Are you trying to reduce your sugar intake? That’s a fantastic idea! Maybe you choose to eat fewer desserts and sweets. As a nutritionist, I fully support that choice. But if you’re on the hunt for a safe and healthy sugar alternative, you’re not alone. Many people are looking for the best sugar substitutes – tasty as well as safe. And that’s exactly what this article is here to help you with.
The quest for sugar substitutes goes way back to 1884 when the first one, saccharine, was created. Since then, a variety of alternatives have been developed, both artificial and natural. In this article, we’ll focus on four sweeteners that are most popular, especially as tabletop options:
- Monk fruit
Let’s start with sucralose, commonly known as Splenda. This artificial sweetener has zero calories and tastes just like sugar. It was approved by the FDA for general use in 1999, but it’s important to note that it’s not a naturally occurring substance ³. Instead, it’s chemically engineered and is incredibly sweet. In fact, sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than table sugar. Because of that, a packet of Splenda contains only 5% sucralose, with the rest being other ingredients, which are used as bulking agents ².
However, there are some safety concerns about sucralose. For example, research has suggested that it can affect body weight regulation, speed up glucose absorption, increase insulin secretion, interfere with beneficial gut enzymes, and even have adverse interactions with certain drugs. Additionally, when heated during baking, sucralose can break down into potentially harmful compounds ¹.
As you see, there are plenty of reasons to avoid this artificial sweetener, especially if we have a wide variety of natural sugar substitutes like Stevia and Monk fruit.
Stevia – a Sweet Herb of Paraguay – is a small edible plant famous for its sweetness, and humans have consumed it for centuries. Scientists began to study it in the 1930s, and so far, they have discovered no signs of toxicity ⁴. Over 200 studies demonstrated the safety of stevia extract ⁵. Consequently, as a natural sweetener, Stevia was first adopted in Japan in 1970 and in the US in 2008.
Besides its sweetness, the plant contains more than 100 phytochemicals with medicinal and antioxidant qualities. Those compounds have the potential for naturally treating obesity and reducing blood sugar, hypertension, and cholesterol ³.
Stevia is 100-300 times sweeter than table sugar but has a slightly bitter aftertaste. Different brands offer stevia extract in various forms and strengths. It’s often blended with other ingredients to reduce bitterness. It’s important to note that these additives may cause side effects like bloating and gas. Liquid Stevia, for example, contains mixtures of stevia extract with glycerin, alcohol, water, or a combination. Sometimes, preservatives and flavorings are added.
Overall, Stevia is a much better sugar substitute than sucralose.
Monk fruit is a plant native to China. Local people have used Monk fruit pulp as a natural sweetener and in traditional medicine for cough, sore throat, and constipation ⁶. Monk fruit, like stevia, has over 100 compounds with medicinal properties ⁷. Indeed, a whole medicine cabinet in a packet of sweetness!
Although there aren’t as many studies on Monk fruit as there are on Stevia, the existing research confirms its safety. Like Stevia, Monk fruit is available in both liquid and powdered forms. Monk fruit powder can be pure or mixed with other ingredients. Many people find the taste of Monk fruit more pleasant than Stevia, as it lacks the bitter aftertaste. This makes Monk fruit one of the best sugar substitutes on the market. However, it’s worth noting that Monk fruit is harder to grow and it’s more expensive than Stevia.
Erythritol belongs to a group of compounds we call sugar alcohols, and it occurs naturally through fermentation. Manufacturers primarily ferment corn to produce erythritol. It is only 60-80% as sweet as table sugar and is not calorie-free. Instead, it contains about half as many calories as sugar. FDA approved erythritol as a food additive in 2001.
Until this year, the biggest problem with sugar alcohols was digestive discomfort, mainly gas, boating, watery stool, and tummy rumbling ⁹. Erythritol was much better tolerated compared to other sugar alcohols like xylitol. And because of its digestibility, it has become popular in recent years. Many brands mix erythritol with sucralose, Stevia, and Monk fruit.
Unfortunately, in 2023, a study showed that erythritol is associated with an increased risk of major adverse cardiovascular events. Due to this discovery, we need to reevaluate the long-term safety of erythritol ¹⁰.
The best sugar substitutes: summary
If you’re seeking the best sugar substitute, two natural sweeteners are worth considering. With its long history of human consumption, Stevia offers sweetness and potential health benefits. However, it has a slightly bitter aftertaste. Monk fruit, on the other hand, brings a unique set of medicinal properties and a sweet taste without bitterness. Be cautious with erythritol due to the recent findings regarding its potential cardiovascular risks. Lastly, always check the ingredient lists and choose the option that suits your taste preferences and health goals.
Freedom from hunger and cravings until lunch
Please tell me where I should send the recipe book.