What’s The Healthiest Sweetener?
Sugar substitutes can be divided into four general categories: artificial sweetener, sugar alcohols, natural sweeteners, and dietary supplements such as Stevia and Lo Han. Artificial sweeteners can actually be far worse for you than sugar and fructose, and scientific evidence backs up that conclusion. Furthermore, numerous studies show they increase weight gain and worsen insulin sensitivity to a greater degree than sugar. Natural sweeteners such as honey and agave may seem like a healthier choice, but not only are they loaded with fructose, many are also highly processed. In moderation, some sugar alcohols can be a great choice. Of the various sugar alcohols, xylitol is one of the best. Three of the best sugar substitutes are all-natural Stevia from the whole plant, Lo Han Guo, and dextrose (pure glucose).
WFP’s Take-Home Advice
The first rule is to avoid all artificial sweeteners. It’s tempting to choose these products over sugar due to their “zero calories” but they are a relatively new invention and we really don’t know all of their true health effects. New studies are also showing that artificial sweeteners paradoxically cause weight gain. The second rule is to try to avoid adding sugar to anything. If you have to use sugar then use a raw, unprocessed sugar such as pure, dehydrated sugar cane juice such as Organic Sucanat. Watch out for marketed raw sugars such as Sugar in the Raw as they are still highly processed though probably better then “white sugar”. If you need to use a sweetener, we believe using a “whole food” source is more ideal such as honey. Try to use a local honey that is raw and unprocessed, meaning that it is both non-heated and unfiltered. Round Rock Honey, Austin Honey Company, and Good Flow Honey are great local companies that sell raw lines of honey. Make sure the label says “Raw, Unfiltered, and Unheated”, and the general rule of thumb is: the thicker the honey, the rawer it is. We recommend raw Good Flow Honey out of the jar that you have to use a spoon to scoop out! You should generally avoid honey that is easily pourable, as it has been heated. Using honey in your coffee every morning and using it for almost everything that needs to be sweetened is a good strategy . Remember to keep honey consumption to no more than a tablespoon a day as you should really be keeping your total daily sugar amount under 30 grams. We generally recommend avoiding all agave products as it is highly processed. For patients who really need to avoid all sugar (ie: those trying to lose weight, diabetic patients, insulin insensitive patients, etc) stevia is the best alternative. The best source of stevia is the whole leaf concentrate or using the actual stevia leaf. If you have to use stevia extracts, which are more widely available but less raw, use the ones that are less processed such as Sweet Leaf Stevia. Hope this helps.