Are These 3 Popular Sugar Alternatives Healthy?

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Alden Chadwick

In the pursuit to consume less sugar and stabilize blood sugar, we may use sweeteners like aspartame (“Equal”), sorbitol, sucralose (“Splenda”) or saccharin (“Sweet n Low”). Although these sweeteners have been approved by the FDA as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS), they are also known to present significant health costs.

Health Costs Associated with Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners also make a difficult baking substitute. Due to different sweetness-to-volume ratios than sugar, they aren’t necessarily compatible for certain recipes, making

Fortunately, there are more natural alternative sweeteners available. Here are a few that are growing in popularity and increasingly found in products and cabinets.

3 Popular Sugar Alternatives: The Pros and Cons

1. Monk Fruit

What it is: Monk fruit is the small lemon sized fruit grown in China and parts of Southeast Asia, traditionally used for medicinal purposes. Monk fruit derived sweeteners are 200-300 times sweeter than sugar in volume, so a 1-to-1 substitution is not recommended. Most of the sweetness of monk fruit is not from its sugar content, but rather from its antioxidants called mogrosides, which are extracted to make monk fruit sweetener.

Pros: Monk fruit sweetener doesn’t have the bitter aftertaste found in Stevia, and retains some of the antioxidants from the fruit.

Cons: Most commercially available brands of monk fruit sweetener contain additives, some of which are the very substances some customers are trying to avoid. For instance, the branded sweetener Monk Fruit In The Raw is made from monk fruit extract and blended with dextrose, a form of glucose used as a bulking agent.

2. Xylitol

What it is: Xylitol is a part of a class of compounds called sugar alcohols, termed for its similarity in molecular structure to carbohydrate and alcohol molecules, and is typically extracted from corn cobs or any woody fibrous plant material.

Pros: Frequently found as a sweetener in chewing gum, xylitol promotes dental health by actively reducing dental cavities. It also contains 40% less calories per volume compared to sugar, while having roughly the same sweetness-to-volume ratio to sugar.

Cons: For individuals with FODMAP sensitivity, sugar alcohols like xylitol should be avoided. It also has a laxative effect, like most sugar alcohols.

3. Erythritol

What it is: Like xylitol, erythritol is considered a sugar alcohol, and is found naturally in some fruits and fermented foods. Erythritol is typically created through a process of fermenting glucose.

Pros: Unlike sucrose (table sugar), erythritol is does not affect glucose levels because it has 6% of the calories of sugar. Not only does it not promote tooth decay, erythritol has been shown to prevent cavities in children. Unlike most sugar alcohols, it doesn’t cause gas, bloating, or laxative effects because it is not fermented by gut bacteria. It has approximately a similar (70%) sweetness-to-volume ratio as sugar, making it a worthy substitute for baking.

Cons: As with xylitol, it is not advisable for FODMAP-sensitive individuals to consume sugar alcohols like erythritol.

How WellnessFX Can Help

If you make changes to your diet, consider tracking the changes from a before and after battery of lab tests. Even the most basic WellnessFX test package allows you to assess your risk for diabetes by monitoring blood glucose and average blood sugar over time (HbA1C).

Browse All WellnessFX Test Packages

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.