Healthy Sugar Alternatives for Diabetes
Dr. Abby Campbell
What is a Sugar Alternative?
A sugar alternative or substitute is a food additive that provides a sweet taste like sugar with substantially less calories. Some sugar alternatives are produced synthetically like acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose. You may know them better as Sunett, Equal or NutraSweet, Newtame, Sweet ‘N Low, and Splenda. The more popular natural substitutes include honey, maple syrup, molasses, and coconut sugar. Most of these have been recommended by the American Diabetes Association as a replacement for sugar to combat diabetes, as well as other metabolic and cardiovascular diseases. However, it may not be the best recommendation.
Unfortunately, there is no research to back up the health claims of most artificial sweeteners – whether synthetic or natural. In fact, the sweet taste of artificial or natural sweeteners significantly increases appetite. Chemical sweeteners also negatively alter the microbiome, killing off good gut bacteria which can also set the stage for full-blown diabetes. Though natural sweeteners may contain a few more nutrients than regular sugar, the body still metabolizes them the same way as sugar which can also contribute to diabetes.
However, there are two healthy sugar alternatives that you that are diabetic-friendly. They include stevia and monk fruit because they sweeten foods and drinks without the harmful effects of sugar and artificial sweeteners. In their pure forms, stevia and monk fruit don’t impact blood sugar. Plus, they will provide you with the sweetness you crave without increasing appetite.
Stevia Substitute for Diabetes
Used for more than 1,500 years, the indigenous people of South America regard the stevia plant as medicinal and a sweet treat for their tea. Depending on the specific stevia compound, the plant’s extract is about 150 to 300 times sweeter on average than table sugar. Yet, it has no calories.
To date, there are more than 700 studies regarding stevia’s positive impact on health. Medicinal properties in the plant improve cholesterol levels, lower high blood pressure levels, and treat cancer.
If you have a sweet tooth, stevia is a healthy alternative to sugar. When choosing steavia, opt for green leaf stevia as it is the least processed of all the stevia types. Your second option would be stevia extract as it seems to be on par with its unprocessed counterpart of green leaf stevia. Stay away from altered stevia blends that contain chemical solvents like acetonitrile, which is toxic to the central nervous system, and a genetically modified corn derivative called erythritol.
You may have to try different brands and doses to find the one you like most. Stevia can have a bad aftertaste. This is usually due to overuse, but it can also be the brand. Start off with smaller doses and increase until you find the dose for your preference of sweetness.
Monk Fruit Sweetener for Diabetes
Monk fruit extract comes from the monk fruit, a melon-like fruit that grows on a vine in parts of China and Thailand. It is also known as luo han guo, passion fruit, and kiwi dragon. The sweetener is made by juicing the fruit and processing it into crystal form. Like stevia, its sweetness is powerful and can taste about 200 to 400 times sweeter than table sugar and has zero calories.
In addition to its magical sweetening powers, monk fruit has been regarded as a longevity fruit due to its high antioxidants called mogrosides which help fight free radicals, reduce inflammation, and treat cancer.
Monk fruit doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste that stevia can have. However, its sweetness is quite intense. Like stevia, you may want to start off with very small amounts and increase it to your liking.
Healthy Sugar Alternatives are Better for Diabetics
Because diabetics don’t have enough insulin in the body to regulate blood sugar levels, it’s important for them to limit their sugar intake. If you have prediabetes or diabetes, choose a healthy sugar alternative like stevia or monk fruit which eliminate the negative side effects of other artificial or natural sugar substitutes. In fact, stevia and monk fruit have zero calories and provide a plethora of health benefits. You may also want to read Insulin Resistance Causes Sugar Cravings and Addiction.