We’ve assembled some plant-based sugar alternatives below, all of which contain more micro-nutrients than cane or beet sugar and, if organically grown, are free of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Although most refined sweeteners are, by definition, high-glycemic index foods (and eating them results in higher and more rapid increases in blood glucose levels than low-glycemic index foods), many of the sweeteners shown here rate 0 to 1 on the Glycemic Index, meaning they are safe for diabetics and others with blood sugar imbalances.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, naturally occurring in many foods and even produced in small amounts within the body. It has 40% fewer calories than table sugar and an almost non-existent Glycemic Index. With a very similar taste and appearance to table sugar and no aftertaste, Xylitol is an excellent all around sweetening choice. Look for Xlear’s Xylosweet sugar substitute to match sugar-sweetness with 40% fewer calories and zero net carbs.
Need to avoid affecting your blood sugar entirely? Stevia may be the answer! Extracted from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana, “stevia” is actually a sweet tasting fiber, instead of a “sugar.” The best tasting Stevia products use other ingredients to balance the natural intensity of stevia.
Sweet Leaf Stevia products are a perfect way to incorporate zero-calorie, zero-carbohydrate, and zero glycemic response sweetness where and whenever you need it. Keep some convenient packets in your car, purse or backpack. You can even use their flavored Sweet Drops to add the right mix of sweetness and flavor to food or beverages. Their Vanilla Crème flavor rightfully won the Best Taste Award from the World Stevia Organization in 2013! Tip: Add some Root Beer flavored Sweet Drops to sparkling water for a fizzy no-cal soda substitute.
Both brown rice syrup and malted barley are the products of fermented grains. The starches originally present in the grains are turned into sugars by the fermenting bacteria. Both sweeteners will have a significant effect on blood glucose levels, but do provide valuable nutrition that table sugar cannot. Both can be substituted for sugar in baking and manufacturers often include specific instructions for doing so. Look for Aunt Patty’s Malted Barley Extract and Lundberg’s Sweet Dreams Organic Brown Rice Syrup.
Unrefined Organic Coconut Sugar from Big Tree Farms delivers a handy dose of extra nutrients and clocks in with a slightly lower glycemic index than table sugar due to its inulin fiber content. Its flavor is similar to brown sugar and can be used as a 1:1 as a replacement for sugar in baking because of its low melt and high burn points. Added bonus: it’s Certified Fair Trade and GMO-free!
Lacuma powder comes from the natively Peruvian fruit Pouteria lucuma. With a subtle, maple-esque flavor, Lucuma surpasses many other sweeteners with its nutrient content, providing protein, minerals, fiber, beta-carotene, iron and fiber. Look for Bright Earth Lacuma Powder Marlene’s.
The Ojio Company offers a rich collection of high quality products from the most nutrient-dense growing conditions in the world. Ojio Yacon Syrup delivers half the calories of sugar with a dark amber color and honey molasses flavor. It produces a low glycemic response due to its prebiotic FOS content, making it a great option for those concerned about blood sugar levels. Look for Ojio’s Raw Organic Agave Syrup, too. Made from the blue agave plant, even a small serving adds a lot of sweetness.
* Fructose Dangers
Because it is not used directly as energy, fructose is usually rapidly stored as fat. Prolonged high-levels of fructose consumption are directly linked to many health disorders including obesity, type 2 diabetes and even liver disease.
Alternative Sweeteners and the Glycemic Index
The Glycemic Index rates foods on their ability to raise blood glucose (blood sugar) on a scale from 0-100. Pure glucose produces the highest rating on the GI index scale, therefore it is set at 100. This glucose rating of 100 is the standard which foods are measured against.
Most whole foods fall below 100, although potatoes and white rice have an index of over 100, as these starches are considered extremely high glycemic.
Foods that raise blood sugar are foods that contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can be defined as starches that break down into sugar in the blood stream. This sugar is called “blood glucose.”
Sugar doesn’t necessarily mean granulated cane sugar. Sugars can come from lactose, which is a milk sugar, fructose,* the naturally occurring sugar in the fruit.
Corn is one of the biggest offenders for a low glycemic index diet, and should be avoided in all its forms. High fructose corn syrup is considered low glycemic, but because of the way it’s processed, and because most conventionally-grown corn contains Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), it is very dangerous to consume. Learn more about the Glycemic Index here.