One of the most common questions I get when asked about healthy eating is what type of sugar is good for you. Ideally, we really shouldn’t be eating all that much sugar, but if you have to, you want to have the best. The problem with sugar is the same problem found in most processed “healthy” foods: corporate companies package it well to make you think it is healthy for you. So what is the safest sugar option? Here is a rundown of the white, brown, liquid and even green forms of sweetener you might see out there on the shelves:
Agave Nectar | Alcohol Sugar | Aspartame | Brown Rice Syrup | Coconut Palm Sugar | Corn Syrup | Date Sugar | Equal | Evaporated Cane Juice | High Fructose Corn Syrup | Maple Syrup | Maple Sugar | Molasses | Pasteurized Honey | Raw Honey | Splenda | Stevia | Sweet’N Low | White Refined Table Sugar
✔ Agave Nectar: a syrup made from the blue agave plant that is also used to make tequila. This sweetener is a great option for diabetics as it has an extremely low glycemic index of 15 and enters the bloodstream slowly. It does come under fire for the fact that it has a high fructose content which could lead to weight gain, and some say it is no better than high fructose corn syrup. It also does not contain nutrients. Agave nectar has a very mild, neutral taste in light varieties and syrup taste in darker varieties. It is also sweeter than sugar, so less is needed for desired sweetness. This is a processed sugar so if you use this nectar, make sure to buy the raw organic varieties and use sparingly. I have been using this for years with no adverse effects.
✘ Alcohol Sugar: mainly used as sweeteners in many pre-packaged foods labeled “sugar free”, including candy and throat lozenges. It absorbs slowly into the blood stream and it popular with among diabetics, even though they contain carbohydrates and may raise blood sugar is not monitored properly. They are famous for causing bloating, indigestion and diarrhea. Sugar alcohols may been seen under the alias mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lacitol, isomalt, maltitol, maltitol syrup, and erithritol. Due to the adverse side effects and that is is a highly processed material, this is not a recommended healthy sweetener variety.
✘ Aspartame: an artificial sweetener approved as safe by the FDA, even though it is linked to multiple sclerosis, lupus, neurological defects, methanol poisoning,blindness, cancer and death. It is commonly packaged under the name “NutraSweet” and “AminoSweet.” In addition to the health risks, it has also been linked to weight gain, even though combatting obesity is usually the reason people started drinking it in the first place. Aspartame is found in many sugar free baked goods, sodas, gum, yogurt, flavored water products, teas, cereals, nutritional bars and protein drinks to name a few so read the labels carefully.It is also the sweetener in Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi. If you are wondering if this is safe for diabetics, here is my answer: I don’t think it’s safe for anyone.
✘ Brown rice syrup: is made from brown rice and is mainly used as a replacement in processed products in exchange for high fructose corn syrup. It has a very high glycemic index of 85 which means it enters the blood stream rapidly. Lately, brown rice syrup has been touted as unsafe due to levels of arsenic found in the product, even in organic products. Some processed foods containing this form of sweetener include organic baby formula, cereal bars or energy foods. It may be disgused as OBRS. It does contain nutrients and fiber, but due to it’s effect onblood sugar and contamination levels, I would not recommend this sweetener.
✔ Coconut Palm Sugar: this is made from several different varieties of the coconut palm. It is an “up and coming” sugar and said to be one of the best on the market. It is minimally processed, has a low glycemic index of 35, and has a low fructose content. Great for diabetics! It can be substituted for table sugar in recipes as well. Coconut palm sugar, also called coconut nectar sugar and coconut sugar, is high in potassium, zinc, magnesium, iron and B vitamins. It is also delicious and fragrant. Highly recommended!
✘ Corn syrup:- processed syrup made from the starch of corn. This is typically used in baking and processed foods. This sweetener has a very high glycemic index of 75 so it is not recommended for diabetics. It is also devoid of any nutrients. Corn is one of the highest genetically modified foods and those risks transfer into this syrup. It is used in many commercial soft drinks, candies and juices. I would avoid this sweetener and the products containing it.
✔ Date Sugar: this is a non-processed raw and natural sweetener that is made by grinding the dried dates. It is very sweet, kind of clumpy and can’t dissolve in liquids. It can be exchanged for the same amount of table sugar in recipes. I was unable to find the glycemic index, but due to the spike in blood sugar after consumption, diabetics are urged to use caution. Because this sugar is coming straight from the whole fruit, it is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. This is a great alternative to most commercially produced sugars.
✘ Equal: is an artificial sweetener made up of a combination of aspartame, food starches, anti-caking agents and possibly lactose (milk sugar). This is a highly processed and unsafe sweetener. See Aspartame for more info.
✔ Evaporated Cane Juice: made from sugar cane, although does not undergo quite as harsh a refining process, so some refer to it as minimally processed. It is a healthy alternative to refined sugar, but it is devoid of any nutrients. Is also has a low glycemic index of 55, so it may be used by diabetics, although it is at the cutoff of the low scale so use sparingly. This sweetener also goes by the names Milled cane, Demerara, Turbinado, Muscovado, Sucanat and Jaggery. Choose organic varieties.
✘ High Fructose Corn Syrup: a processed syrup made from corn that has undergone an enzyme process to convert some of it to fructose. This actually makes the stuff sweeter than it already is. It also jumps up the glycemic index about 12 points from regular corn syrup to 87, making it stream quickly into the blood. High fructose corn syrup is devoid of nutrients. This syrup has been linked to obesity, heart disease, liver disease and diabetes. It is found in many processed foods, including sodas and juices. Avoid this sweetener and the products containing it.
✔ Maple Syrup: made by boiling sap from maple trees. It is an excellent source of manganese and zinc. Is also has a low glycemic index of 55, so it may be used by diabetics, although it is at the cutoff of the low scale so use sparingly. Often times pesticides and formaldehyde can be used in the forest preservation and tapping process, so buy organic to avoid these chemicals.
✔ Maple Sugar: crystallized sugar made from the sap of the maple tree. It is an excellent source of manganese and zinc. Is also has a low glycemic index of 55, so it may be used by diabetics, although it is at the cutoff of the low scale so use sparingly. Often times pesticides and formaldehyde can be used in the forest preservation and tapping process, so buy organic to avoid these chemicals.
✔ Molasses: is the byproduct of refining cane sugar into table sugar. Usually thick and black in appearance with a strong flavor. Molasses is a very good source of calcium, and also contains manganese, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin B6, and selenium. Is also has a low glycemic index of 55, so it may be used by diabetics, although it is at the cutoff of the low scale so use sparingly. Choose organic varieties as sugar beets are sometimes used in the refined sugar process and they are genetically modified.
✘ Pasteurized Honey, refined: this is the refined, heated and filtered bee nectar/honey most commonly seen on grocery store shelves. Most varieties also contain high fructose corn syrup which raises the glycemic index to around 75. There are no added health benefits that separate this from your typical table sugar. If you would like to use honey, choose a raw, unprocessed form.
✔ Raw Honey: the form of nectar that comes straight from the beehive, unfiltered, unprocessed and unrefined. This is a completely natural sweetener. It is an energy booster, helps aid in digestion, can help prevent nausea, help build the immune system, and may also be used to help you fall asleep! There are so many benefits to this awesome superfood as it contains many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Is also has a low glycemic index of 30, so it may be used by diabetics in moderation.
✘ Splenda: an artificial chlorinated sweetener derived from sugar, artificiallly engineered when chlorine molecules are added to a sugar molecule creating sucralose. It has no calories and can be used in baking and as table sugar. It has been a minimally tested product compared to most, and the most recent studies published are not saying very nice things about this sweetener. The longest trial done on this sweetener was less than 3 months. We are essentially lab rats for what will side effects may happen 5, 10, 20 or more years down the road. Again, I am not a fan of un-natural sweeteners and this one definitely a man-made with a potential for disaster.
✔ Stevia: a south american herb that has been used in Japan for many years as a natural sweetener. Stevia has virtually no calories or glycemic index, but is 200-300 times sweeter than table sugar, and can sometimes taste bitter if too much is used. Highly recommended for diabetics. It is green in it’s natural state, but has recently been converted into a white powder by many brands such as Truvia, Purevia, Sweet leaf, etc. Many of these new forms have been processed using an alcohol based extraction and contain many fillers. They are not considered the same as pure Stevia. Some even contain an alcohol sugar as a filler which can be very harmful for people monitoring blood sugar. The purest green form of the herb has not been approved by the FDA for anything other than “weight loss supplement” labeling, however, has been used safely in our country and several others for decades. It is one of the safest forms of sweetener. Natural stevia can have a strong taste, so if you prefer to use a white powder, go with a brand such as Sweet leaf, or other brands that use a minimally processed water extraction. Some people prefer to use a combination of honey or agave nectar and stevia to help mask the flavor as well. Stevia’s flavor does not come out full strength immediately, so let it work for 2 or 3 minutes before adding more to your drink.
✘ Sweet ‘N Low: an artificial sweetener made from saccharin (made from a chemical called benzoic sulfilimine), food starch and cream of tartar. It is known for it’s bitter and metallic aftertaste and is devoid of any energy or nutrients. This product is found in many foods, drinks, toothpastes, cookies and candies. It has been proven to cause cancer in lab rats and sacchatin is now banned in Canada because of these findings. It may also increase appetite, which can lead to weight gain. Choose a more natural source of sweetener that is not made in a laboratory.
✘ White Refined Table Sugar: made from sugar cane and refined to the point that there is no nutritional properties. This sugar is found in many processed foods. It is linked to numerous health issues, a large one being the rising increase in type 2 diabetes diagnoses. It may also cause osteoporosis by leeching the calcium from bones due to it’s acidity.This sugar has a high glycemic index of 80 and should be avoided by diabetes (and everyone else as well!) Choose a more natural and lower glycemic sweetener.
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