Awww – we’ve got ourselves into a serious pickle, right? Many of us are addicted to sugar, and it’s a tough habit to kick. Addiction means that we get withdrawal symptoms when we give it up, such as headaches, nausea, low energy, and irritability. But, the great news is that these symptoms subside pretty quickly, and after just 2 week (you gotta go cold turkey), you’ll be craving-free.
But, why do we need to give up sugar? Is it really that bad for us? Actually, yes! It’s an empty calorie (zero nutritional value), which not only packs on extra pounds, but can also lead to all kinds of diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And, it’s scary to realize that cancer cells feed off sugar! There really isn’t an upside.
So, now to the alternatives – I tend to categorize them into 4 groups:
- Ultra sweet sweeteners (like Stevia and Monkfruit)
- Sugar Alcohols (Xylitol and Erythritol)
- Low-glycemic sweeteners
- “Food” sugars (dates, date sugar, honey etc
However, the most important thing to realize is that there is a downside to every single alternative sugar, so if you take one thing away from this blog, realize that whichever sugar sub you pick, it should always be eaten in MODERATION.
The other important thing to be aware of is that our taste buds have become accustomed to an unnatural level of sweetness. Paleolithic man ate berries, and that was as close as he got to the taste of sweet. For most of us today (who exercise a lot less than cave man/woman), the sweetness of fruit isn’t enough because we have become accustomed the artificial sweeteners that are in everything. This is why I recommend going cold turkey, and staying off the ultra sweet category for a while. If you are particularly sensitive to the taste of sugar, maybe stay off the ultra sweet category for good.
Ultra sweet sweeteners
I am not talking about the chemical sweeteners like Splenda/Aspartame, which I wouldn’t go near. I am talking about Monk Fruit (a fruit), and Stevia (a herbal plant). Both are 300 – 600x sweeter than regular table sugar. Both can have a tiny bit of a bitter aftertaste. I prefer the Stevia drops to the powder, but I can still detect a slight aftertaste. The only time I consume Stevia or Monk Fruit is in chocolate, where the taste of the cacao disguises the aftertaste completely. I love Lily’s Sweets Chocolate and Coco Polo. If you want to use either of these sweeteners, use very sparingly.
There’s no alcohol in these guys I promise. They are derived from plants or wood, and they are a low calorie or zero calorie option.
Xylitol has half the calories of sugar, and can be used in baking. It has exactly the same level of sweetness as table sugar. It can be used for baking, or in any instance that you would use sugar. It also confers some other health benefits, such as protecting your teeth from getting cavities. It can be a laxative for some people, but not everyone. It is highly poisonous to doggies. Your other option is Erythitol. Erythritol has zero calories and won’t raise your blood sugar at all. It is slightly less sweet than table sugar. It can also be used for baking and in any instance you would use sugar. It doesn’t have any kind of laxative effect, so I prefer it to Xylitol.
There are a lot of these on the market now, and the brands use the “low-glycemic” angle as a huge marketing ploy. However, low doesn’t mean no. It’s important to realize that these sweeteners are the most similar to regular sugar. Some may have a few trace micronutrients in them, but they will raise your blood sugar, albeit less. Probably the most popular de jour is coconut sugar, which has a lovely nutty taste. It’s wonderful in baked goods, and sprinkled on desserts, but do go easy with it.
These are my go-to sweeteners because they contain nutrients. They are NOT empty calories. Raw, unprocessed honey contains all kinds of beneficial micronutrients, and dates are full of fiber and minerals. There is also another nutritious sugar to hit the market called SugaVida, which also contains nutrients.
Finally, people always ask me about Agave Syrup, and there are many out there who say it’s no better than High Fructose Corn Syrup. On a chemical level, it behaves in pretty much the same way as a sugar, a HFCS, or sugar by any other fancy name. It will raise your blood sugar. At a stretch, there are a couple of brands that are eager to point out the organic nature of their processing, and how nutrients are kept intact, but this is up for debate. You are probably better off with an organic Agave over table sugar or HFCC because the latter two will very likely be genetically modified.