If you’re trying to cut down on sugar, you might be wondering about sugar alternatives. There are sugar substitutes with zero calories that do not send blood sugar skyrocketing. With these sugar alternatives, you can sweeten coffee, bake, or enjoy sweet treats without the drawbacks of sugar.
Here’s a guide to 5 of the options.
Allulose is a rare sugar which is found in very small quantities in a few natural sources, including wheat, figs, and raisins.
Allulose has about one tenth the calories of sugar, and doesn’t increase blood sugar. It has been approved by the FDA for use in many sweet products. It behaves like sugar in baking, though it’s just about 70% as sweet. You can buy allulose for baking in products like Sukrin, which contains Allulose as well as Erythritol, Inulin, and Steviol Glycosides.
Some people may experience bloating and abdominal pain when they eat or drink allulose.
Stevia is made from a plant called Stevia rebaudiana. It is much sweeter than sugar but contains no carbohydrates and no calories. Stevia is often combined with other sweeteners such as dextrose and maltodextrin, though, and those sweeteners have calories and carbs. If you need to avoid sugar or carbohydrates (for example, if you are diabetic), read the labels carefully.
Stevia is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), so it doesn’t require approval by the Food and Drug Administration. However, eating too much can cause digestive upsets and may even damage kidneys. Experts recommend that you limit stevia to 1.8 mg per pound of body weight. For a 150 lb. person, that’s about 6 packets of stevia sweetener.
Monk fruit sweetener comes from monk fruit, as you’d expect. It has no calories and is much sweeter than sugar. Monk fruit may contain antioxidants, like other fruits. It is widely used in prepared foods and drinks, and is available for home baking or sweetening use from brand names like TruEats and Lakanto.
It can be expensive, and the taste is different from sugar. It also behaves differently from sugar, so baked goods sweetened with monk fruit will have a different texture and structure from those made with sugar. It may have an aftertaste, like most sugar substitutes.
Monk fruit is approved by the FDA.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol. It leaves the body so quickly that it won’t be metabolized, so it has no calories and doesn’t raise blood sugar. It can cause stomach upset in some people and may have a laxative effect. It also has what is known as “a cooling effect” — it can make your mouth and tongue feel tingly or cold.
This sugar alternative is widely used in prepared foods and is also available in retail packaging for baking. However, it doesn’t behave just like sugar in baked goods.
Sorbitol is another sugar alcohol, and may cause stomach problems as well as having a cooling effect. Sorbitol has been used in the United States since 1929 and is generally considered safe. It has been extensively researched with no indication that it is dangerous for most people.
However, it has been correlated with a fairly long list of problems, including not only gastrointestinal troubles but also allergic reactions, kidney damage, and difficulty in breathing.
Sorbitol has 75% of the calories of sugar and about 60% of the sweetness. It is not digested, so it doesn’t increase blood sugar. It also doesn’t cause tooth decay, which is why it is widely used as a sweetener in toothpastes.
How do they taste?
The answer to this question depends on your genetic makeup. For some people, sugar substitutes stimulate the same taste receptors as sugar, and taste sweet. For others, they taste bitter, or sweet and bitter at the same time.
It’s worth trying out different options to see if there’s one that tastes good to you. If they don’t taste good, though, it’s not the fault of the producers of the sugar substitutes or the foods made with them. It’s all in your genes.
One thing to be aware of: using sugar alternatives doesn’t give you the chance to change your sweet tooth. Eating less sugar and fewer sweet foods can help you get out of the habit of craving sweets. Replacing sugar with sugar substitutes won’t have this effect.
Also, foods containing sugar alternatives instead of sugar may still not be healthy or nutritious foods. Often these foods are made with refined flour and are low in fiber and protein. Consider replacing sweet treats with fruit instead.