10 Natural Alternatives to Sugar: How Healthy Are They Really?
White sugar. Photo by Stockfood
They say, “Know thy enemy,” right? Then getting to know oft demonized sugar — as well as its myriad alternatives, while we’re at it — is probably not such a bad idea.
So first, sugar: Yes, it’s as bad as you’ve heard. Studies have linked the stuff to obesity, heart disease, cancer, and impaired brain function, while many simply dub it “poison.” But it’s far from the only problematic sweetener on the market. Agave, once touted as one of the healthiest natural alternatives, now gets routinely slammed for its high content of fructose, which J.J. Virgin, author of “The Virgin Diet” and the forthcoming “Sugar Impact,” calls “nasty stuff.” Fructose, she writes, “raises your cholesterol, increases glycosylated hemoglobin [a diabetes indicator], spikes your blood pressure, and sets you up for insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes.” So, when choosing a sweetener, she told Yahoo Health via email, “I would consider its fructose impact and its glycemic impact [how quickly it raises blood sugar]. Many so-called healthy sweeteners are actually equal to or higher in fructose than regular table sugar (looking at you, agave), so you’ll want to skip those.”
Consuming too much sugar — particularly the “hidden” kinds that lurk in foods from bagels to cereals — also saps our energy, according to Diane Sanfilippo, certified nutrition consultant and “The 21-Day Sugar Detox” author. “The short story is that bad carbs [which are] nutrient-poor, use vitamins and mineral reserves to metabolize them without bringing any to the table,” she told Yahoo Health. “Your body’s nutrient stores are then depleted — B vitamins and minerals, very specifically — leaving you tired and craving more energy. It starts a vicious cycle of eating sugar and then craving more.” Kind of takes all the fun out of that ice-cream sundae.
Still, there are plenty of other good alternatives out there, right? Well, that all depends on whom you ask. While Sanfilippo does have her go-to sweeteners, she generally tries to avoid them altogether — and her 21-day plan allows no added sweetener at all. But when those three weeks are over, she explained, “Natural foods tend to taste sweeter to you, and that’s a really liberating experience. A peach will be the sweetest thing ever.”
Still, for those who remain unconvinced — or who like to bake, or need to just add a pinch of sweetener to their morning coffee — read on.