5 Natural Alternatives to Sugar
High sugar intake causes common problems like brain fog, sluggishness and food cravings. It can also lead to more serious diseases like diabetes, heart attack, stroke, cancer and dementia. Most Americans experience symptoms related to sugar, but don’t realize their diet is the source of the problem.
Through the years sugar has invaded our diets and we are no longer getting a quick treat, but eating sugar all day long. You are probably consuming more of it thanou even know. We are starting our day off with sugar bombs like coffee cake, cereal or a cup of coffee with sugar and creamers. We pack our kid’s lunches full of sugar containing items like Gatorade, processed cheeses and sandwich bread. Items marketed as “Healthy Snacks” are actually sugar filled granola bars. Dinner might not seem to contain much sugar. Except, oh wait! It’s in the tomato sauce. A recent report found that as much as 25% of the American population’s calorie consumption is from added sugar!
What has sugar done to our health?
As Americans, we eat over 65 teaspoons of sugar every single day!
This is insanity and most experts are in agreement that sugar is the worst food for your health. There is no safe amount of processed and refined sugar!
- Sugar creates an addictive sugar response in the brain. This leads to sugar cravings that cause you to eat more food which leads to weight gain and more dependency on sugar. Consuming a high amount of sugar can decrease the number of dopamine receptors in your brain. This makes it harder for you to feel the energy and pleasure from your body’s production of dopamine. (Sunshine increases dopamine release, by the way).
- Sugar causes cardiovascular disease and diabetes. A large trial showed that those that ate the most sugar increased death rate by 250%. For every additional 150 kcal of sugar daily (a can of soda), diabetes risk increases by 1%. Even if you are just pre-diabetic, your risk of dying from heart disease is 60% higher.
- Sugar stresses the liver which can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This can lead to liver inflammation, and eventually, cirrhosis. NAFLD is linked to metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Many people have this diagnosis due to sugar in their diet and do not even know. According to a recent study NAFLD is present in 17-33% of Americans.
- AGE’s (advanced glycation end-products) are one of the biggest contributors to the aging process and development of degenerative diseases. AGE’s are formed through glycation, a chemical reaction in which sugars bind with proteins. AGE’s form a sort of crust around our cells and break down protein structure. Studies have shown that fructose enables glycation reactions at ten times the rate of glucose. Sugar is the best way to get fat and speed up the aging process.
What are some sweeteners to avoid?
- Sucralose (Splenda) is a popular artificial sweetener. Splenda has deceptive marketing that make people believe it is from sugar. Stay far away from Splenda because it will cause an array of harmful consequences to your health including inhibiting the absorption of zinc and iodine, decreasing up to 50% of healthy gut bacteria, exacerbating irritable bowel syndrome and cancer.
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) is often found in diet soda. It has been linked to stroke, headaches, seizures, memory loss, dementia and cancer.
- Agave nectar is a popular sweetener found in health food stores, and received a lot of attention as a healthy alternative to sugar. However, this was a marketing lie. Agave is 90% fructose (table sugar is only 50% for comparison). This makes it a very unhealthy choice because of the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes and metabolic disorders. Great marketing, but serious dangers with agave. You can read more about the dangers of agave here.
- Hidden sugars are hard to spot and can wreak havoc on our diets because we often don’t even know we are consuming them! Ketchup is a major example. Read the label and check for ingredients like these following sugars: beet sugar, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane crystals, corn sweetener, corn syrup, HFCS, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, maltose, malt syrup, palm sugar, raw sugar, sorghum, sucrose, xylose, maltitol and sorbitol.
5 Natural Alternatives to Sugar
If you are sticking to a Paleo diet, sugar is not something you will be consuming. However, there are times when we eat a Paleo dessert, and there are a few sweet alternatives that do not have the harmful effects on the body compared to the sweeteners listed above.
Honey is a whole food. It was likely available in the days of the caveman and is still used in indigenous cultures today. Honey is easier on blood sugar than other sweeteners and doesn’t require insulin to metabolize. Honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, has antibiotic properties, is a prebiotic and supports the immune system and can help with seasonal allergies. We suggest raw honey in glass jars from a reputable supplier. Check out this brand of organic honey.
- Maple Syrup
Maple Syrup has been consumed for centuries as a traditional food and was common in Native American cultures even before the Europeans arrived in the Americas. Grade B Maple Syrup is darker and richer in minerals and flavor than Grade A. It supplies the body with zinc and manganese which help support immune system function. Take a look at this organic maple syrup.
- Monk Fruit
Monk fruit is a natural sweetener extracted from the Lo Han (or luo han guo) fruit. It does not impact blood sugar, has zero calories and is available in liquid, granule and powder forms. It is 150 times sweeter than sugar. Make sure to find it without dextrose added to it! We like this brand of Monk Fruit.
Stevia is a highly sweet herb derived from the leaf of the South American Stevia plant. Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels and is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. Unfortunately, we have seen patients develop acne and have other hormonal effects from Stevia. For this reason, children and pregnant women may want to avoid Stevia. Research is mixed on its hormonal properties.Many supplements contain Stevia. We sell very few products with Stevia. If you use Stevia, look at the ingredients and find a Stevia that is not bleached and chemically altered. Look for a stevia that does not have anything added to it, like maltodextrin. For some people it can cause gas, bloating and has a bitter aftertaste. If you’re allergic to plants from the Asteraceae family (daisies, ragweed, chrysanthemums and sunflowers), you shouldn’t use stevia to avoid the risk of an allergic reaction. Here is a link to an organic green leaf Stevia powder.
Xylitol is a natural insulin stabilizer that can be added to most baked goods. This sweetener can also reduce sugar cravings. It also has a low glycemic index. Only small amounts of Xylitol should be used though, as it can cause gastrointestinal issues. The Drs. Wolfson do not use this product often. Dr. Axe has an excellent review on Xylitol.
Fruit is a great option to satisfy sugar cravings. Other options include kombucha or sparkling water with some citrus or herbal tea.
You don’t need added sugar and, with a nourishing diet, your body will stop craving it.
Eliminating sugar is one of the very best things you can do for your health, your weight, your mind and your looks!