We are a country infatuated with sugar. From the time we are young, food manufacturers inundate us with multi-million dollar advertising campaigns targeted to get us to consume more and more sugar-laden foods. Sugar is cheap, and sugar sells.
But sugar contributes to a plethora of life-threatening conditions such as hypertension, depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Consuming an excess of sugar may cause mood swings, hormone problems, gallstones, asthma, accelerated aging, suppressed immune system functioning, acne and even arthritis.
Even if you are not overweight, consuming excess sugar increases your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, according to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Most of the sugar consumed today is in the form of high fructose corn syrup found in soft drinks and other processed and fast foods.
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar each day, with the average child consuming even more – 32 teaspoons. Over the last 10 years, overall sugar consumption in the US has escalated a whopping 23 percent.
The American Heart Association says women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day, men 9.
OK, so you are ready to give up sugar, once and for all, right? No more soda, no more sweet tea, no more candy. But what do you do when you crave something sweet but don’t want to go back to sugar or foods loaded with high fructose corn syrup?
Perhaps try a “healthy” alternative? Unfortunately, these alternatives can actually end up being equally unhealthy — if not more unhealthy — than sugar itself.
Here are three sugar substitutes that are marketed as healthy, but in fact are not:
1. Truvia. This product is actually manufactured by Coca-Cola and is touted as being natural. The main ingredient in this concoction is called rebiana, a highly refined type of stevia. In addition, this sugar substitute contains erythritol, which doubles as an insecticide.
In one study, researchers found that fruit flies that ate Truvia died within a week compared to their normal 39-51 day lifespan.
More research is necessary to determine if Truvia is only selectively poisonous to insects and is safe for humans. Still, it is important to understand that this product is not natural, but rather is highly processed and synthetic. Unfortunately, many of the studies claiming Truvia to be safe have been conducted by the company, Cargill, which manufactures it along with Coca-Cola.
2. Agave nectar. You may have heard that agave nectar, the amber-colored liquid that is adored by the gluten-free crowd and suitable for vegan diets, is a suitable natural replacement for sugar. If so, you heard wrong. The problem is that manufacturers have taken an entirely natural and beautiful plant — the blue agave — and processed and refined its syrup to create a super sweet sugar alternative that masquerades as natural. In reality, the syrup is almost entirely refined fructose, which makes its glycemic level low, but it has the same impact on the body as high fructose corn syrup.
Story continues below the video
When you consume fructose in its natural form in fruits such as apples, it can be healthy. But when it is commercially concentrated, it comes without fiber, antioxidants or vitamins — and at a great metabolic price. Consumption of synthetic fructose causes such things as metabolic syndrome, liver and kidney disease, lowered immune system, heart disease and accelerated aging.
While a little agave nectar certainly won’t kill you, it is wrong to assume it is good for you or even a safe alternative to table sugar. The reality is that it is equally as bad for you as is high fructose corn syrup.
3. Sucralose. More commonly referred to by its brand name, Splenda, this synthetic sugar substitute — which is 600 time sweeter than sugar — also goes by other names such as SucraPlus, Candys, Nevella and Cukren. It was first discovered by researchers in 1976 who were trying to find ways to use sucrose as a chemical intermediate in non-traditional areas. It has absolutely no nutritional value.
The American Council on Exercise says consuming too much sucrose can lead to mood swings brought about by a sharp elevation in blood sugar followed by a dramatic “crash. This may be followed by irritability and fatigue. In addition, because sucrose is digested so rapidly, it shoots glucose into the blood faster than it can be burned, which results in excess glucose being stored as fat. Sucrose may also trigger food cravings and cause you to overeat.
Sucrose also promotes the growth of bacteria on teeth which can lead to accelerated tooth decay and can result in poor insulin sensitivity, which is a precursor for type 2 diabetes.
Splenda recently was downgraded from “safe” to “caution” by the Center for Public Interest. This change in rating followed an Italian study which showed a link between an increased risk of leukemia in lab animals and consumption of Splenda.
If you are ready to give up sugar but not your sweet desires, try some of these safe and delicious alternatives:
Organic coconut crystals
A great natural way to sweeten beverages and other foods is by using organic coconut crystals. These super sweet golden nuggets come from the sap of the coconut flower and are delicious. Not only do they taste good, but they also contain a load of minerals and B vitamins, making them a wonderful and nutritious alternative to refined sugar.
Organic whole leaf stevia
Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) hails from South America, and its leaves are about 40 times sweeter than sugar. Look for whole, organic stevia leaves and simply crush them and add them to your favorite dish or beverage.
(Want more info? Read 11 All-Natural Sweeteners You Can Grow In Your Backyard.)
Raw local honey
Raw local honey is loaded with nutrients and is another great natural sweetening option. It contains vitamin C, as well as B vitamins and a host of minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium. It has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties and supports healthy digestive flora. Check for local honey at your farmer’s market or local health shops.
No matter what you do, just be sure that you do your research on the type of sugar substitute you are using. Look for products that are 100 percent real and organic. And don’t take the manufacturer’s word for it.
What all-natural sweeteners do you use? Share your tips in the section below: