Sugar Substitutes

The Many Faces of Sugar

Here is an exhaustive list and description of all the sugars and sugar substitutes you will run across. Short descriptions of them are listed below the list:

  • Amazake
  • Agave Nectar
  • Aspartame, Nutrasweet, Equal
  • Barley Malt or Rice Syrup
  • Blackstrap Molasses
  • Brown Sugar
  • Corn Syrup
  • Date Sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Fructooligosaccharide (FOS)
  • Fructose, Crystalline
  • Fruit Juice Concentrate
  • Glycerine
  • Honey
  • Just Like Sugar
  • Lactose
  • Licorice Root
  • Lo Han Kuo, Lo Han Guo, Lo Han
  • Maltose
  • Maple Sugar
  • Maple Syrup
  • Peru Root (Yacon)
  • Saccharin
  • Sorbitol
  • Sorghum Molasses
  • Splenda
  • Stevia rebaudiana (Sweet Herb)
  • Sucanat
  • Suchero
  • Sugar, Raw
  • Thaumatin (Talin)
  • Turbinado Sugar
  • Yacon
  • Xylitol
Denice in Bee outfit April 2012 300x200 Sugar Substitutes

Honey--not the best of sugar substitutes for diabetes.

The man in front of me at the grocery store stood there with a gallon of honey in his arms. As he got to the front counter he told the checker, “My doctor told me to cut back on the sugar, so I switched to honey.” He proceeded to tell the checker that he goes through about one gallon per month and how he now puts honey into his coffee. “Little diabetes problem, you know.”

Not exactly the best of sugar substitutes for diabetes. As my eyes rolled back in my head I struggled to keep my mouth shut. And then I thought of all those cases where we think we are getting our points across, but maybe we aren’t. This is so common in the world of sugar substitutes. I try to get information across in a way that people are receptive. I say it, follow up with a handout, demonstrate and follow up. Yet often the client did not hear what I was trying to relay. Who has the ultimate responsibility? I think it’s a bit of both, but how much time do we actually have to talk? As it is I spend about 90 minutes per exam with the client.

Not one of the ten people within 10 feet of the man corrected him. I knew they knew his thinking was wrong, because some of them actually laughed out loud. I didn’t correct him either. I was a naturopath in a whole town of doctors who preferred I would leave at that time. I will say I have used that story many, many times to educate the people who come to me for advice about sugar substitutes.

Did you know that following sugar intake, there is an increase in the urinary excretion of calcium? No wonder those people on a high sugar diet are affected by more arthritis, sore joints, kidney stones and muscle cramps. Sugar also increases dental plaque and suppresses your immune system by inhibiting white cell function. Sugar also competes with vitamin C. So, if you are ingesting sugar with every meal and snack, you are consistently compromising your immune system.

So what are the best sugar substitutes? Well, I think this depends on your situation, what you have available and what you’re trying to balance in your diet. Some good choices include low-glycemic load sugar substitutes, but then you have to take into account how they were processed and the chemicals your body may not like from the processing.

Here’s a description of the sugar substitutes that may be available to you:

Amazake- A pudding-like whole-grain sweetener derived from brown rice and the Aspergillus enzyme culture used to make miso, and rice vinegar. It is comprised of glucose and maltose but has the benefit of having some B vitamins and iron in it.

Agave Nectar- Agave syrup or nectar is commercially produced in Jalisco, Mexico from a variety of agave plants including Agave tequilana (the plant they make Tequila from) and from Agave salmiana, and the green, grey, thorny and rainbow varieties. Agave syrup is 1.4 times sweeter than sugar, is less viscous, does not crystallize like honey and has a shelf life of 3 years. Mexican Indians harvest the nectar by hand by cutting off the tops of the leaves, hollowing out the core of the plant and allowing the nectar to flow to the center of the plant where they dip it out after a few days and cook the filtered nectar down. It then hydrolyzes the carbohydrates into sugars and makes a syrup.  It is organic and Kosher. Total Carbohydrate Grams= 16/Tablespoon. Total calories/serving = 60. Agave Nectar was found to have a glycemic index of 32. In contrast, honey has a reported glycemic index of 58, due to its higher ratio of glucose to fructose, as compared to the ratio of glucose to fructose in Agave Nectar.  Reference: http://www.madhavahoney.com/agave.htm

Aspartame, Nutrasweet or Equal- Aspartame is the combination of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid. 200 times sweeter than sugar, seems to stimulate the appetite and cause side effects such as PKU seizures (phenylketonuria), high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, ovarian cancer, and brain tumors. See the special page I built on Nutrasweet.

Barley Malt or Rice Syrup- Mild, natural, made from barley sprouts or rice cooked into a syrup. 40% as sweet as sugar. A good choice for diabetics because it is digested slowly and does not disrupt the insulin levels.

Blackstrap Molasses- A leftover sludge of the sugar making process. Teeming with minerals and vitamins. Ounce per ounce it contains more calcium than milk, more iron than eggs, and more potassium than ANY other food. What I love about blackstrap molasses is that the body seems to assimilate all the minerals quite readily. It’s great for anemia problems.

Brown Sugar- Brown sugar is just cane sugar with a bit of molasses mixed in.

Corn syrup- An overused sugar I believe to be the root of many allergies and weight problems. Seems to be in almost everything we eat. Corn syrup is commercial glucose derived from cornstarch. Most corn syrup also contains added sugar syrup because glucose is only half as sweet as white table sugar. Absorbs in the bloodstream very quickly making it a very high glycemic load food. Not a good choice for diabetics.

Date sugar- Derived from ground, dried dates about half as sweet as table sugar. High in potassium and very alkalizing, but it also has a high glycemic load and should be used sparingly for diabetics.

Dextrose- A synthetic monosaccharide derivative of cornstarch.

Fructooligosaccharides (usually abbreviated FOS)- and inulin, are terms referring to naturally-occurring, mildly sweet, indigestible carbohydrates. FOS does not affect blood sugar levels and so is suitable for diabetics and hypoglycemics. All forms of FOS act as dietary fiber. thus, consumption of FOS may help to shorten fecal transit time increase fecal bulk and reduce constipation. It has also been shown to reduce both cholesterol and triglyceride levels and may provide improved absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and phosphate.  FOS is commonly extracted from chicory roots and Jerusalem artichokes (as it occurs in relatively large quantities in these items,) but it is also found in onions, leeks, garlic, common artichokes, bananas, rye, barley, dandelion leaves, burdock roots and honey. Some presence of FOS has been noted in over 36,000 plants worldwide. FOS cannot be broken down by the human digestive system, but they can be broken down and consumed by the bacteria in the digestive tract. For this reason, FOS is considered to be a prebiotic-a substance which  provides nourishment for the good gut flora. Prebiotics, like probiotics (such as live-culture yogurt substances actually containing bacteria beneficial to the digestive tract,) help promote regularity, prevent yeast overgrowth and are beneficial for those with Crohn’s disease, colitis or who are on kidney dialysis. Note to those who bloat after eating;  Nonspecific extracts of FOS will provide nourishment for friendly bacteria (lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, et.) and pathogenic bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Clostridium, etc.) alike, whereas standardized extracts of long-chain inulin will selectively nourish only the friendly flora. Sources for FOS as a sweetener: Try Chicolin, from Bioquest Imports International, Inc. (www.greenalive.com/chicolin.html.)

Fructose, Crystalline- Fructose is commercially produced and refined from cornstarch, but has the same molecular structure as fruit sugar. Fructose takes longer to digest so it better than sugar on the glycemic index, meaning that it releases sugar into the bloodstream more slowly. Fructose is twice as sweet as sugar and for dieters, it seems to decrease the need for edible calories if taken prior to eating, but it may raise blood fats and contribute to heart disease. Less dental plaque is reported with the use of fructose.

Fruit Juice Concentrate- A derivative of grapes usually, this highly refined product contains about 68% soluble sugar. The fructose, glucose and sucrose levels vary with each fruit used. High glycemic load, not recommended for diabetics. Note: Sometimes extra corn syrups are added to this to get the sugar content up.

Glycerin (also spelled glycerine, and known as glycerol and trihydric alcohol) is categorized as a carbohydrate and also an alcohol. Glycerin is a colorless, odorless, viscous liquid with a very sweet and slightly astringent taste. Glycerin is not chemically related to sugar and seems to have a very negligible effect on insulin and blood sugar levels, thus making it a safe sweetener for diabetics, hypoglycemics, and people with Candida yeast problems. glycerin is also a source of lecithin and Vitamin E in the form of tocopherols.

Glycerin is contraindicated for:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who suffer from high blood pressure
  • Diabetics
  • People suffering with kidney disease 

Food-grade glycerin is produced from animal sources (usually tallow,) vegetable sources (various vegetable oils) and from propylene alcohol. while the molecular structure of glycerine from any of these sources is exactly the same, there are obvious concerns as to the source of the glycerine which one may be consuming. The source of glycerin is not often listed on the container. some sources say that glycerin from propylene alcohol is irritating to the skin and scalp when used in topical products. Non-food-grade glycerin is a major byproduct in the production of biodiesel fuels. When you purchase cheap vitamin E, you can sometimes tell it is a byproduct of biodiesel fuel because it says D, L Alpha tocopherol on the label. Don’t buy this type of Vitamin E. Purchase the kind that says D, L mixed tocopherols. The food industry’s primary interest in glycerin is as a moisturizing, softening, texture agent. It is also used in skin moisturizers, lotions, deodorants, soaps, makeup, toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, paper manufacturing, inks for printing, textiles, plastics, electronic components, paint brush cleaners, topical medications for male erectile dysfunction and in the  manufacture of nitroglycerine 9the main component of dynamite.)

Glycerin is digested and used by the body in different ways, or not at all, depending upon the state on is in when one consumes it. Glycerin is also released into the body when a person metabolizes body fat reserves. An excellent resource for recipes using glycerin as a sweetener is The Complete Candida Cookbook, by Gail Burton. Make sure you use food-grade glycerin and know your source.

Honey – A natural sweetener with proven bioactive antibiotic and antiseptic properties. It’s best to get honey that was produced in your area if possible. Honey is made from flower nectar and the enzyme bees mix with it called invertase. Honey contains vitamins and enzymes necessary for the proper metabolism and digestion of glucose and other sugar molecules. It is twice as sweet as sugar. Honey is a very high glycemic load food and should be avoided if you have diabetes, Candida, or other sugar issues like hypoglycemia. The flavor of the honey varies according to the flower source. Honey is an excellent source of potassium. It also contains thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, and ascorbic acid, not to mention calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and sodium. Darker honeys contain higher amounts of minerals than lighter honeys. Honey and Babies- The National Honey Board warns that honey may contain spores that can cause infant botulism in children less than one year of age. Adults and older children are routinely exposed to botulism spores in dust, soil, honey, and other uncooked foods, but are almost never affected by them. In immature infants’ digestive tract, however, the spores are able to germinate and release a toxin. Symptoms of infant botulism include constipation, lethargy, poor feeding, weak cry, droopy eyelids, and occasionally, respiratory arrest. By the age of 12 months, infants develop a digestive tract mature enough to handle the toxin.

Just Like Sugar- An analysis on Just Like Sugar (now sold in Whole Foods and Wild Oats) has shown it is free of excitotoxins. It is made from chicory, orange peel, Vitamin C and Calcium.  For more on Just Like Sugar go to that webpage on this site.

Lactose- A disaccharide sugar derived of milk used mainly in infant foods and baked goods, but it is sometimes used as a filler for nutritional supplements. Read the labels. Those people with lactose intolerance experience gastrointestinal disturbances after consuming it.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)-Licorice root (the ingredient in black licorice,) is a substance of which virtually everyone is aware. Oriental cultures recognize it for its sweetening properties. The blue-flowering plant, which looks like a pea vine, grows wild in much of southern Europe and in Asia. Licorice root has been used since ancient Egyptian times to treat upset stomachs, chest infections, and coughs. The bad thing about licorice is that it raises blood pressure causing hypertension. Licorice acts to retain water in the body. Because of this, it is a good herb for diabetics (especially in diabetes insipidus where the person can’t seem to drink enough water.) Other side effects include edema, sodium retention and mild depletion of potassium when consumed excessively. Adverse symptoms of excessive glycyrrhizin consumption generally disappear shortly after a person lowers their dietary intake of products containing the sweetener. Licorice root may be used in its unadulterated, ground-up form, or the primary sweetening compound, glycyrrhizic acid, may be extracted from it. Glycyrrhizic acid is often touted as an ulcer-healing agent (although my clients hated it, so i no longer send it home with them. I also don’t ask them to chew the tablets.)  Glycyrrhizin is between 50 to 100 times sweeter than sucrose, but it also imparts a definite (and familiar) aftertaste of licorice.

Lo Han Kuo (also spelled Lo Han Guo or Lo Han,) is a sweet Chinese fruit in the cucumber family. The Lo Han fruit has been used by local people in southern provinces of China for centuries as a sweetener and a medicinal herb for the treatment of lung congestion, colds, sore throats, and for minor stomach and intestinal problems. Modern scientific research has shown that Lo Han extracts help relieve gastritis, constipation and respiratory inflammations, and they also appear to inhibit the Epstein-Barr virus and display anti-carcinogenic properties. Traditional Chinese doctors consider it to be a yin substance, meaning that it releases excess heat from the body. For this reason, it is traditionally consumed and served during the hot summer months in China. there has never been any recorded incidence of adverse reactions to Lo Han fruit or its extractives. As is also the case with Stevia, the human digestive system is unable to break down the sweet compounds within Lo Han fruit.  Consequently, it triggers no rise in blood sugar levels and is completely safe for diabetics and hypoglycemics. It also helps promote the metabolization of stored body fat. I used to stock products with Lo Han in them when it first came to the United States and was all the rage, but we found that its use in weight loss was greatly overrated. The whole dried fruit is 300 times sweeter than sucrose.

Maltose- A Disaccharide derived from malt sugar—another derivative of cornstarch.

Maple sugar- is crystallized maple syrup, which has been concentrated.

Maple syrup- Derived from concentrated sap of sugar maple trees. Note: Unless the product is labeled pure maple syrup, it is probably mixed with corn syrup. The real stuff is quite pricey. This is a high glycemic load product and should be used sparingly.

Peru Root (Yacon)- Overweight? Diabetic? Afflicted with a hopeless sweet tooth? A dark brown, tubular root from Peru could be a big part of your future. Yacon is a tasty rood that scientists say is good for the gut, potentially safeguards against cancer, helps absorption of calcium and vitamins, and can reduce the blood sugar peaks from eating sweet food that make trouble for diabetics.

Saccharin-  Made from petroleum and toluene, this sugar substitute is intensely sweet and calorie free. It has been linked to bladder cancer.

Sorbitol- Also derived from corn, but sorbitol is more slowly digested so is used in diabetic foods. The benefit of sorbitol is that it does not promote tooth decay, but it can cause diarrhea. Stimulates release of minimal amounts of insulin for its digestion.

Sorghum Molasses- Derived from the concentrated juice of sorghum, a cereal grain. Like molasses only a lighter flavor.

Splenda- CHEMICAL PROCESSING STEPS OF SPLENDA MANUFACTURING

* Sucrose is tritylated with tritylchloride; This is performed in the presence of dimethylformamide and 4 – methylmorpholine.
* The tritylated sucrose is then acetylated with acetic anhydride….
* The resulting TRISPA (6,1′,6′ – tri – O -trityl – penta – O – acetylsucrose) is then chlorinated with hydrogen chloride, in the presence of toluene.
* The resulting 4 – PAS (sucrose – 2,3,4,3′,4′ – penta-acetate) is then heated in the presence of methyl isobutyl ketone and acetic acid.
* The resulting mixture, 6 – PAS (sucrose – 2,3,6,3′,4′ – penta-acetate) is again chlorinated with thionyl chloride, in the presence of toluene and benzyltriethylammoniumchloride. . .and, The resulting TOSPA (sucrose pena-acetate) is then treated with methanol, in the presence of sodium methoxide which produces the commercial product we call  . . .Sucralose, or SPLENDA . I’ve been told that originally Splenda was an insecticide. I’m looking to verify that source.

Splenda Articles and Links:

Stevia rebaudiana- Stevia, known as “sweet herb“, this plant is 25 times sweeter than sugar when made as an infusion with 1 teaspoon stevia leaves to 1 cup of water. Two drops of this infusion equal 1 teaspoon of sugar in sweetness. It is safe for a diabetic as it is does not change blood glucose levels. It does have a bit of an aftertaste you need to get used to. In South America and the Orient a product derived of stevia called Stevioside has a 41% share of the food sweetener market. There are some healing benefits of stevia as well.  Stevia is known to help regulate blood sugar, helps to lower high blood pressure, aids in weight loss by decreasing the desire for sugary foods. Some people even report that it reduces their desire for tobacco and alcoholic beverages. Stevia is also used in facemasks to smooth out wrinkles and heal skin blemishes and acne. So why don’t we see more of it? Apparently the import of stevia was heavily influenced by Nutrasweet politics.  I think this is a good product but you should really used the ground herb and not the little bleached packets (which is processed much the same was as other artificial sweeteners). I actually bought a stevia plant from a local nursery for my herb patch. You can get stevia drops, ground herb powder or packets in your local health food store.

Sucanat- Available in health food stores, this is a product made from dried granulated cane juice. It contains some complex sugars, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and molasses. Use in place of sugar. It has a high glycemic load. Diabetics beware.

Suchero- Coconut juice dehydrated and granulated. Used as a low-glycemic load sugar.

Sugar, Raw- Made from evaporated sugar cane juice and contains 98% sucrose.

Thaumatin (Brand name, Talin)- Thaumatin is a naturally-occurring combination of five sweet proteins derived from the berries of the West African Katemfe plant (Thaumatococcus daniellii,) also called the sweet prayer plant or the miracle plant. Thaumain is metabolized by the human as a protein and has been found to be 3000 times sweeter than sucrose. Because of this, it is known to be the sweetest natural substance know to man. It is not available in the United States, but it can be ordered online. One ounce of the dried fruit is about $30.

Turbinado sugar- This is raw sugar that has been refined by washing in a centrifuge. Essentially the same as white sugar. High glycemic load. Diabetics beware.

Yacon is a native to South America. It has a crunchy texture like a water chestnut and is refreshingly sweet and juicy. Left in the sun, its sweetness intensifies, and it can be eaten as a fruit, consumed in drinks, syrups, cakes or pickles. although its packed with sugar, this particular sugar is good for you.  The sugar, called oligofructose, which cannot be absorbed by the body, contains half the calories of sugar. Oligofructose also promotes beneficial bacteria in the colon.

Xylitol- Made from birch wood chips, neutralizes acids in the mouth so reduces tooth decay. Wow, if you are allergic to corn, (which most blood type O people are) there are a lot of hidden sugars that you can’t eat. They put corn sugar derivatives in everything. So what can you eat? The answer is that it’s better to use whole foods that you put together yourself so you know what goes into them.

Resources and Helpful Links for Sugar Substitutes: