Dear Dr. Levister: I’m looking for an alternative to sugar. Are some sweeteners better for you than others? P.S.
Dear P.S.: Confused about sugar substitutes? You’re not alone. If you’ve wandered into a grocery store lately, you might have noticed that the selection of sweeteners seems to have multiplied. Powders, syrups, and liquids with exotic-sounding names catch your eye, each claiming to be tastier, healthier, or more environmentally-friendly than plain old table sugar.
Two hundred years ago the average sugar consumption per person per year was about 15 pounds. Since that time the average sugar consumption has skyrocketed to over 150 pounds of sugar per person per year. Is it any wonder that millions of Americans especially children are now stricken with diseases such as diabetes?
The safest choices of sweeteners in my opinion are what nature provides. A natural sweetener, by definition, is a sweetener in which the nutrients present in the sweetener’s natural state have not been removed, or in which those nutrients have been concentrated further by dehydration or boiling. Fresh fruit in season, raw honey from local bee keepers, maple syrup, date, coconut or palm sugar and raw cane sugar or rapadura are acceptable choices. Of all of those I just mentioned honey is the most digestible and contains healthy enzymes, so long as it is raw.
Some of my long- term patients prefer Stevia. This is an option if you can tolerate its taste, so long as it too is not processed. Stevia should be green in color if it is purchased in powder form.
Additionally, one can grow a stevia plant and use the leaves to sweeten tea. Avoid unnatural sweeteners that are high in fructose or have been altered in an unhealthy way from a natural state.
The bottom line is that sugar is sugar. Too much sugar—whether it’s marketed as “natural” or not—can harm your health. Even sweeteners touted as natural or nutritious don’t typically add a significant source of vitamins or minerals to your diet. But in moderation, there’s nothing wrong with the sweetness that a little sugar adds to life. So if you’re going to eat it, eat the good stuff...just not too much of it.