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Sugar and its Substitute Buddies

Sugar is a commonly consumed good, and most of the adults in are consuming more than 2x of their daily recommended intake of sugar. Lots of foods may not taste sweet, but contains a lot of hidden sugar. Let's take that lemonade you bought at the vending machine. Its sour and sweet, fooling to think hat it does not contain a lot of sugar, but if you check on the nutrient label, you may see as high as 44g of sugar per 250mL. That means that you are drinking in 3 tablespoons of sugar in 1 cup of lemonade. Nearly 2x of what the recommended sugar for an adult: 24g.

Eating too much sugar can have detrimental effects on not only weight gain, but also a decline of memory and brain function. Several studies has shown that an excess intake of sugar can lead to a spike in glucose, leading to slowed cognitive function and deficits in memory and attention. It can also harm your metabolism, which can lead to increased insulin and fat storage and weight gain. However, there is a fix to this, unlike many other diseases. That, is to simply decrease the sugar intake from now on. Yes. Now.

Many people find it hard to move away from sugar, because all of the comfort foods we enjoy, such as cookies, cakes, ice creams, and drinks all contain high levels of sugar. However , there are many sugar alternatives nowadays that makes it easy and delicious to transition to a cleaner sugar.

1. Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of a shrub known as Stevia rebaudiana. This is a plant based sweetener which is derived from stevioside and rebaudioside A. The benefit of stevia is that it does not cause a spike in glucose levels compared to sugar, providing patients with diabetes a good alternative. In fact, stevioside, a sweet compound in stevia, has been shown to lower blood pressure, blood sugar, and insulin levels. Though, stevia also contains zero calories and can be up to 350 times sweeter than sugar, which can be satisfying to those who want to have something sweet in the absanse of sugar.

2. Erythrtol

Erythritol is a naturally occurring and is made from corn using enzymes and fermentation. This compound contains 0.24 calories per gram, which is only 6% of the calories of regular sugar. "It also tastes almost exactly like sugar, making it an easy switch." What's interesting is that your body does not have the enzymes to break down the majority of erythritol, therefore the compound is not digested or absorbed by the bloodstream, and is instead excreted in your urine unchanged. "Moreover, erythritol does not raise blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol, or triglyceride levels."

3. Monkfruit

(mentioned in detail in a previous post under Chinese Herbaology)

Monk fruit sweetener is made from the extract derived from the fruit and is 150-250 times sweeter than table sugar, has zero calories and carbs, and does not raise blood glucose levels. In addition, different from other artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, the monk fruit sweetener does not cause bloating, discomfort, or any allergic reactions. The reason that monk fruit tastes so sweet is from a natural compound called mogrosides. Mogrosides are found in certain plants (such as the monk fruit), extracted from the plant to be made into sugar-like granules to act as a sugar substitute.Hence, monk fruit sweetener is a great choice for a sugar substitute for patients diagnosed with diabetes as it does not increase blood sugar levels, making it a safe choice to consume. Monkfruit can also be used as a substitute that cooks and bakes like sugar, easy to a 1:1 ratio substitute in your cookings (Lankota is a good brand).

4. Yacon syrup

Yacon syrup is extracted from the yacón plant, which is native to South America. The taste is very similar to molasses, and the syrup has a thick consistency. Yacon syrup contains 40–50% fructooligosaccharides, which are a special type of sugar molecule that the human body cannot digest, thus it goes through the body without getting absorbed much. Hence, yacon syrup contains one-third of the calories of regular sugar, or about 1.3 calories per gram. The high content of fructooligosaccharides in yacon syrup offers a variety of health benefits such as a reduced glycemic index, body weight, and the risk of colon cancer. It may also increase feelings of satiety to feel full faster, aiding for weight loss.

Natural Sweeteners:

Natural sugars are used by health-consicious individuals, and they offer a minimal increase in terms of minerals in them, but they are still digested, absorbed and metabolized the same way as sugar, meaning that they are 'less harmful'.

1. Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is extracted from the sap of the coconut palm and contains a few nutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium, as well as antioxidants. This is a healthier choice because it has a lower glycemic index than sugar, which may be partly due to its inulin content. "Inulin is a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to slow digestion, increase fullness, and feed the healthy bacteria in your gut." A lower glcemic indix also will make sure that blood glucose does not spike immedietly, though consuming coconut sugar is not beneficial to diabetic patients because it will still cause a very high glucose spike in the end. The inulin makes the release of these sugar (glucose) molecules slower into the bloodstream. However, coconut sugar is very high in fructose, the main component of sugar, so it should be consumed in moderation.

2. Honey

Honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as an abundance of beneficial antioxidants, especially in Manuka honey. Manuka honey is a more expansive version of honey that is hard to extract, and used to be applied to wounds in the older days. Nowadays, Manuka honey is praised for its extra antioxidant compounds. "The phenolic acids and flavonoids in honey are responsible for its antioxidant activity, which can help prevent diabetes, inflammation, heart disease, and cancer." However, keep in mind that honey is still sugar a liquid form, thus should be consumed in moderation.

3. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a thick, sugary liquid that’s made by cooking down the sap of maple trees. This liquid sugar contains more amount of minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, manganese, and antioxidants than honey. Maple syrup contains oligosaccharides — a type of carb formed by several simple sugars. This carb is likely responsible for the lowered plasma glucose concentrations in many mice experiments. Additionally, some studies have shown that oligosaccharides are beneficial for type 1 diabetes, but much research remains to be conducted to confirm these benefits.

To conclude:

Sugar substitues can be used to decrease the total sugar intake each day, but they are not a magical tool that will help solve every problem. What's more, some people may be sensitive to certain sugar substitutes which may cause some discomfort in the gut if these sugar substitues are consumed in excess amounts. So, when thinking to limit your sugar, don't heavily lean on sugar substitutes, or normal sugar, and instead try to eat more whole foods, fruits, and dark chocolates to curve your sugar-cravings.

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