A well-rounded diet can happily include homemade cookies, ice cream, and your local coffee shop’s baked goods. After all, sugar—in moderation—encourages a healthy, normal relationship with food. Simultaneously, knowledge is power. Understanding what does (and doesn’t) improve your health is the key to longevity. When it comes to sleeping well, improving fertility, and balancing blood sugar, look no further than what’s on your plate. Nutritious food is powerful! Today’s article drops a few sugar bombs, including how added and artificial sugars affect your health. At the end of the day, it’s not all or nothing. You can have your cake and eat it, too. But for the sake of gentle nutrition, we’re digging into the best sweeteners for blood sugar balance.
Sugar is everywhere
The stats are in: American adults consume an average of 77 grams of sugar per day. This adds up to around 60 pounds of added sugar, annually. And unfortunately, the numbers are even more dire in children. Who’s to blame? The answer is a bit nuanced. Everything from global food companies to advertising agencies. Not to mention, the government. Problem is, most of the sugar we eat is hidden within processed foods. We don’t realize we’re eating it! Sugar goes by many different names, so it’s nearly impossible to figure out how much sugar is in packaged foods. You’ll find it in salad dressings and pasta sauces, ketchup, granola bars, yogurt, dried fruit, energy drinks, and tea.
What Are Added Sugars?
Let’s talk about the differences between natural, added, and artificial sugars. Not all sugar is created equal.
Natural sugars are the ones found in whole, unprocessed foods—such as the fructose in bananas or berries, or lactose in a glass of milk. Because most of these foods also contain fiber, we don’t experience the same sugar spike as we do after eating a doughnut or a sugar-packed soda.
Added sugars, on the other hand, are simply that: they get added to a food—by you, a restaurant chef, or a food manufacturer. Added sugars include high fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, and more. Unfortunately, they don’t often come wrapped in other good-for-you ingredients, like protein and fiber. Thus, our bodies digest these sugars rapidly.
Artificial sweeteners—also known as sugar alternatives or sugar alcohols—are food additives that provide a sweet taste (like that of sugar). Marketed as zero-calorie or low-calorie sweeteners, they’re typically 200-600 times sweeter than sugar. These stimulate taste buds, affect hormones, slow metabolism, and more. In fact, animal studies have convincingly proven that artificial sweeteners cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer, and many other health hazards. Not to mention, this type of sugar is totally addictive.
How Much Sugar Should You Eat in a Day?
Most of the time, your goal should be to limit added / artificial sugars. Simply put, they’re devoid of nutrients. Currently, these are the American Heart Association’s recommendations for daily sugar intake: men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day. For women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day. For reference, one 12-ounce can of soda contains 8 teaspoons (32 grams) of added sugar!
What happens if you eat too much sugar?
Unlike low-glycemic sugar alternatives (aka, the best sweeteners for blood sugar balance), most sugar lacks nutritional benefits. Plus, it causes pro-inflammatory cells to grow. In turn, this leads to chronic inflammation. And the more inflammation we have in the body, the higher our risk of obesity, metabolic issues, type 2 diabetes, estrogen dominance, and more. Plus, tooth decay! A sugar overload is a precursor to everything from headaches and bloating to poor sleep, feeling jittery or anxious, and irritability. Are you eating too much sugar? Wearing a continuous glucose monitor is one of the ways to know.
Are Honey and Maple Syrup Healthy?
Yes, in moderation. But first, let’s dive into the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a concept used to compare how different carbohydrate-containing foods raise our blood sugar. The higher the GI, the higher the likelihood it will raise blood sugar levels. Which is not the goal. When it comes to refined sugar, corn syrup has the highest GI. White sugar has a slightly lower GI. Beneath those: honey and maple syrup. Raw honey and pure maple syrup can raise blood sugar quickly, but not as fast as table sugar. It’s best to pair honey and maple syrup with protein and healthy fats. Like, a bowl of cottage cheese with blueberries, walnuts, chia seeds, and a drizzle of honey.
the best sweeteners for blood sugar balance
Below are the best sweeteners for keeping blood sugar balanced. I’ve tried all of these—with success—using my continuous glucose monitor.
Allulose is found in small quantities in nature and is also a zero-calorie sweetener. This makes it great for being on a low calorie, or low carb diet. You can use it in baked goods as well as in homemade ice cream, caramels, and creamers. Most of the time, it is use in conjunction with another natural sweetener like monk fruit or erythritol.
Stevia is a plant extract. It’s zero-calorie, but it has a delicious sweet taste. Research shows it has little (if no) effect on insulin levels. Stevia has a glycemic index and a glycemic load of zero. You can add liquid stevia to coffee, for example, or stevia powder for baked goods. Here are great tips for cooking and baking with stevia.
The natural sweetness from monk fruit comes from mogrosides—not fructose or sucrose. It has a variety of health benefits, including its anti-inflammatory properties. It also doesn’t affect your blood sugar levels, or cause cavities in your teeth! Plus, a small amount of monk fruit sweetener goes along way. I love using this monk fruit in cookies and muffins.
Erythritol occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables—like melons, grapes, and asparagus. It’s classified by the FDA as good for oral health, too! It has zero calories and doesn’t affect blood glucose.
Although it’s a sugar alcohol, xylitol is naturally present in small amounts in various fruits and vegetables. This sweet crystalline substance is slowly absorbed from the digestive tract and does not cause rapid rises in blood glucose. In addition, it also has unique and clinically-proven dental benefits. If you’re a gum chewer, switch to this.
Images courtesy of Unsplash.
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider.