Spend some time and find a natural sugar substitutes for use in your daily diet.
Since artificial sweeteners aren’t good for us and refined sugars can be hard on our pancreas and lead to insulin resistance and high fructose corn syrup is implicated in a number of health issues, what can we do?
Are there any sweeteners that are truly natural, that don’t cause insulin spikes, that don’t contribute to us becoming overweight or obese, that don’t disrupt our endocrine system and that still taste sweet and are commercially available?
Yes, there are several good sugar substitutes. Four of the more well known are discussed below.
Stevia is a tropical plant in the sunflower family, widely found in South and Central America, particularly in Paraguay.
It is grown for its sweet leaves and its extracts are about 300 times sweeter than table sugar. At high concentrations, it often has a bitter taste or even a licorice-like aftertaste.
Stevia has several characteristics that have contributed to its popularity as a low-carbohydrate, low-sugar substitutes. As a bonus, research indicates that it has possible benefits for combating obesity and high blood pressure since it has little effect on blood glucose.
It was late coming to market due to political controversies and was actually banned in the U.S. in the early 1990s unless it was labeled as a supplement.
One would have thought Stevia was some kind of illegal drug instead of a good, natural sugar substitute. It was subject to search and seizure, trade complaints from manufacturers of artificial sweeteners who didn’t want more competition, and even had embargoes on its importation.
Finally in 2008, the FDA got religion, saw the light and approved it as a sweetener and it is now widely found on store shelves.
Trehalose presents itself as “the sugar everyone would use if only they knew”. Anyone who has used it will most likely agree that it is one of the best refined sugar substitutes.
Trehalose is a very strange sugar with an interesting history. Way back in 1832, it was first discovered as a fungal disease afflicting rye. A few years later it was isolated from a substance called trehala manna, made by weevils, and since it was a sugar, it was given the name “trehalose”.
It can be synthesized by fungi, plants, and invertebrate animals and gives them the ability to withstand prolonged periods of desication from drought or heat.
It has high water retention capabilities and is thought to take a gel form as cells dehydrate, which prevents disruption of internal cell structures, called organelles, by holding them in position.
Rehydration then allows normal cellular activity to be resumed without the damage that would normally follow a dehydration/rehydration cycle. If that isn’t enough, trehalose is also an antioxidant.
Extracting trehalose used to be a difficult and costly process, but, recently, the Hayashibara company in Japan developed an inexpensive extraction technology from starch for mass production.
Specifically, they use enzymes-based processes to convert wheat and corn syrups to trehalose. Finally, someone found a good use for corn syrup.
In both the U.S. trehalose is classified as “generally regarded as safe” or GRAS by the FDA. As such it has found commercial acceptance as a food ingredient and in food processing.
Its use as a sugar substitute includes a variety of processed foods, western and Japanese candies, bread, vegetables side dishes, animal-derived deli foods, pouch-packed foods, frozen foods, and beverages, as well as foods for lunches, eating out, or prepared at home.
Trehalose Health Benefits and Characteristics
Such wide usage derives from its many and varied properties such as:
• a mild, sweet flavor
• preservative properties
• ability to protect the quality of carbohydrates, proteins and fats
• its powerful water-retention properties
• ability to protect the texture of foods
• protecting foods from the damage of drying or freezing
• its ability to suppress bitterness, harsh flavors
• suppressing the odor of raw foods, meats and packaged foods
One drawback as a sweetener is that it is less soluble and less sweet than sucrose which means that it is not widely used as a direct replacement for conventional sweeteners such as table sugar, which is usually regarded as the standard for comparing the sweetness of alternative sugars or artificials.
Trehalose is a good case study in how pharmaceutical companies are adapting sugars for patented prescription drugs. For example, it has been used in several biopharmaceutical monoclonal antibody formulations.
If you are familiar with the brand name “Sweet Fiber” or have used it, then you are familiar with inulin.
Actually there is not just one inulin. Inulins belong to a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides made by numerous types of plants wherein they are used to store energy. Additionally it is a fiber classified as a fructan.
It is used in processed foods because it can be a sugar substitute and a replacement for fat and flour. Its taste ranges from bland to lightly sweet.
Comparatively it is only 10% the sweetness of table sugar but contains only a fourth to a third of the food energy of sugar or other carbohydrates. Inulin is very desirable as a substitute for fat in that it only contains between a sixth and a ninth of the food energy of fat.
There are several distinctive health benefits. It has been shown to increase calcium and possibly magnesium absorption while promoting the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria.
There is good news for diabetics in that it has little impact on blood sugar, does not raise insulin levels or increase triglycerides. Since it is only a small fraction of the sweetness of sucrose, if one is using it as a sugar substitute, larger quantities are needed to get a degree of sweetness approaching sugar.
The problem for many people is that inulin produces bloating and gas if used in large quantities so it is best to introduce it gradually into the diet.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. It is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms.
Beside plants, our own bodies make about 15 grams of xylitol every day in our normal metabolic processes. The upshot is that it is absolutely safe for human consumption.
It has about the same sweetness as sucrose (table sugar) but with only two-thirds the food energy while retaining a pleasant taste.
Physically xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar but is classified on food labels as a carbohydrate. It is slowly absorbed and partially utilized which allows the makers to make a reduced calorie claim; generally commercially sold xylitol has 2.4 calories per gram or 40% less than other carbohydrates.
Regarding its use by diabetics, in 1960 the U.S. approved xylitol as a sugar substitute in foods formulated for diabetics without any quantity restrictions.
It’s benefits for dental health include reducing tooth decay and even arresting or reversing existing dental caries which has resulted in it gaining approvals from six national dental associations. This made it a natural for finding application in sugar-free chewing gum and candy.
As with most sugar alcohols, initial consumption can result in bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence, although generally rather less so than other sugar alcohols like sorbitol.