To promote a long and prosperous life, our health should become more of a priority as we grow older, and sugar is often a topic of debate in the wellness world: Some experts recommend cutting it out completely, others think it’s fine in moderation. There is also another option in the debate: sugar alternatives.
Read on to learn more about how regular sugar affects your health, how to cut back on it, and what healthy substitutes are available for you to try.
Is Sugar Bad for You?
Because it occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates—including fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy—it’s difficult to prove that sugar is completely bad for you. The sugar in these foods helps supply your cells with a consistent stream of energy, which your body needs to function.
While sugar is a natural part of many foods, the common diet in America is filled with products with added sugar, such as soda, flavored yogurt, most cereal, and other processed foods. On average, adults consume 24 teaspoons of added sugar per day, which equates to about 384 calories.
Excess sugar in your diet can affect your health in a variety of ways, causing things such as:
- Higher blood pressure.
- Weight gain.
- Fatty liver disease.
Additionally, each of these health issues can lead to an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
How to Reduce Sugar in Your Diet
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that most women limit added sugar to no more than 100 calories per day (about six teaspoons or 24 grams) and that most men should aim for no more than 150 calories per day (about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams).
So, if you need to cut back on or limit added sugars in your diet, how do you do it? Try these tips:
- Cut back on sugary drinks like soda or fruit juice.
- Skip sugar-laden desserts.
- Read food labels to check for added sugar.
- Give up all high-sugar foods.
Completely cutting out sugar can be difficult, plus it’s not very fun—especially in our older years. Luckily, there’s another option: Start swapping regular sugar with healthy sugar alternatives and substitutes that still help sweeten your favorite foods.
Good Sugar Substitutes
Sugar substitutes are broken down into four different categories:
- Artificial Sweeteners: Often sweeter than regular sugar, artificial sweeteners are derived from naturally occurring substances—and they have almost no calories.
- Sugar Alcohols: Despite their name, sugar alcohols aren’t alcoholic, nor are they sweeter than sugar. They are, however, low in calories and typically made from certain fruits and vegetables.
- Novel Sweeteners: Novel sweeteners are harder to define because each is made differently, but they include ingredients from natural sources.
- Natural Sweeteners: Because they come from other natural items, natural sweeteners are seen as the healthier option for sugar substitutes.
Let’s look at some common sugar alternatives and see what you can add to your diet.
Made from coconut palm sap, coconut sugar looks similar in color to raw sugar, but its granules are smaller. This sugar substitute has nutrients that regular sugar doesn’t, including iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium; however, it does have almost the same calorie count as regular sugar, so keep that in mind when using it as a substitute.
Many people use honey as a sugar alternative because it is produced by nature and naturally sweeter than sugar, so you can use less of it. And while it does have slightly more calories per teaspoon, it does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly, making it a healthy substitute for regular sugar.
Rich in a variety of minerals and antioxidants, including calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc, maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees. When shopping for this sugar alternative, make sure you get the real thing and not maple-flavored syrup, which is filled with refined sugar and not a healthy option. Real maple syrup is also higher in calories than regular sugar, but with its stronger flavor, you can use less to get the same sweet taste.
Monk fruit sweetener is extracted from the monk fruit and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. An excellent, natural sugar substitute, it is around 100–250 times sweeter than regular sugar—and it has zero calories. Additionally, monk fruit sweetener contains antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties absent in normal sugar.
Due to being 100–300 times sweeter than table sugar without any carbohydrates, calories, or artificial ingredients, Stevia is one of the more popular sugar substitutes on the market. If you choose to use Stevia as a sugar replacement, be sure to buy it in powder or liquid form, as those are the only types approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Like Stevia, Splenda is one of the most—if not the most—popular sugar substitutes available. As an artificial sweetener, Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar, has fewer calories, and can be used in all the same ways as regular sugar.
Make Healthy Changes with Sugar Substitutes
Many sugar alternatives are better choices than regular sugar. Choosing any one of these substitutes can help you limit calories and may help decrease health risks—and with so many distinctive flavors and varying degrees of sweetness, you can try different kinds to find your favorite way to make healthier diet changes as you age.