The healthiest alternatives to sugar

Easy healthy mealsIt is becoming well known that sugar is damaging to our health.  And, the danger of fructose is also now on people’s radar, which is great news for our health and wellbeing.  Fructose has been shown to seriously damage our metabolism, causing obesity and weight-gain, and is a major contributor to most modern disease, including heart disease.

Fructose in itself is not unhealthy (it is naturally occurring in fruits).  The fructose overload in our western diets is the problem.  Some health professionals recommend staying under 25g of fructose per day.  I actually think our ancestor’s natural diet would have contained around 15g a day, so I think that is a healthier benchmark.  However, for birthdays or the occasional treat, consuming 25g in a day won’t hurt.

We all naturally seek out sweet food, and there is still a lot of confusion about which alternatives are healthiest.  And, there is also a lot of misinformation, which I would like to clear up to make it easier.

I find the easiest way to achieve vibrant health and wellbeing is to emulate our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  If a food can be grown, and was naturally accessed (albeit irregularly in the case of sweets), then I consider it a healthy alternative.  But, here is some specific information to help navigate the maze of choice.

Stevia

I sometimes see stevia listed with artificial sweeteners, but it is actually very natural.  It is a small green herb, and its leaves are 1,000 times sweeter than sugar.  If you can find a plant (try an organic nursery), you can grow it in the back yard, and grind the leaves in a mortar and pestle.  It has no fructose, so it is my favourite sweetener.  However, you do need to be careful to avoid stevia based sweeteners that have been mixed with other ingredients (usually sugar alcohols or chemicals).  Use a pure, natural stevia.  My favourite brand is Nirvana.

Some people insist that stevia has a bitter aftertaste, but if you use a quality brand, it just tastes sweet; no aftertaste.  It comes in a powder, drops, or tablets (easy to add to hot drinks); my preferred form is the extract powder.  Nirvana comes with a tiny scoop that is equivalent to 1 tsp of sugar, so it makes it easier to measure.   ½ a tsp is equivalent to 1 cup of sugar.

Raw Honey

Honey is starting to get a bad rap now that everyone is more aware of the dangers of fructose.  However, there are a few facts about honey that many people aren’t aware of.  Even though it is quite high in fructose (around 50%), raw honey contains compounds that reduce the insulin response, so the fructose doesn’t have the same impact.  Studies also show that raw honey stabilizes blood sugar levels.

In addition, raw honey is full of antioxidants, and is also loaded with minerals, enzymes, amino acids, and vitamins.  Raw honey also contains nutraceuticals, which are nutrients found to neutralize free radicals and improve the immune system.  It is a wholesome food that has been eaten for centuries, before we started loading our diets with sugar.

Having said all that, because raw honey does contain fructose, its use does need to be limited.  I recommend no more than 1 tsp in a day, which equates to about 4 g of fructose.  When I use raw honey in a recipe, I use one or two tablespoons in the entire recipe, which means each serve contains less than a tsp of honey.  If you see a recipe asking for 1 cup of honey, consider using stevia instead.  Keep in mind that once you are sugar-free, your taste buds will change, and you will no longer want your desserts to be super sweet.

Notice that I keep saying ‘raw honey’.  Commercial honey has been super-heated, and no longer contains any beneficial compounds, and you may as well be consuming high fructose corn syrup.  Honey also becomes toxic when overheated.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is also around 50% fructose.  I won’t get too technical here, but the monosaccharide fructose form of fructose (the type in high fructose corn syrup) is the most harmful.  Raw honey has around 42g of monosaccharide fructose per 100g, while maple syrup only has around 4g per 100g, so it is very low in the dangerous kind of fructose.  However, while we know that raw honey is beneficial to health, and has properties mitigating its high fructose content, maple syrup isn’t a whole food because it needs to be boiled extensively to reduce the maple tree sap into thick syrup.  As a result, its nutritious value and enzymes are destroyed.  It would be lovely to think the syrup simply pours out of the tree, but that isn’t the case.

Agave Syrup

The blue agave plant is a succulent, traditionally grown in Mexico, but also found the U.S. and South America, and is the source for Tequila.

Agave syrup has been marketed as a healthy alternative to sugar, and many raw desserts sold in health food shops are loaded with it.  It is advertised as healthy because of the Glycemic Index.  The GI measures the glycemic response in the body, and ‘low GI’ foods have been deemed healthier by many health professionals.  Using GI does actually work in a lot of cases, but there was one huge problem with the entire theory.  Fructose has a very low GI, and we now know that high levels of fructose cause major health issues.

Even though agave syrup is ‘low GI’, it is 90% fructose, so is actually quite unhealthy.  In addition, it is not a natural, whole food with enzymes.  The agave syrup is not made from the sap, but from the bulb.  Heat and chemicals are used to convert the bulb into syrup.  Some syrups are processed under 50°C, so are marketed as ‘raw’, but they are not raw or wholesome.

In addition, natural enzymes are physically removed to prevent the mixture from fermenting (and becoming tequila).  Once agave syrup is processed, it becomes a condensed fructose-syrup, with no nutritional value; far higher in fructose than any other commercial sweetener, including sugar and high fructose corn syrup.

Sugar Alcohols

The term ‘sugar alcohol’ sounds pretty natural, but the name comes from the chemical structure, which is similar to sugar and alcohol.  Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates; some are extracted from plants, but most are manufactured from sugars and starches.   Sugar alcohols are popular because they have half the calories of sugar.  I personally don’t believe calories have anything to do with maintaining a healthy weight, but the reason they have less calories is because the body doesn’t absorb them completely.  As a result of the malabsorption, they often cause bloating, gas, and diarrhoea.  The common sugar alcohols are:

  • Erythritol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Xylitol

Are they natural?  I think most people can tell from the chemical sounding names that they aren’t.  Sugar alcohols do occur in nature in tiny amounts.  We can’t go out into nature to collect sugar alcohols to use as a sweetener.  They are manufactured products, and I recommend avoiding them.

Glucose/Dextrose

Dextrose (the commercial form of glucose) is now quite commonly being used as a sugar alternative.  Extensive research has shown that fructose is the dangerous part of any sugar; testing has also shown that glucose, dextrose, and starch don’t cause obesity or health issues.

However, that being said, there is new research suggesting that diabetics and people who are insulin resistant actually make fructose from the glucose.  It happens with something called the ‘polyol pathway’.  Eating too much fructose activates the polyol pathway, and we begin to make fructose from other sources as well.  Researchers are learning more about this pathway, but they have definitive evidence that glucose turns into fructose with an insulin resistant person.  Unfortunately, with the high levels of sugar in western diets, most people are insulin resistant (unless they have been sugar-free for a substantial period).

Dextrose has been a good alternative for a lot of people, and has assisted many in losing a lot of weight.  And, it is clear that when someone isn’t insulin resistant, that it won’t cause the issues linked to fructose.  But, because of the issue with insulin resistance, I recommend other alternatives.

If you want more information on the new research being done about the polyol pathway, Dr. Richard Johnson, the chief of the division of kidney disease and hypertension at the University of Colorado, is continuing that research.

Artificial Sweeteners

There is SO much evidence out there showing detrimental effects of artificial sweeteners, so I will just give you a brief synopsis.  There are over 10,000 documented reports of reactions to artificial sweeteners, including death.  Aspartame and sucralose have been shown to cause bloating, weight-gain, depression, migraines, anaemia, kidney dysfunction, infertility, and spontaneous abortions.  They also destroy healthy gut bacteria.  Aspartame is also an excitotoxin, which causes overactive brain cells; to the point that they die.  The ester bond in aspartame is broken down into formaldehyde and methanol, toxic substances that have been shown to increase risk for cancer.

Again, to achieve optimal health and weight, it is better to look for something naturally occurring in the environment.  These dangerous chemicals don’t even work; they may not have calories, but one of their proven side-effects is weight-gain.

The Best Alternatives

My favourites are stevia and small amounts of raw honey.  If nothing else, it does make it simple.  Easy healthy meals and desserts are simple to make once you know the right way to use these beautiful sweeteners.

 

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26 Responses to The healthiest alternatives to sugar

  1. Angela says:

    Hi, I have only just found out about your website after watching A Current Affair and now have ordered your book. I would like to know your thoughts on rapadura sugar which claims to be also low Gi and not processed. I am looking forward to reading your book. All the best, Angela

    • Christine says:

      Hi Angela

      If you eat sugar, then Rapadura sugar is definitely less damaging because it still has all its nutritional value. However, it is still sugar, so I avoid it. I hope that helps 🙂

      Christine

  2. kim says:

    Christine, I was wondering if you’ve done any research on coconut sugar and whether it is also a viable alternative?
    Thanks for your wonderful website!

    • Christine says:

      Thanks for your lovely comments!

      Coconut sugar is still quite high in fructose, so I prefer other alternatives.

      Christine

  3. Lenore Grice says:

    Christine a lot of what you say makes a lot of sense.
    But as a child I lived in a sugar area and as far as I can see sugar cane is a plant and should also be good for you. I have sucked sweetness out of sugar cane and wonder how it goes from plant to bad food?

    • Christine says:

      The problem is not the sugar cane itself, it is the amount we consume. Traditional societies had access to sweets, like maple sugar or syrup or raw honey. But they didn’t have much of it. Research shows that if we emulate these traditional societies and stay under 15g of fructose every day, then we can also emulate their health. They were strong and healthy and had no sign of modern disease.

  4. Hi Christina,
    i was excited about your story.I am a vegetarian because of religion and also don’t eat eggs.I have gained 10kgs .Can your fat revolution help me?

    • Christine says:

      Yes, absolutely. As a vegetarian, you will need to take special care to replace the proteins and fats that you would get eating meat and animal fat. Can you eat eggs, or is there an allergy or another special reason you can’t. The fats can easily replaced with plenty of butter and coconut oil. The important thing is to eliminate sugar and excess grains.

  5. Kathleen Smith says:

    Dear Christine, I have purchased your book for which I am waiting delivery. I have 2 questions . Firstly where can I buy buckwheat flour and as I love my daily cup of tea what is the best to use as a whitener. Thanks Kathleen

    • Christine says:

      You should be able to find buckwheat flour in most health food shops or organic grocery stores. I personally would use cream in tea 🙂

  6. Dani says:

    Hi Christine, I am really interested in buying your books and love what I have read so far about your approach to healthy living, however I’m really unsure going low carb (from your book previews your approach seems low carb and I’ve never been a ‘dieter’). You’re obviously living proof that your approach works……I’m just trying to see how it will fit into my lifestyle. I don’t have much weight to lose, just want to be healthier and have more energy. Basically, I was just wanting to know what grains or carbs I can eat on your plan if any and how often? Thanks so much.

    • Christine says:

      Hi Dani, no, I don’t believe in dieting either. Some would consider me low carb, but I eat potato, so strict low carbers wouldn’t think I was low carb. I don’t eat many grains, I stick to the occasional brown rice and corn. For me, it is a lifestyle choice. Grains can be very damaging to our digestion and also make us gain weight, and we eat way too many of them these days, so I do limit them. I hope that helps 🙂

      Christine

  7. Jane Bache says:

    Hi Christine, I stumbled across your website after reading a recipe posted on thermomix that must have been adapted from your buckwheat pancakes. I love everything you have to say. About 3 months ago my husband and I reduced our fructose intake and he lost 10 kilos. I was weighing in at 55 and wasnt really looking at the weight loss as much as I was more interested on the healing of the body of auto immune illnesses. I have Chronic fatigue syndrome and Fibromylagia and suffer from Costochrondits plus peri-menopause. Having reduce the fructose I have not had any symptoms of any of my illnesses!!! I have so much energy. We both power walk every day. And i do 10 min daily ab and butt exercises. I did lose weight 5 kilos and am really toned and slim.
    Thank you for your books which I will purchase shortly.
    My question is: does 1/2 tsp of stevia equate to one cup of sugar!!
    It really frustrates me that there is nothing written on the labels as to the ratio to be used when replacing sugar. I had no idea, so when i made my choc pudding in a mug the other night and used 1 tsp of stevia i was using the sweetness of two cups of sugar!!
    No wonder it tasted weird.
    Jane

    • Christine says:

      Thanks so much! Yes, 1/2 tsp of stevia is equivalent of one cup of sugar (as long as it is the pure stevia). I would love to include your story in my next book if you are interested. I was looking for someone who had good results with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. I would love to talk about the weight loss for you both too. Anyway, if you are interested, can you send me an email through the contact page?

  8. Mel says:

    Hi Christine,
    I enjoyed your podcast with Jimmy Moore, which I listened to yesterday.
    I’m actually waiting for the local bookstore to open this morning so I can order your books!
    I think your cook book is very practical and I like how you have a substitute for all the sweet things most people like. This is a huge plus for me-no deprivation!
    Like everyone who has ‘seen the light’ I am experiencing massive benefits from getting off sugar or foods that break down to sugar.
    There is no aspect of my life that hasn’t improved as a result of the changes I have made.
    I am both saddened and angry that people have been misled for so long but I truly believe that change is gathering momentum.
    I for one am spreading the word (and the butter!) as thick and as fast as I can!
    Kind regards and may thanks.

  9. Luke Y. Dunn says:

    It seems one reason to ultrafilter honey may be extending shelf life and providing crystal clear honey. But skeptics and those in the industry state the main reason to do this is to obscure the origin of the honey, which may be India, China, or Brazil, and may contain prohibited levels of pesticides, heavy metals, antibiotics, and dilutions with cheap high fructose corn syrup.

  10. maria says:

    Love your book Christine. What are your thoughts on cheese? and which cheese is best to eat if any?

  11. Michele Ledbetter says:

    Hi Christine, Thanks for spreading the word on healthy eating. Have you heard of the sweetener xylitol? It comes in a package and looks and tastes exactly like sugar but doesn’t spike blood sugar. If your familiar with Kat James and her work, she likes this for baking.

  12. Carolyn says:

    Hi Christine,
    I have both your books and I’m loving my new lifestyle. I made your banana muffins the other day (the whole family loves them including my 2 year old and sugar obsessed husband). However, I ran out of olive oil so I used 140ml olive oil, 100 ml butter and 100 ml of coconut oil. They taste delicious but I was just wondering if this is ok?

  13. Kate says:

    Hi Christine
    I purchased your book today and cant wait to read it. I am already a user of good quality fats…have been for about 10-12 years and am so much healthier for it…
    I have been either pregnant or feeding for most of the past 3.5 years so have had more carbs than prior to this…what is your thoughts on your eating approach during pregnancy and feeding?
    Also what is your thoughts on Rice Malt Syrup as a sugar alternative…?
    Kind regards, Kate

  14. Tania says:

    Hi Christine,

    Thanks for covering this topic. I, like the post above, am very interested in your thoughts on rice malt syrup also? Cheers.

    • Christine says:

      I use it instead of raw honey when I cook. It is a glucose based sweetener, but not highly processed like dextrose. Brown rice syrup even better again, but hard to find.

  15. Ariel76 says:

    Hi Christine,

    I have both of your books and they are amazing !.I wondering if you will write one book about weeckly diet meals even for all seasons in the future …
    Also I have to intake 150g Fat, 60g Protein,20g carbs a day and I don’t know how to get all this fat from.?! I think I am taking more protein, than fat.Althought I feel good, I didn’t loose any weight. I put on 2kg in the last 3months.
    Could you please suggest a day meal plan, for this amount of fat please?

    Thank you &
    Regards
    V.

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