The Best Paleo Alternative Sweeteners & Ones To Avoid At All Costs
Are you having difficulty wading through the sea of alternative sweeteners today? If so, you’re not alone.
Here are some excellent tips to help you keep your health on track and satisfy that sweet tooth.
Each day there are “updated” reports of more natural, safer, calorie-free or lower glycemic sweeteners that supposedly take the risk out of the sweet taste we crave. To make matters worse, most experts do not agree on which sweeteners are best. Before I try to clear up the controversy, let’s first discuss why choosing alternative sweeteners is such a critical issue.
Today, the average American consumes over 150 pounds of sugar per person per year. That’s over 22 teaspoons per day for adults and over 30 for children. This is not necessarily because we are gluttonous or unconcerned with health, either.
Sugar is added to almost every processed food today including cookies, candy, crackers, salad dressings and fast foods. Even foods as seemingly innocuous as tomato sauce contain hidden sugar.
Experts report that our paleo ancestors rarely encountered sweet foods except in the form of raw honey and seasonal fruit. Today, we consume sugar in excessive amounts often exceeding their monthly intake in our morning caramel latte. (I am exaggerating of course, but the disparity is profound). This change has left us desensitized and addicted to sugar. This sugar addiction increases our risk of obesity, immune suppression, premature aging, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
So….in an ideal world we would all simply “buck up,” flex our willpower muscles and learn to live without our beloved daily dose of sweetness. If this is possible for you, it is undeniably the royal road to success. For many, however, a long-standing sugar dependence makes this approach ineffective and unrealistic. Fortunately, using the right alternative sweeteners may provide a solution for those looking to gradually nix a sugar dependance.
Believe me, I know the scenario well. As a teen I was addicted to Chewy Sprees, Sour Patch Kids and Big Hunk. So addicted, in fact, that when I decided to turn the wellness corner I relied heavily on artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, the sweeteners that replaced refined sugar exacerbated my IBS and made me feel WORSE.
Because a sugar-free diet is of no use when you still feel miserable, I researched artificial sweeteners obsessively to find a solution. It is my hope that these tips help you overcome your sugar cravings effortlessly while feeling amazing.
1. Avoid Agave Nectar.
It never fails. Every time I find a delicious-looking sweet treat at my favorite grocery store, I find agave nectar in the ingredients. Instantly I am reminded of the inevitable gut ache that always follows its consumption.
Although many health enthusiasts believe agave is a “natural” sweetener, it is actually a highly processed product containing a wealth of fructose. Agave’s main claim to fame is its low glycemic index. Unfortunately, its low glycemic effect is due to its hefty (between 70-90%) fructose content which is associated with an increased risk of liver inflammation, mineral depletion and insulin resistance. These conditions can lead to cardiovascular disorders, obesity and diabetes. I suggest avoiding agave nectar entirely.
2. Avoid sugar alcohols.
According to Chris Kresser, a recognized leader in the field of ancestral health, sugar alcohols such as xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, erythritol, are a type of “low digestible carbohydrate.” This means we are only able to digest and absorb them to a certain extent.
Certain studies suggest that sugar alcohols, specifically xylitol, have beneficial effects such as improved glucose tolerance and the prevention of tooth decay. However, they are notoriously difficult to digest and may cause diarrhea. For me, anything that causes digestive distress is simply not worth it. Besides, more long term safety trials should be conducted before I agree to consume anything our ancestors (and my grandma!) would not recognize.
3. Avoid artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low), sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Equal/Nutrasweet) are surrounded by extensive controversy. While certain clinical trials have documented their ability to cause cancer, metabolic syndrome, pre-term labor and weight gain, subsequent clinical trials have refuted these findings.
Although artificial sweeteners are not conclusively associated with an increased risk of disease, it is fairly certain that they affect satiety, our ability to regulate caloric intake and brain function. For example, a few clinical trials have demonstrated that rats fed artificial sweeteners tend to gain more weight than those fed regular sugar. At least two human trials have also confirmed that the consumption of artificial sweeteners can alter the way your brain responds to sweet tastes. These reasons, coupled with the potential (yet not definitive) increased risk of disease are enough for me to avoid them forever.
4. Use organic stevia
Stevia comes from an herb in the chrysanthemum family called Stevia rebaudiana. It is native to South America (Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina) and has been used for over 1500 years. Although early animal trials conducted in Paraguay and Brazil suggest that stevia may cause cancer or infertility, these findings have since been called into question due to to serious methodological errors in the studies. Several, more recent trials have also contradicted the original findings.
Human trials also suggest that stevia may offer certain health benefits. For instance, one study conducted in 2013 and published in the Journal of Diabetes Complications demonstrated that stevia may positively affect glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. Other trials also suggest this effect.
Because of its extensive history of safe use, organic, whole leaf stevia is my favorite alternative sweetener. This is why we use tiny amounts in our Paleovalley Organic Superfood Bars! Be sure to use only organic versions without additives (dextrose, cellulose, maltodextrin, erythritol, “natural flavors) for best results. Always avoid Truvia (made by Coca-Cola) and Purevia (made by Pepsi) which are highly processed and contain additives.
5. Stick primarily to what our ancestors knew and loved.
As discussed above, archaeological evidence reports that our paleolithic ancestors got their sweet fix entirely from seasonal fruit and raw honey. This is why we make every effort to use only these sweeteners in our paleo recipes. Although raw honey is technically a form of sugar, many recent studies have documented beneficial effects of moderate use. It is also time-tested and teeming with antioxidants! (Be on the lookout for my email regarding these specific benefits soon 😊
For optimal results, eliminate all sweeteners (except for stevia in moderation) and rely on raw honey and fruit to meet all your sweet needs. After all, as the thousands of people benefiting from the paleo diet can tell you, our ancestors knew best.
Here’s to a sweet life without the gamble!