Pros and Cons of Natural Sugar Alternatives for People with Diabetes
People with diabetes often use artificial sweeteners to limit their consumption of added sugar. Unlike added sugar, artificial sweeteners do not raise your blood sugar in the short term. But using artificial sweeteners may not be the best approach to limiting sugar in your overall diet, and a lot of my patients have questions about this, and we talk one-on-one about what might be the best approach for them.
Another option for satisfying your sweet tooth, without the potential negative effects of artificial sweeteners or added sugars, is to opt for what are known as “natural” sugar alternatives. Here are five common natural sugar alternatives and the pros and cons of each:
- Stevia is a plant-based, extremely low-calorie extract that likely helps control your blood sugar.
- Stevia is sweeter than table sugar, so you can use less to get the same taste.
- Store-purchased stevia extracts (such as Reb-A) are “generally recognized as safe” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
- Whole-leaf stevia can be grown at home.
- Stevia can be used for cooking, baking, and sweetening drinks.
- The safety of whole-leaf stevia has not been studied as extensively as stevia extracts.
- Stevia has a slightly bitter taste, somewhat similar to licorice.
- Store-purchased stevia such as Truvia and Stevia in the Raw made from Reb-A often contain other sweeteners, such as sugar alcohol or dextrose/glucose.
Monk Fruit Extract
- Monk fruit extract has no calories and does not affect your blood sugar.
- Monk fruit extract is about 200 times sweeter than sugar, so you can use less to get the same taste.
- Monk fruit extract can be used for cooking, baking, and sweetening beverages.
- Monk fruit extract is harder to buy than other sweeteners.
- Only a few companies sell it because monk fruit is difficult to grow and can be expensive to import.
- Some people experience an unpleasant aftertaste.
- Date sugar is made from dried dates, so it has more fiber, vitamins, minerals , and antioxidants than sugar.
- Date sugar has a lower glycemic index than sugar and takes more time to raise your blood sugar.
- Date sugar can be used in baked goods.
- Date sugar has carbohydrates and calories, and it will raise your blood sugar .
- Date sugar does not mix well in drinks.
- Honey is digested more slowly and does not cause your blood sugar to spike as fast or as sharply as sugar.
- Honey is sweeter than sugar, so you can use less to get the same taste.
- Honey doesn’t contain any additives or preservatives.
- Honey will raise your blood sugar.
- Honey is slightly more carb- and calorie-rich than sugar per teaspoon.
Sugar Alcohols (Xylitol, Erythritol)
- Sugar alcohols have fewer calories and carbohydrates than regular sugar.
- Sugar alcohols decrease blood sugar spikes because they are digested .
- Sugar alcohols can be used for cooking and baking.
- Pre-made food products that have sugar alcohols often have additional carbohydrates, calories, and fat.
- Sugar alcohols can cause digestive issues including gas, diarrhea, or general digestive discomfort, especially in children.
Have some questions?
If you are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes, or have a loved one that may be struggling with theirs, I would encourage you to consider attending one of the upcoming Fort HealthCare Diabetes Education & Support Groups. Sessions are free, and the group meets on the second Wednesday of every month from 5:30 - 6:30 p.m. in Classroom A at Fort Memorial Hospital in Fort Atkinson.