Since being with Elliott, I have had to learn the ins and outs of sugar and carb counting to give the right amount of insulin injection. (He’s a Type 1 diabetic.) It doesn’t matter whether it’s a ‘sugar alternative’ or straight up sugar, he still needs to ensure he has the right amount of insulin but here is a bit more info and some things I have found out through my research in order to help him. (Warning, this is a long blog but worth the read!)
Many alternatives to sugar are called ‘natural’ but really they are anything but. Wherever possible we should rely on the natural sweetness of foods themselves rather than on adding sugar or artificial sweeteners. So for example using carrots, raisins, beetroot, dates, figs and banks as natural sweeteners would be better for us (whether diabetic or not) and that is because our body is able to break it down more easily.
You can actually buy fructose as a highly refined white powder, (although it doesn’t have the goodness and fibre of fruit). It won’t cause the release of insulin as sucrose and glucose do, but will go straight to your liver (just like alcohol) causing weight gain and fat around the middle. Fructose also interferes with the production of hormones related to hunger and feeling full and so increases appetite. It also gets converted into unhealthy fats like LDL, cholesterol and triglycerides.
THOUGHTS: it is absolutely fine if naturally consumed in fruit, but not as a white powder added to food.
Agave is a natural sweetener derived from the starch of the root bulb of the Mexican tequila plant. Essentially it’s refined fructose, made by a process similar to converting cornstarch into high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), shown to be damaging to health. It is expensive if produced in the traditional way by slowly boiling sap.
THOUGHTS: It could be up to 90% fructose, as there’s no way to distinguish between commercially and traditionally produced products.
Honey is a simple sugar mostly made up of glucose and fructose therefore its fairly easily absorbed into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, the blended varieties often have been heated to temperatures as high as 71°C, which destroy the natural goodness. Also, in winter, some beekeeper feed their bees white sugar water as a substitute for natural flower nectar, which then means they no longer produce the best possible honey.
THOUGHTS: Honestly, it is nothing more than a simple sugar that affects blood glucose quickly, if you must eat it, buy organic and use very sparingly.
Xylitol is sold as a white powder and considered natural as it occurs naturally in plants like sugar cane and corncobs, but needs a lot of refining. It’s low in calories and doesn’t trigger insulin, so good for diabetics. However because it is as sugar alcohol it ferments in the gut causing diarrhea and bloating.
THOUGHTS: It is quite hard on the gut and too processed to be considered a natural product.
A sugar alcohol usually made from corn syrup and naturally found in stone fruits like prunes and plums. It is often used in foods for diabetics as it triggers little or no insulin. Unfortunately it is a highly processed product, requiring hydrogenation and so the gut side effects are similar to those of xylitol.
THOUGHTS: Not ideal as it is heavily processed with negative effects on the digestive system.
- Maple syrup
Made from the Sap of maple trees, it contains 34 beneficial compounds with antioxidants and anti inflammatory properties, with significant amounts of zinc and manganese and 15 times more calcium than honey. Usually recommended for IBS sufferers as it causes the least problems with digestion. It is mostly sucrose with very small amounts of fructose and glucose.
THOUGHTS: a good natural sweetener for cakes and for drizzling over crumbles, but I would recommend to buy organic!
Derived from the leaves of a South American plant of the same name and used for centuries as a sweetener in South America, it was approved in 2011 for use in the EU which means it lives up to our good EU standards. Up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose) although it does have a slightly bitter aftertaste. Big warning is to avoid products not made with 100% stevia as some contain dextrose and flavourings. Although it is not absorbed through the gut, it preps your body to expect a certain amount of calories for the sweetness and so may increase appetite and cause weight gain that way.
THOUGHTS: Probably the best of them all (up there with maple syrup) I would still recommend you use in moderation and only as pure stevia.
- Palm sugar
Made from Palmyra palm flowers tapped to release their juice, which is boiled to produce a syrup and then crystallised. A traditional Ayurvedic ingredient containing B vitamins, it scores low on the glycemic index so it is great for diabetics.
THOUGHTS: a good natural sweetener and sugar alternative for cooking as well as in drinks.
- Yahoo syrup
Yahoo syrup is made from the root of the tacos (Peruvian ground apple) which is a member of the sunflower family. It tastes like a cross between an apple and a pear, with good amounts of vitamins and minerals plus a prebiotic, which helps to feed good bacteria in the gut. It has a low GI which makes it good for diabetics.
THOUGHTS: Great to use instead of liquid sweeteners like honey and also for baking but definitely buy organic. May not be good for people like me with IBS as it has high FOS content.