You Wanted to Know: Sweeteners

sugar on a teaspoon isolated on white background

Trying to cut calories? Or control your blood sugar? Try this: Cut back on your daily sources of sugar. This requires limiting your intake of sugary foods and drinks (like soda, desserts or cereals) and using alternatives to using refined, processed sugars in your coffee or tea. However, many of us may not realize that common artificial sweeteners like aspartame (found in NutraSweet or Equal), saccharin (found in Sweet’N Low) or sucralose (found in Splenda) can  actually cause weight gain. They’re also linked to diabetes and some forms of cancers – including cancers of the colon, kidney, and esophagus.

On Twitter, @JennayC asked what we can do to satisfy our sweet tooth:

 Jennifer Cronover

Well, Jennifer, there are many healthy options out there. One sweetener I like to use is agave nectar. It’s actually a distilled sweetener that comes from the blue agave cactus. Because agave has a low glycemic index, it won’t raise your blood sugar as quickly as pure sugar.

In fact, let’s take this time to talk about the glycemic index (GI). It’s basically a measure of how quickly a particular food raises your blood sugar levels compared to sugar. Glucose gets a baseline glycemic index of 100. Foods that are high on the glycemic index (with a score greater than 70) include simple carbohydrates and sugars, including high fructose corn syrup, which has a glycemic index of 73. Other high GI foods include white rice, plain white bread and pretzels.

Foods with low glycemic indexes (55 or below) don’t raise your blood sugar as quickly. This includes blue agave nectar, which has a GI of 30. Other foods include beans, seeds, and most whole grains and vegetables. If you’re looking for a good sugar substitute, you may want to try something with a low glycemic index, like agave nectar.

Another low-GI sweetener is raw buckwheat honey, which is between 30 and 40 on the index. It’s basically a less processed and refined version of commercial honeys.

If you must use artificial sugar, try sticking to two packets of sweetener a day. You can also use Stevia, which comes from a plant and is all-natural. However, beware because there are many stevia products out there that have other artificial sweeteners as extra additives.