By Cat, Feb 2008 (Image, right, from Amazon (23))
This article discusses:
- Natural sweeteners: stevia, date sugar, lo han (from monk fruit), sugar alcohols such as erythritol, and xylitol; and
- Synthetic sweeteners (which I do not recommend): sucralose (Splenda brand), aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet brands), saccharine, and stevia derivatives (such as Truvia and PureVia brands)
Natural sugar substitutes
- Stevia is a natural, zero-calorie sweetener from the Stevia herb; its sweetness comes from the steviosides in the leaves. See Stevia (about) for more about this sweetener. This is what I use in most of my recipes that require a sweetener.
- Date sugar is simply dried and ground dates. it is nicely sweet, but cannot always be used as a substitute for sugar; it will not dissolve, melt or caramelize. But it can be used to sweeten batters for quick breads, muffins and such, and is wonderful in crumbly toppings like for an apple crisp. It can be used as a substitute for white and/or brown sugar in baked goods. A good rule thumb is to use (adapted from Heal With Food (25)):
- 2/3 cup date sugar for each 1 cup of white cane sugar in your recipe; Or
- 1 1/2 cup white cane sugar for each 1 cup date sugar in your recipe.
- Lo Han: I must admit to not knowing much about this herbal sweetener, which comes from monk fruit, a member of the gourd family from southern China and northern Thailand. The fruit also has medicinal properties, including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Lo han’s sweetness comes from the Mogrosides present in the fruit. The fruit is dried and processed into a fine powder (a powder can also be made from the undried fruit), from which the extracts are made. Mogroside is 300 times sweeter than cane sugar, and is very low in calories. (19)
Sweet Dairy Whey
This is a byproduct of making cheese; the “sweet” is from the lactose in dairy milk. Whey is one of the two proteins in dairy milk (whey and casein). See my article Processed Sugars (About) for more, and for how to use it in recipes.
Sugar Alcohols: Erythritol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol, etc.:
These sweeteners are related to sugar (some are derived from sugar and some are natural). They do not provoke an insulin response (no blood sugar spikes) and have half the calories of sugar (sucrose, glucose, fructose). However, no long-term studies have yet been done on these natural sweeteners, so the jury is still out on their overall healthfulness. I would not over-consume these refined sweeteners; save them for special occasions.
This occurs naturally in fruit, mushrooms and some fermented products. It is 60 – 70% as sweet as sugar, and a very low glycemic index. Replace 1 cup white sugar with 1¼ cup erythritol (3). I don’t use this sweetener because it makes me shaky and gives me a headache.
A natural component of birch tree sap, it can be tapped similar to maple trees for maple syrup. But not all xylitol is derived from birch sap; many commercial versions are made from the hardwood, which requires harvesting the trees. Other commercial versions are made from corn cobs. All commercial versions are highly processed (from GMO corn or even petroleum). However, xylitol made at home by tapping the birch tree for its sap is less processed.
If you have dental cavities or candida overgrowth, xylitol can help to with those, according to a 2018 article by Sayer Ji of Green Med Info (24B).
“Xylitol actually discourages the bacterial growth that feeds these conditions. The bacteria that cause candida, dental caries, and even Streptococcus mutans, thrive in acid-based environments, with sugar as their food of choice. Xylitol is non-fermentable, creating an alkaline reaction in the body that bacteria find inhospitable. Xylitol consumption has been shown to dramatically decrease cavities and ear and throat infections, among other infectious organisms.”
It has gotten good press by the dental industry and is now a common ingredient in tooth paste, for its antibacterial properties. Also, it has a very low glycemic index and 40% fewer calories than sugar (3).
I use xylitol in some of my recipes, when stevia is not a good option, such as for sugar cookies and fine cakes. It can be used in equal amount as a substitute for sugar. However, it is slightly sweeter than sugar, so you may want to use slightly less of xylitol. Replace 1 cup white sugar with 3/4 cup xylitol plus 1 Tbsp. Another nice benefit of using xylitol, is that it helps your baked goods to retain moisture.
Nov 2018 update: There has been some negative research on this sweetener, so I recommend limiting its use. Also, start with small amounts to see if you have any negative side-effects.
Known issues with xylitol:
It is not a good sugar substitute in recipes that include caramelization, because it won’t caramelize;
Xylitol made from corn cobs will likely be GMO unless Organic corn is used. Otherwise, choose xylitol made from birch bark.
It may have laxative effect for some people (24b).
It is extremely toxic to dogs, even in minute amounts. (24b)
Artificial Sweeteners: To Be Avoided
I do not recommend the use of Splenda (marketing name for sucralose) as a sugar alternative. It has undesirable health consequences, not the least of which is that the sucralose in Splenda is cut with dextrose (another name for glucose), which has the same effect on blood sugar as table sugar (sucrose). Splenda is NOT zero calories, because dextrose has the same caloric content as sucrose. Splenda also has many of the same toxic effects as its close cousins: pesticides.
Nov 2018 update: Pertinent to having similar toxic effects to pesticides, research has shown it releases toxic dioxin when heated (as in cooking or baking). Buyer beware! See Green Med Info article (24A) for more
For more on Splenda, refer to the Women to Women website.
Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
Aspartame cannot be used in foods that will be heated, and so does not lend itself to baked goods or cooked puddings and custards. However, it is used widely in sugar-free beverages, gum, and some candies. Aspartame is a modified amino acid (aspartic acid), and as such, is a known neurotoxin, meaning that it kills nerve cells. For this reason, I would avoid its consumption.
The aspartame molecule is comprised of three components (14):
- aspartic acid causes brain lesions and neuro-endocrine disosrders in lab animals
- phenylalanine (an amino acid), which is neurotoxic when unaccompanied by the other amino acids in proteins
- methanol (wood alcohol, a documented poison that converts into formaldehyde (embalming fluid, a class A carcinogen) and formic acid (ant-sting poison)
There are 92 documented symptoms & diseases caused by aspartame including (14):
- anxiety attacks, depression, irritability, vertigo
- blurred vision, blindness
- fatigue, numbness, CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), Epstein Barr
- Graves disease
- headaches, dizziness
- hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- heart palpitations, tachycardia (rapid heart beat)
- joint pain
- lymphoma and other cancers
- memory loss
- mental retardation
- MS (multiple sclerosis)
- muscle spasms, slurred speech, seizures
- loss of taste
- rashes, systemic lupus
- weight gain
Saccharin got a bad name when it was reported that rats exposed to huge levels of this sweetener (equivalent to bathing in it) developed cancer. And while most experts do believe that overconsumption of this sweetener can lead to cancer, many practitioners recommend saccharin over Splenda and NutraSweet in moderation, because it has less potential for harm.
These are new products on the market (see below for brand names). They are made from stevia, but should not be confused with natural stevia. They are sweet chemicals isolated from the stevia leaf, then purified and chemically altered (for copyright) and cut either with a fiber (such as inulin), or with dextrose or a sugar alcohol such as erythritol. Unlike natural stevia, these derivatives can legally be advertised as sweeteners. Natural stevia must be sold and advertised as a “supplement,” not a sweetener.
These stevia derivatives are likely safer than the other artificial sweeteners, so if you must buy commercial artificially sweetened products, look for those sweetened with these stevia derivatives. But if you are cooking/baking at home, use the real stevia or stevia extract powder.
Refer to NPR article (20) on the first two of these new sweeteners introduced in 2008.
- TruviaTM contains erythritol, rebiana (from stevia), and “natural flavors.” Truvia (21) will be used by Coca Cola to sweeten its sugar-free beverages, and is made by Cargill
- PureViaTM contains erythritol, iso maltulose, and rebiana (from stevia). PureVia (22) will be used by PepsiCo to sweeten its sugar-free beverages. it is distributed by Whole Earth Sweetener Company (22).
- Stevia: Naturally-Sweet Recipes for Drinks, Desserts and More, by Rita DePuydt
- Better Nutrition magazine, December2007
- bodyandfitness.com/Information/Fitness/sugar.htm great information.
- Agave Nectar: Worse Than We Thought, by Sally Fallon Morell and Rami Nagel (www.westonaprice.org/modern-foods/1604-agave-nectar-worse-than-we-thought.html)
- NPR article, FDA approves Sweeteners from Stevia Plant: npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98494964
- purevia.com and Whole Earth Sweetener Company (wholeearthsweetener.com)
- Amazon image of Wisdom brand Stevia sweetener (amazon.com/Wisdom-Natural-SweetLeaf-Stevia-Extract/dp/B00014WE7M)
- Green Med Info:
- Heal with Food: healwithfood.org/substitute/is-date-sugar-healthy.php