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Sugar Substitutes 101

I get this question a lot, and it's one of my favorite topics: What Sugar Substitutes Should I Eat?

There is such a hierarchy when it comes to sugar substitutes, and there are SO MANY out there it can get dizzying. Here is a guide to choosing sugar substitutes for your diet.

The Worst

Be wary of things that say "low calorie". You may be saving on calories but paying the price when it comes to your health. Anything that has the ingredient sucralose or aspartame in it, I recommend avoiding at all costs. Both of these are known carcinogens, which means they are known to cause cancer. Why they're still available on our shelves is beyond me.


The sugar alcohols, like sorbitol, erythritol, xylitol, are also low calorie and they're shown to be safe in the long term. The only down fall to them is that they come with side effects. One of the reasons why they are so low calorie is because humans cannot absorb them. What happens when we eat things we can't absorb? Gas, bloating, and diarrhea! So be aware of how much you eat of these. A little bit usually is okay, but the whole sugar-free chocolate bar might not be fun the next day.

Bonus for Xylitol: it's been shown to prevent cavities, so gum with xylitol in it is a good bet!


The conversation about whether we should eat sugar at all could be a book in an of itself. For purposes here, I'm saying cane sugar is better than some non-sugar options. I have mixed feelings about agave and brown rice syrup (and so do researchers!). Agave is low glycemic index, meaning it doesn't spike your blood sugar, but it can cause insulin resistance (???). Both agave and brown rice syrup can cause fatty liver disease and raise cholesterol, but they're made from plants and 100% natural. Gah, the toss up!! Overall, I say avoid agave and brown rice syrup and use straight sugar or one of the higher options instead.


Stevia is a very popular sugar substitute, and while it's made from a plant, low calorie, and overall safe thus far, my only qualm with stevia is that it is so new on the market. It only became popular for use about 10-15 year ago, and there is very little research on it's long term effects. Same thing with monk fruit. It's so simple, low calorie, and low glycemic index, but there are no long-term studies on it at this time.

Sucanut and turbinado are less processed versions of cane sugar. Same calories, same plant, just less processing.

The Best

Nature knows best. While all of these options are high calorie and have high glycemic index, they cause significantly less inflammation in the body than regular cane sugar. Opting for these natural sweeteners also means that you avoid the Oreos, the gummy bears, the Lucky Charms, and sodas, which in turn leads to less risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. The more you choose to only eat the natural sweeteners, the less processed foods you'll consume.


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