The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Sugars and Sugar Alternatives (2021)

 

In this article, we debunk the complexity of healthy sugars and why sugar is so bad for our health. 

As sugar-free connoisseurs, we know all about healthy sugars. In this list, you’ll find which sugar substitute is best and why we use sugar substitutes in our treats every day.

How sugar affects the body

Sugar is something we’re all starting to fear. From weight gain to heart conditions, sugar is the main contributor to serious health issues sweeping the globe. We all try to say no to our sugar cravings every now and then, but the struggle is real when nearly 60% of packaged foods contain some form of added sugar.

Understanding how sugar affects the body makes it easier to pick and choose which ones are safe to consume and which ones we should avoid. Here’s the good news- there are many healthy sugars out there that make it easier for us to control our sugar levels- and they’re tasty too! It’s something at MiiRO we are constantly learning about and take pride in sharing our discoveries with you (in chocolate form of course).

Natural VS Synthetic Sugars

Sugar is a naturally occurring compound found in plants, fruits, vegetables, and animal products. These sugars are referred to as natural sugars. Synthetic or complex sugars are made by those guys in laboratory jackets and are often formed by combining natural sugars.

What’s important is that depending on which type of sugar you consume; each is digested differently and can directly impact our health. Sugars in their simplest form don’t need to be broken down before your body can use them. They’re absorbed directly into your bloodstream, primarily through your small intestine. However, complex sugars must be broken back down into their simple form before they can be absorbed.

Sucrose

Better known as table sugar- the type we would use in our tea and coffee and often added to most desserts. Sucrose is made from glucose and fructose. It is first extracted from the sugar cane or sugar beet.

Hang on – table sugar comes from a plant? So it must be somewhat healthy to eat right?

Not necessarily. Without delving too deeply into the mind-boggling science behind sugars, sucrose is a complex sugar. It’s made up of two parts so it’s hard to digest. 

In fact, the two parts glucose and fructose don’t work well together at all. Glucose increases the amount of fructose that is absorbed into the body when we eat. So, the excess of fructose ends up piling up an excess of fat compared to when the two sugars are eaten separately.

This is why consuming too much sugar causes problems like high blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and heart attacks.

Glucose

Glucose is the body’s preferred source of carbohydrate sugar. If you are interested in sports, you may be familiar with the term. It’s often the glycogen stores that need to be replenished after strenuous exercises like running. Glucose is the type of fuel your body is asking for to restore these glycogen levels. It does this by raising blood sugar levels quicker than other sugars which stimulate the release of insulin.

Consuming glucose-rich carbohydrates (such as bread and potatoes) in moderation is beneficial because it allows your body to control your blood sugar levels.

Fructose

Fructose = Fruit Sugar.

It is found naturally in most fruits, vegetables and honey. It can also be extracted from these natural sources to make added sugars or create sucrose. Out of the three sugars, fructose tastes the sweetest but least impact on your blood sugar.

Like glucose, fructose is absorbed directly into your bloodstream. It’s not as wild as glucose, raising your blood sugar levels at a more gradual pace and does not appear to immediately impact insulin levels. This makes fructose foods safe to consume in moderation. For example, snacking on a banana.

Be careful not to overdo it though. Just because fructose naturally occurs in fruits doesn’t mean you can go and eat 10 bananas with no negative consequences. (We know some of you out there would try) Your liver has to convert fructose into glucose before your body can use it for energy, so eating too much around your other meals can raise the risk of metabolic syndrome, fatty liver disease and increase blood triglyceride levels. Like all sugary foods, moderation is key!

Lactose

Yes- dairy has its own type of sugar! Milk sugar, also known as lactose, is found in most animal milk and dairy products. It’s another complex sugar that is naturally formed but made from glucose and galactose. Because it is a natural complex sugar, it is easier for us to digest than sucrose and can be found in processed foods as well as in pills and medications.

Some people’s bodies are unable to break down lactose into its component sugars resulting in lactose intolerance. Something that currently affects around 30 to 50 million Americans. It is nothing to worry about, but the great thing about vegan products is that they are perfect for someone that struggles with this kind of intolerance.

Why we should steer away from sugar…

Disclaimer- There is no need to avoid sugars completely. Natural sugars found in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products contain nutrients our body needs to function properly. 2 cups of fruit is considered a healthy amount of sugars per day for the average American.

What we do need to be conscious of is the harmful health effects associated with excessive sugar consumption due to the climbing number of added sugars appearing in staple Western foods. A survey examining over 15,000 Americans found that the average person consumed 82 grams of added sugars per dayover 3x as much as the daily recommendation of 25-37.5g.

How much sugar is too much sugar?

The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars to 5–10% of your daily calorie consumption. In other words, if you’re eating the average recommended 2,000 calories per day, added sugars should weigh in at 25–50 grams which is considered a healthy amount of sugars per day to consume. 

The issue here is we have lost control of what foods do and don’t contain sugars. Man-made sugars can appear under at least 56 different names in the ingredients list and are not just added to sweet products like sodas, cakes, and candies, but also to foods you might not expect like condiments, bread, and even protein bars. When buying foods, make sure you are carefully reading the ingredients list to find any hidden sugars, or better yet, join the MiiRO community and never have to worry about those pesky little synthetic sugars ever again!

What are healthy alternatives to sugar? Which sugar substitute is best?

Stevia

stevia leaf and stevia powder in a bowl next to wooden spoon

Stevia is extracted from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant and is known for being naturally sweet. These days it is manufactured into either a tablet or powder sweetener.

The leaves contain compounds that are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, gram for gram. Meaning less of it is needed for the same sweet taste and has virtually no calories.

Stevia has wonderful effects on blood pressure with evidence showing that stevia can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. However, it has no effect on blood pressure that is normal or only mildly elevated. Those reasons make stevia a healthy alternative to sugar.

If you need to sweeten something, stevia may be your healthiest choice. Initially, stevia may require a bit of getting used to because it has a slight aftertaste. That’s why at MiiRO we developed our own blend that is not only delicious but also filled with the full health benefits of Stevia.

Erythritol

organic erythritol in a wooden bowl

Erythritol is a sweet powder that can be sourced from fruits, corn, or even organisms like lichens and algae.

They are considered as healthy alternatives to sugar as they are a carbohydrate that does not contribute to calorie intake. These ghost carbohydrates do not break down in the body and therefore do not contribute to your daily carbohydrate intake. The results make for a great low-calorie sweetener.

Powdered erythritol sweeteners bake in a way almost identical to sugar. Use it to make home-baked goodies that are sugar-free and guilt-free! 

For all those reasons we believe stevia and erythritol are the best sugar substitute.

We can still consume sugar, just make sure it’s in moderation.

All in all, added sugars should be limited. But there is no need to worry about those found naturally in foods. Consuming a diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods is the best way to avoid added sugars.

To ensure a healthy diet, eat whole foods whenever possible and save added sugars for the occasional special treat. These days, it’s becoming more and more popular for people to evaluate their diet choices. At MiiRO we promote a plant-based lifestyle as, like natural sweeteners, it is a better option than going-all in on the bad stuff. Take care of yourselves and be sure to follow up on some of our latest blogs where we go into more detail on becoming plant-based and leading a healthy lifestyle.

Alternative sugars for better health

Keeping in mind that we need to balance our intake of sugars is easier when we stay away from heavily processed foods. Sugar will never work in full harmony with our bodies, but natural sugar alternatives are slightly less harmful than regular old table sugar and contain way more nutrients.

Honey

honey jar with wooden honey spoon

Honey is a thick, golden liquid produced by bees.

It contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as an abundance of beneficial antioxidants.

The phenolic acids in honey are responsible for its antioxidant activity, which can help prevent diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, and cancer.

Many studies throughout the years have attempted to establish clear links between honey and weight loss, decreased glucose levels, and reduced hyperglycemia.

While honey has promising health benefits, it contains fructose, which can cause health problems if excessively consumed. So, while honey is not completely harmless, it is a great alternative to sugar when drinking tea or used to glaze your breakfast granola.

Is honey vegan?

Veganism exempts the consumption of all foods made of or derived from animals. Honey is an animal product and therefore not vegan. 

At MiiRO, we don’t like using honey as a sweetener because of the unethical practices and environmental effects. Instead, we use sweeteners which we will go into more detail about in the second part of this article!

Maple Syrup

pouring maple syrup from a jar

Maple syrup is a flowing, amber liquid that’s made by cooking down the sap found in maple trees.

It contains minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and manganese. It even contains more antioxidants than honey.

Despite some beneficial nutrients and antioxidants, maple syrup is still very high in sugar. It has a slightly lower glycemic index than regular sugar, so it may not raise blood sugar levels as quickly. Yet, it will still raise them. Consume maple syrup in moderation, saving it for a drizzle on breakfast pancakes.

We love maple syrup, but for us, a sugar-free maple syrup was something we just couldn’t live without. That’s why we created our very own sugar free maple syrup with a unique blend of sweeteners to replicate your favorite tabletop staple without the sugar concern.

Sugars in fruits

natural sugars in fruits

Fruits are a great source of the natural sugar fructose, but some contain more volumes than others.

Whole fruits are abundant in vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals our body needs to function and be healthy. But remember that fructose is the sugar that when consumed in excess causes weight gain. Although fruits are a great sugar boost and better for our bodies than sucrose, too many of them can have an adverse effect and cause health issues.

Coconut sugar

brown coconut sugar alternative to brown sugar

Coconut sugar is extracted from the sap of the coconut palm and tastes similar to table sugar but with a slight caramel flavor.

Is coconut sugar better for you than regular sugar? It’s a slightly healthier alternative to brown sugar because it contains antioxidants and nutrients, including iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium. It also has a high inulin content. Inulin is a soluble fiber that has been shown to slow digestion, increase fullness, and feed the healthy bacteria in your gut.

However, coconut sugar still contains a lot of sugar and is very high in calories, containing the same number of calories per serving as regular sugar so be sure to use it sparingly. That’s why we consider it as a slightly healthier alternative to brown sugar you can add to drinks or desserts for an extra nutrient boost.

What sugar substitute is best?

Wow. That was a lot to take in. But now you know sugar doesn’t have to be all bad. The key is to avoid those heavily manufactured desserts and switch to healthier sugar alternatives.

Natural sugar alternatives like coconut, honey, and maple are best consumed in moderation. Add them to drinks or drizzle onto breakfast bowls for a sweet touch. 

Synthetic sugar alternatives like sweeteners can be consumed with a lot less impact on your blood sugar levels. Sweeteners are practically zero-calorie sugar alternatives that can be used in baking and stirred into drinks.

The best option for choosing healthy sugars to eat really depends on what your health and fitness goals are. For weight loss and diabetes, choose sweeteners. For unprocessed, natural sugar sources planned to be consumed as part of a balanced diet, choose natural sugars like maple syrup or coconut sugar in replacement of normal table sugar. 

Conclusion 

It’s known that sugar can have negative health effects on our bodies including acne, weight gain, and heart disease. From this list, you can see that there are some healthy sugars alternatives that are a better alternative to the not-so-healthy table sugar. These sugars contain a higher nutritional content than standard table sugar and have way more vitamins. Consuming a diet high in whole foods and low in processed foods is the best way to avoid added sugars.

At MiiRO we love Stevia because it’s a natural sweetener so we can feel free to heavily indulge in all those stevia sweetened goodies. Stevia has no negative effects on blood pressure, so we really can let loose and go sweet crazy. 

Ultimately, choose the sugar alternative you enjoy the most. It’s about feeling your best at the end of the day.