infections and tooth decay. It has a low glycemic index and is a sweetener that causes the least change physiologically and xylitol has some great benefits while being lower cost compared to monk fruit.
Changing Your Sweet Tooth
A healthy lifestyle means changing your relationship with sugar. If you choose healthier options, sweetener alternatives can be a great way to help while you reduce your sugar cravings. Don’t overuse them because I really like to see people reduce their sweet tooth and change their palate to make room for nutrient-rich, whole foods. It makes maintaining that healthy lifestyle a lot easier in the long run. But let’s face it, we all need a peanut butter pie once in a while (or your favorite treat). For those times enjoy one of these sugar swaps!
Written by Dr. Patrick Flynn
In Sugar Part 3, Dr. Patrick Flynn discusses sugar alternatives in depth: