We can’t lie. Even with our green smoothie lifestyle, many in our Blender Babes community still have cravings for something sweet, myself included! Every once in awhile our sweet tooth strikes, and it’s one of the reasons it can be so hard to stick to our healthy, clean eating plan. Sometimes you just can’t go without that little sweet something in the afternoon or after dinner.
Maybe you’ve been good. If you have, you’ve thrown out the bad boys — white processed sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame — but there’s always a new temptation, a new kid on the block who promises to give you all you want, without costing you your hard work and dedication.
Are these sugar substitutes worth their weight in, um, sugar cane? Use this Blender Babes guide to sort out the murky world of minimally-refined and artificial sweeteners. Afterward, you’ll end up with a PhD in sweeteners and nutrition. We promise.
NATURAL & ARTIFICIAL SUGAR SUBSTITUTES
This white sugar substitute has been in the rosie spotlight of nutritionists for a long, long time. With a lower glycemic index than white sugar, it’s always looked pretty good to health-conscious buyers. BUT, recently, the warts are starting to show. Agave is highly refined and processed — and therefore agave nectar is even higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup – anywhere from 65- 90+ percent (HFCS is 55%). Unfortunately, the human body is unable to process fructose at such high levels, and more and more studies are showing just how harmful large concentrations of fructose in the human diet can be. This is NOT a “healthy” sweetener option!
Bottom Line: Stop using agave! Help spread the word! Please share this post! Perhaps one day it will get pulled out of raw food products and recipes and so-called “health” products.
Brown Rice Syrup
For an athlete or for high intensity workouts, brown rice syrup can give you a sudden burst of energy. That’s due to its high glycemic index. So, before, during and after exercise, it’s a good bet. Vega Sport Endurance Gels and other Vega products use sprouted whole grain brown rice syrup as a functional sugar for this very reason: it provides FUEL for EXERCISE. Picture Sarah Connor from Terminator II: when you need to kick butt, this sugar is great. It’s easily digested and supplies the quick energy your body requires during and immediately after exercise.
Note: Some organic brown rice syrup has been revealed to contain high levels of arsenic, with one study detecting arsenic in organic baby formula, cereal bars, and three flavors of energy shots made with brown rice syrup
Coconut Palm Sugar
Pure coconut palm sugar is a natural product made from the nectar of the coconut palm tree. It is known for it’s naturally low glycemic index. Coconut palm sugar provides your body with a steady stream of energy. You won’t get sugar lows or a sudden drop. So, whether in a liquid (nectar) or solid (sugar) form, it can be used in recipes, like smoothies and salad dressings and we especially love this white sugar substitute for baked goods. We like it because it’s a tastes like brown sugar, so it’s especially great for treats like muffins and banana bread. YUM!
Some research have reported that raw honey contains enzymes and small amounts of minerals, which has lead some health food enthusiasts to feel that honey is a better choice than sugar. While it is more natural and less processed than white sugar, honey does feed the systemic yeast infection, candida.
Nature’s sweetener, molasses is THE LEAST PROCESSED of sugar cane sweeteners. It also has some nutritional value. Molasses contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Love it or leave it, the syrup has a strong nutty taste. Many have found that by playing around with molasses in food, it can add a depth and richness to many recipes. You may have found your true sugar match in molasses, too.
Sorghum syrup or malt is old-fashioned but is making a quick comeback. It’s made from the pseudograin sorghum, has a low glycemic index, and so it won’t spike your energy. It has a taste similar to molasses, so make the same adjustments you would with molasses. It’s all trial and error (kinda like dating). Sorghum syrup retains some naturally-occurring minerals and B vitamins, just like molasses and brown rice syrup do. Vega Sport Endurance Gels contain sorghum malt as a functional sugar.
Like Prince Charming, Stevia seems too good to be true. No calories, sweet taste, AND not made in a lab? The leaves of the stevia plant won’t raise your blood sugar levels, and are 40 times sweeter than table sugar. That means you only need a little bit to sweeten your coffee or tea. BE CAREFUL when substituting it in baking recipes: it lacks the bulk of sugar. We add stevia to many of our smoothies (in liquid or powdered form), especially when fruit isn’t super ripe, to keep them as nutrient-dense and tasty as possible—without adding unnecessary (and unwanted) sugars.
I love that it’s completely natural and from a plant – and since I’ve tried all the toads, I think this may be everyone’s Prince!
So, honey bee, is the buzz on Truvia true? Is Truvia a “healthy alternative” to sugar? Is Truvia a ‘natural” sweetener? The short answer? No.
A lot of us believed that Truvia comes from stevia, which is a natural product. But they are not equal. Truvia is NOT Stevia.
Stevia is a plant, an herb. It can be grown on your patio or in your garden. It passes the green test, and that’s because It IS GREEN. It can be taken dried, in powdered form, or in liquid form.
This isn’t the case with Truvia, which is crystalized and looks a lot like table sugar. Plus, it’s owned by Coca-Cola. Their biggest competitor Pepsi, created PureVia to compete with Truvia and is made similarly. You wouldn’t be able to make it from something in your garden unless you had a chemistry degree and a lab.
When splenda first came on the market in the early 2000’s, I thought I had found the holy grail of sugar substitutes. I used it in everything, baked goods, coffee – any recipe that asked for sugar. Soon tons of packaged goods at the grocery store had the little “splenda” stamp that the product was sweetened with it.
Marketed as a “healthy” artificial sweetener, Splenda can cause skin rashes/flushing, panic-like agitation, dizziness and numbness, diarrhea, muscle aches, headaches, intestinal cramping, bladder issues, and stomach pain.
Splenda has also been shown to shrink the thymus glands and enlarge the livers and kidneys in rodents.
Little long term research has been done on Splenda, so it is unclear what amounts might be safe. It’s ok though, I stopped using it not long after I started – so hopefully there is no “long term” effects. :)
In further “don’t be fooled” news, we have the product Erythritol. Where would you find such an ingredient? The VitaminWater 10 (owned by Coca Cola), for one. It claims to contain the natural sweetener, stevia, but it’s also got loads of other, less healthy, less savory items: crystalline fructose, sucrose, and yes, our mystery ingredient Erythritol.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, a sweetener that does not provide as many calories as sugar. BUT WATCH OUT!! Don’t be fooled. Sugar alcohol has fewer calories than sugar simply because they are not completely absorbed into your body. It has an unintended consequence for vitamin water drinking folks: abdominal gas and diarrhea.Yuck!!!
While sugar alcohols are lower in calories, they are not calorie-free.
Some sugar alcohols are reasonable to consume in moderate quantities — for example, xylitol doesn’t spike blood sugar levels in the way that high-fructose corn syrup might, and it is anti-bacterial and actually helps prevent dental cavities.
Xylitol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in most plant material, including many fruits and vegetables. It is extracted from birch wood to make medicine.
Xylitol is widely used as a sugar substitute and in some “sugar-free” chewing gums, mints, and other candies. (However, sorbitol is the most commonly used sweetener in sugarless gums because it is less expensive than xylitol and easier to make into commercial products, so look for gum with xylitol).
As a medicine, xylitol is used to prevent middle ear infections (otitis media) in young children, and as a sugar substitute it’s recommended for people with diabetes. Xylitol is sometimes included in tube feeding formulas as a source of energy.
Dog owners should know that xylitol can be toxic to dogs, even when the relatively small amounts from candies are eaten. If your dog eats a product that contains xylitol, it is important to take the dog to a veterinarian immediately.
How does it work?
Xylitol tastes sweet but, unlike sugar, it is not converted in the mouth to acids that cause tooth decay. It reduces levels of decay-causing bacteria in saliva and also acts against some bacteria that cause ear infections.
When trying to cut out traditionally refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, you’ve got choices. It’s just a matter of finding your perfect match. So, whether you’re combining them as a source of functional fuel during exercise, or to cut calories and chemicals, using these minimally-refined sugars can have a place in your clean diet. And, hey! Don’t forget nature’s solution to the sweet cravings: FRUIT! All fruits, especially dried fruit, can nip your sweet tooth in the bud.
Blender Babes usually uses Stevia, dates, and on occasion raw honey or molasses to sweeten smoothies and tea. For baking we like to use unprocessed sugars such as Coconut Palm Sugar.
We would love to find out what YOU like to use? Please tell us in the comments! :)