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Sweeteners: Friend or Foe?

blog Dec 26, 2019

Before we dive into my opinion on sweeteners or sugar replacements, I just want to clear something up that has really irked me over the years.

When someone says: "I don’t like to use sugar replacements because they’re so unnatural, I’d rather just stick with real sugar."

I’ve heard this statement time and time again and here’s my stand on it...

NEWS FLASH: ‘Real sugar’ is NOT natural. Unless we’re talking about honey or maple syrup, the white stuff you use in coffee and all your baked goods is the least natural thing you could possibly consume.

Making that white stuff is a 20+ step process that includes tons of refining, processing, bleaching, and who knows what else. Okay, I’ll stop ranting...just needed to get that off my chest. Moving on.

My take on sweeteners

There are SO many different opinions out there on sweeteners and sometimes it’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s complete B.S.

In reality, science is still not very clear when it comes to the different types of sugar replacements and how they do (or do not) affect our health. However, what is very clear is the fact that sugar itself has a whole host of detrimental effects to our health that contribute to weight gain and obesity, depression and anxiety, increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, dementia, PCOS, heart disease, fatty liver disease, the list goes on and on.

So here’s my take on sweeteners...

If you have no desire for consuming sweet things or feel that it causes more triggers and cravings for you, then I would avoid sweeteners as much as possible.

If you’re someone who feels that you have control over your cravings or maybe you’re in the process of trying to ditch sugar and follow a low-carb lifestyle, then I think sweeteners can have their place.

Does that mean you should actively seek out ways to incorporate more sweeteners into your life? No.

It means that if you enjoy a bit of sweetness in your morning coffee or a low-carb treat every so often, then becoming educated on the different types of sweeteners and incorporating them based on your personal toleration, is probably the smart thing to do.

What to look for in sweeteners (and what to avoid)

When purchasing sweeteners, make sure to read the ingredient labels thoroughly. Many companies add bulking ingredients such as dextrose and maltodextrin or use sugar alcohols like maltitol and sorbitol, all of which can actually raise your blood sugar levels and cause digestive issues.

I’d also avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low) as much as possible. Although the science is still not clear on how artificial sweeteners affect our health, I think it’s best to just avoid them as much as you can and choose the more ‘natural’ options discussed below.

Monk fruit, stevia, and Kabocha Extract are my personal go-to sweeteners. I use monk fruit or stevia when I’m looking for a bit of sweetness in my morning coffee and Kabocha Extract as my go-to sweetener when making low-carb treats.

  • Monk Fruit – also known as luo han guo, monk fruit is cultivated in the mountains of southern China. Monk fruit contains sweet substances called mogrosides that are naturally much sweeter than sugar, but are non-caloric.
  • Stevia – a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana). Similar to monk fruit, stevia has zero calories but is 200 times sweeter than table sugar. 
  • Kabocha Extract –  a zero-calorie, zero glycemic sweetener that cooks, bakes, dissolves, and measures on a 1:1 ratio to sugar. It’s made from a low-temperature extraction using non-GMO kabocha squash. Kabocha squash has been a superfood in the Japanese diet for centuries and it’s one of my personal favorite keto-friendly squashes. For a more in-depth look at kabocha extract, see this blog post.

Be careful when purchasing monk fruit and stevia as many of the commercial products vary in quality. Most of the powder forms on the market contain bulking agents like maltodextrin, so it’s best to choose the liquid form or find a company that offers a pure extract powder.

You can find the brands I use and recommend on my Amazon Shop page HERE.

Just like anything else, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to using sweeteners. It’s smart to test for yourself and see what you prefer and what your body responds the best too.

If you’re looking for a low-carb treat to satisfy that sweet tooth, here are a few of my favorites:

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