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The Truth About Sugar Substitutes 

By Rachael Attard, Updated Feb 25, 2018

There are lots of sugar substitutes out there and many are thought to be “healthier” types of sugar. So I want to talk about some of the popular ones, and tell you the truth about about sugar substitutes. 

But first, a little bit about sugar and your body. 

Glucose (i.e. sugar) is the main source of energy in your body.  

When your stomach digests sugars and starches they are transformed into glucose and dumped into your blood stream. Your blood glucose level rises after you eat sugar and starch, and there might be more than you need in your blood stream. 

To deal with this, your body produces insulin. This allows your muscles to use the glucose and any excess glucose is stored as fat.  

It doesn’t matter if the sugar is “healthier” or not – all types of sugar are converted into glucose, and have the ability to be stored as fat.

how to eat sugar and not gain weight

How Sugar Substitutes Fit In 

Some sugar substitutes are low or zero calorie, which is why they have become so popular with people trying to lose weight. You can still have that sweet hit without ruining your diet. Others are “natural” so many people think they are better for you!

However, a very recent study indicated that even artificial sweeteners can increase blood sugar levels. There is also the risk that, because these products are seen as zero calories, you can eat more sweet treats. 

Unfortunately, there are still plenty of calories in sweet treats (even with “healthier types of sugar”) which can ruin your weight loss and clean eating efforts . Try to avoid sugary products where possible and know the facts regarding sugar substitutes. 

Stevia 

This is a natural product, originally from South America and is very popular with diabetics and natural food lovers. 

Pros 

  • Well priced – Particularly because it is 250 times stronger than sugar, you need very little of it! 
  • Positively affects blood sugar levels 
  • Zero calories – theoretically this means there is no limit to how much you can have. 

Cons 

  • Chemical processing – In this form it might contain glycerine, xylitol and dextrose. 
  • Dried leaves have an unusual aftertaste. 
  • Can cause bloating and nausea. 

Dates 

You might not have considered the date as a sugar substitute but they are present in many health bars to add sweetness! 

Pros 

  • Natural – When being used in health bars and similar the dates are literally just squished into shape. The best thing about dates is that they are completely natural; nothing needs to be done to them after they have grown. 
  • Fiber – This is an essential part of any diet as it can help to prevent heart disease, diabetes and weight gain! 
  • Potassium – Dates contain several important minerals which can boost your nutritional intake. 

Cons 

  • Easy to consume too much sugar – Dates are small and you’ll be tempted to have several. 
  • Can cause increased sugar cravings. 
  • Contains 40% fructose – This cannot be used as energy but high amounts of it will be turned into fat by your liver. 

Maple Syrup 

This is a popular choice in many parts of the world and is actually a natural and vegan substitute.  

Pros 

  • Minerals – Maple syrup contains calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese. 
  • Blood Sugar – This will riser slower with maple syrup than with conventional sugar. 
  • Antioxidants – Maple syrup has a very high antioxidant level. 

Cons 

  • 67% sugar – This makes it little better than actual sugar. 
  • Calories – There’s approximately 51 calories in each spoon. 
  • Distinctive – As a sweetener it will not always work as it has a distinctive taste. 

Honey 

This is a great natural substitute for sugar, made by bees, and it is completely untreated. 

Pros 

  • Minerals – Vitamin B and iron are two of the most important minerals in honey. 
  • Boosts your immune system – It has anti-bacteria which fight disease. 

Cons 

  • Calories – Perhaps the highest of all the sugar substitutes. 
  • High Fructose level – 75% of honey is sugar, half of this is fructose. how to eat sugar and not gain weight

Agave 

You might not know that this syrup actually comes from the same plant that is used to make tequila! It is fairly neutral in flavor making it a good additive. 

Pros 

  • Low Glycemic index – It shouldn’t push your blood sugar levels up. 
  • Low quantity – It is 1.5 times the sweetness of sugar so you can use less of it. 

Cons 

  • Calories – This is another natural alternative which is actually higher in calories than sugar. 
  • Fructose – There’s a lot of fructose in this, in fact it’s the highest of all the sugar substitutes. 

Brown Rice Syrup 

It might seem surprising to pour a rice product on your food in order to sweeten it, but it works. 

Pros 

  • Breaks down Slowly – Reduce the resulting sugar spike. 
  • Low Glycemic – Approximately third that of refined sugar. 
  • Gluten Free 

Cons 

  • Calories – This is not a low calorie option unlike some of the other sugar substitutes. In fact it has 72 calories per spoon. Sugar has 42. 
  • Contains Arsenic – Too much could present a health risk. 

Evaporated Cane Sugar 

This is a natural alternative to sugar. 

Pros 

  • Nutrients – Many of the vitamins and nutrients which are removed when making cane sugar are retained in evaporated sugar. 

Cons 

  • Fructose – Levels are generally higher than the equivalent amount of refined sugar. In fact the combination of sugars can be as high as 96%! 

Coconut Sugar 

Unsurprisingly this sugar substitute is derived from the coconut tree. You might also know of it as coconut palm sugar. Although it is not the same as palm sugar. 

It is generally believed that coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index compared to regular sugar, which means it will slow down the absorption and you won’t get such a spike in blood sugar. Plus, coconut sugar contains very small amounts of iron, calcium, zinc and potassium.  

Interesting Fact – coconut sugar is collected by making a cut in the flower of this tree. The resulting sap is heated to allow the water to evaporate, creating a sugar substitute which is ready to use. 

Pros 

  • Natural – this substitute comes direct from nature without any additives, it’s as natural as it can be. 
  • Mineral Content – although not in significant levels you will find Calcium, potassium, zinc and iron present. These are all valuable minerals. 
  • Inulin – this fiber is thought to slow the absorption of glucose by your body. In addition it aids good bacterial in your gut and boosts your immune system.  
  • Low Glycemic Index – Sugar has a glycemic index of 63, coconut sugar is 35. This means your blood sugar levels will rise much slower; good news for diabetics. More importantly it will reduce the high of a sugar hit and the likelihood of your body storing excess glucose as fat. 

Cons 

  • Fructose – table sugar is approximately 50% fructose. Coconut sugar is 70% sucrose, half of this is fructose. Although lower than natural sugar this is still relatively high. You need to consume in moderation.  
  • Calorie Content – the calorie content of coconut sugar is about the same as natural sugar. You need to keep your usage low in order to successfully lose weight.

Xylitol 

This is classified as a sugar alcohol which is natural. In fact it already appears in your body as part of your metabolism. It is the most popular sugar alcohol on the market at present. 

Pros 

Cons 

  • Bad side effects – These include diarrhea and excess gas. Excess use can even lead to a reduction in your ability to absorb nutrients. 
  • Genetically modified 
  • Glycemic – Although less than standard sugar this will still give you a sugar rush. 

Summing It Up 

As with anything, the alternatives are not always as healthy as they might appear to be. The best ones to choose from this list will be dates, stevia and possibly coconut sugar. These are least likely to cause you long term issues. 

Of course, the ultimate aim should be to remove added sugar from all your food (easier said than done, right!). But a little sugar here and there is not going to significantly affect your health or weight loss results.  I hope this has helped open your eyes to the truth about about sugar substitutes :) Xx

Picture of Rachael

Rachael is an Australian born certified personal trainer and nutritionist who holds a Bachelor degree in Science.

After struggling for years to find an exercise and diet program that is tailored to women striving for lean and toned body with no bulk she designed her Lean Legs Program. This program is tailored to each body type and focused on helping women get toned but feminine bodies, without getting bulky.

Her mission is to empower women and help them stay in shape in a healthy and balanced way.

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6 comments on “The Truth About Sugar Substitutes ”

    Elana says:

    Hi Rachael, how would monk fruit stack up against the rest of these sweeteners? Or a monk fruit, erythritol blend like swerve? I ask because you mentioned that you think erithrytol would be similar to xylitol but you said xylitol can cause blood sugar spikes and I think one of the benefits people say about swerve is that it DOEN’T cause the blood sugar spikes because it isn’t metabolized by the body… I would love to know more and get your take on swerve!

      Ana - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hey lovely,

      I asked Rachael about this one and she said: “I’m not too sure, to be honest. I think if it’s got erythritol added then it would probably have the same effect. If it’s just pure monk fruit then maybe not. :)”

      Love,
      Ana

    Shannon Jones says:

    How do I get your diet for Endomorph

      Sanja - Lean Legs Support says:

      Hi lovely,

      thanks for reaching out! <3

      Rachael 3 Steps To Lean Legs Program has meal plans (regular and vegan) and recipe eBooks :) Also, you can read the guideline that she wrote for endomorphs here. It will provide you with some detailed information <3

      I hope this helps, please let me know if you have any questions! xx

      Love,
      Sanja

    Heather says:

    Hi! Great post and info thanks…what about erythritol? I found an organic protein shake that uses a small amount to reduce sugar.

      Rachael Attard says:

      Hi lovely, I would consider erythritol the same as xylitol. I wouldn’t consider either of them good for you.. But very small amounts would probably be OK! xx