When we are stressed, we reach for something sweet. For a little while, this makes us feel better. In fact, science proves that refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup do relieve psychological stress. The downside though is that while you are lowering your psychological stress, you are increasing physical stress in your brain. Specifically your hippocampus, the area that includes memory. If you are interested in reading the science that backs this up, read this study. Sugar might make us feel better, but it lowers our performance and causes problems with memory.
In addition, sugar causes inflammation in the body. This can range in a variety of physical symptoms and make your quality of life less enjoyable. Having a temporary fix of sugar on a consistent basis will plague our body with weight gain, skin problems, digestive issues, and other unhealthy problems.
Honey, maple syrup, and dates are often used by some people who are trying to go sugar-free or those on the Paleo diet. Unfortunately, natural sugars produce the same results and effects as white refined sugar does in your blood. If you are concerned about insulin spikes and your hormones, this is not a good alternative to using sugar. Even if you are not on a keto or low-carb diet, you might want to consider some sugar-free alternatives that will improve your stress and encourage a healthier lifestyle.
So what are some of the alternatives?
I’m just learning how to use some of these ingredients and am not an expert by any means. What I do know is there are products on the market that use these and I like some of them more than others. Some people swear by Monk Fruit, but I find it too sweet and it doesn’t appeal to me. On the other hand, I enjoy most stevia and erythritol products such as Zevia or Lilies chocolate. These “treats” are ones I can have and not feel bad after I consume them.
Erythritol is one of the most talked-about sweeteners in the keto diet circles. Most recipes you see online contain this sugar-substitute. Although it does contain carbs, the carbs in erythritol are not absorbed by the body. It doesn’t cause insulin spikes or throw your hormones out of whack. Besides helping you lose weight, it also doesn’t cause cavities.
Truvia is one brand that contains erythritol (as well as stevia). You can also buy erythritol “as is” without the added stevia. I use Truvia in my coffee in the morning and haven’t had any issues with it, but I do limit how much I consume as it can cause stomach upset if too much is in your system.
One thing to note about erythritol is that it is a derivative of corn and is considered a GMO. The exception to this is Swerve. Swerve is non-GMO and made in France, therefore it is safe to use, which I find a life-saver!
Stevia is another common keto-friendly sugar alternative. You can find stevia in sugar-free drinks such as Zevia or in chocolate treats like Lilies Chocolate.
One thing I didn’t realize was that Stevia is related to the ragweed plant. According to the Dr. Axe website:
Stevia is an herbal plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family, which means it’s closely related to ragweed, chrysanthemums and marigolds. Although there are over 200 species, Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni is the most prized variety, and the cultivar used for production of most edible products.
This is something to watch out for if you have a ragweed allergy. I happen to have a mild allergy to ragweed, but I use stevia and don’t see reactions. But it’s something to keep an eye on.
This sweetener is also 200x more sweet than sugar! You don’t need much to sweeten your coffee or when adding it to desserts.
When shopping for stevia, you might come across a variety of products. Here’s a little break-down of the different types:
- Green Leaf Stevia – This is actually less sweet than most stevia products. It is the least processed of the stevia products.
- Stevia Extracts – This is more processed than green leaf stevia, but it’s benefits are similar to it.
- Altered Stevia Blends – These usually contain very little stevia and are the most processed. They usually contain erythritol or another substitute.
According to MonkFruit.org,
Monk fruit juice is twenty times sweeter than other fruit juices. The unique low-calorie sweetness of monk fruit comes from naturally occurring antioxidants found in the fruit that have a delicious, sweet taste, without the calories of sugar. Used as a food ingredient monk fruit adds delicious low-calorie sweetness, replacing sugar and calories with great-tasting goodness from fruit.
Monk fruit is non-GMO and approved by the FDA. It is used in a variety of products including some Starbucks ‘ drinks. Lankato is one of the higher quality brands that I know of that provides Monk Fruit for purchase.
Although many people swear by monk fruit, I find it is too sweet and often overpowers the rest of the ingredients. With that said, I know many people that use it, so you’ll have to try it and see if you like it.
Yacon.org describes this sweetener:
Yacon syrup is a delicious sweetener that is extracted from yacon roots. Scientists and health-conscious eaters are excited about the properties of yacon because it has very few calories and low sugar levels making it suitable for diabetics, dieters, people with candida overgrowth and those who want to avoid sugar.
I have not tried this syrup, but have seen this in many keto-friendly recipes. The benefits of using this sweetener are that it promotes the absorption of calcium, it reduces cholesterol levels, it strengthens your immune system, and it also reduces cancerous lesions in the colon. The roots of the Yacon contain polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant that is beneficial to cancer prevention and heart disease. You can read more of the benefits here.
In recent years, allulose has been seen around healthy eating communities as a safe alternative to refined sugar. Like some other sweeteners, this one has the potential to cause stomach upset if consumed too much. The FDA recognizes this sweetener as generally safe, however, other sweeteners might be a better option. This sugar substitute can cause gas and bloat, among other things. Eat This, Not That states,
Scientifically speaking, allulose’s chemical makeup is nearly identical to fructose and glucose (real sugar), but it possesses slightly different hydrogen and oxygen structures. This slight difference allows the sugar substitute to boast just a tenth of the calories of table sugar while maintaining 70 percent of the sweetness.
Allulose is also derived from corn, so it’s not the healthiest alternative to sugar. Allulose will not kick you out of ketosis and doesn’t have any impact on blood sugar levels. In fact, your body doesn’t even metabolize it and much of it is excreted through urine within 24 hours of consumption. Still, it would be wise to limit how much of this you actually use considering it’s made from corn and can cause problems with your digestion.
A description from PubChem states,
Maltitol is a sugar alcohol (polyol) used as a sugar substitute. It has 90% the sweetness of sugar and nearly identical properties, except for browning. It is used to very easily replace sugar and has less food energy, does not promote tooth decay and has a somewhat lower blood sugar response. Unfortunately, maltitol is well known to cause gastric distress, particularly if consumed in great quantities.
Maltitol can cause stomach issues because most products that contain this ingredient end up using too much of it. It’s also derived from corn and if you are concerned about GMO’s, then Maltitol is not a good choice. I personally avoid anything with this ingredient in it as I feel there are better options. If you are trying to lose weight, maltitol can also cause weight gain.
Sorbitol is found in fruits and plants and is a sugar alcohol. It has a laxative effect. It has 1/3 fewer calories than sugar. Like other sweeteners I’ve mentioned, sorbitol isn’t counted as a carb because your body just gets rid of it. Some of the benefits include that it reduces dental decay, helps reduce calories, and lowers blood sugar levels. Unfortunately, this sugar alcohol also has some downsides, like stomach upset and can cause problems with those who have fructose malabsorption.
While there are many options for going sugar-free, it’s best to look for non-GMO alternatives that don’t consist of corn. Even though you can use most of these ingredients on a keto or low-carb diet, it’s still important to limit how much of it you eat because of digestive issues. Look for better sources of sugar alternatives and research brands that are healthier and better overall for your health. Eating better doesn’t have to be dull and lifeless. Try low-carb recipes and you won’t miss refined sugars at all.
My Sweetener Recommendations:
- Paleo Leap – Sugar, Stress, and Your Brain
- Women’s Health – What is Erythritol?
- Dr. Axe – Erythritol: Is this Healthy Sweetener the Real Deal?
- Dr. Axe – 5 Benefits of Stevia and How to Use the Different Types
- Eat This, Not That – What is Allulose?
- Dynamic Wife – Allulose Keto: Is This Sweetener Really Safe for Ketosis
- Pub Chem – Maltitol
- Fit Joy – Why Maltitol is Bad for You
- Monk Fruit – What is Monk Fruit
- PubChem – Sorbitol
- Keto Life Hacker – Sorbitol on Keto