We all know that sugar isn’t great for us. There are the common reasons that everyone is aware of, the impact on our teeth, weight gain, and energy crashes, but there are a few more concerning reasons why cutting down or cutting out sugar is a good idea. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago at 28, I knew finding some healthier alternatives was going to be necessary, so I set about finding out which were the best ones, both in terms of taste and effect on my body.
What’s So Bad About Sugar?
Cancer cells prefer anaerobic respiration (the creation of energy via the metabolism of glucose which does not require oxygen), rather than the aerobic respiration preferred by normal cells (the creation of energy using glucose and oxygen). Because cancer cells replicate so quickly and use anaerobic respiration, they need a lot more glucose than healthy cells do. There is a ton of research about cancer cells and sugar, and the negative effects of sugar in general, that are being discovered. In fact, one study on mice found that 50-58% of those who had been fed a sugar-enriched diet had developed mammary (breast) tumours compared to only 30% in the control group. Additionally, the average tumour weight was 50mg higher in the mice who had been fed more sugar, suggesting that sugar not only caused a quicker onset of the initial tumour growth but also increased the rate at which cancer cells replicated and tumours grew. (1)
Additionally, sugar can cause inflammation in the body, which can contribute to the development of cancer through effects such as sustained cell replication, increasing the levels of growth factors in the surrounding tissues, and causing changes in the surrounding cells. (2) And the negative effects of sugar keep cropping up. Sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG) is a glycoprotein produced by your liver. It binds to three different sex hormones in both men and women and carries them throughout your body: estrogen, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and testosterone. (3) It plays a major factor in whether they are protein-bound and not usable by your body or are in a free state where they can be picked up by hormone receptors. (4)
When there is too much sugar in your body, your liver converts it to lipid. A recent study found that an increase in lipid production actually shuts down the SHBG gene, therefore reducing the amount of SHBG that a person has in their bloodstream. If there is less SHBG protein, less testosterone and estrogen will be bound to these proteins because there won’t be as much SHBG for them to be bound to. What then occurs is an increase in sex hormones in a free state, meaning that there will be more hormones available to be absorbed by your cells. What that can lead to is estrogen or testosterone dominance and a whole host of issues such as infertility, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disease, among others. (4)
Here Are 4 Sugar Substitutes for Every Sugar Addict
It is hopefully clear by this point why you should eliminate processed sugar from your diet and limit other sugars like fructose. So, what is a poor sugar addict to do? Luckily, there are some pretty good substitutes out there!
Honey and Maple Syrup
These two are many people’s go-to for sugar replacement. They can be easily substituted for sugar in recipes, and they are both readily available. Not to mention, they are darn delicious! They also both have low glycemic indexes, meaning they won’t contribute as much to a blood sugar spike. They are, however, pretty high in fructose, and a high-fructose diet has its own set of health issues (5), so these are two that you will want to limit your intake of. If a recipe calls for a lot of sugar, you may want to combine honey or maple syrup with one of the other options I discuss here; that way, you will still get the deliciousness of these tasty goops but will cut down on the fructose level a bit. It would also be my advice to get organic maple syrup and wild, unpasteurized honey.
Of all the sugar substitutes, coconut sugar has got to be my favourite for baking. It tastes and looks very much like brown sugar, and it can be used one-to-one for sugar in recipes, making it much easier to bake with than any of the other sweeteners I discuss here. Coconut sugar is ranked as a low-glycemic sweetener just like honey and maple syrup, meaning it won’t cause the same crazy blood sugar spikes that standard sugar will. Coconut sugar, also like honey and maple syrup, is pretty high in fructose, however, one teaspoon has 4g of sugar. Although it is a much better choice than white sugar when it comes to your blood sugar levels and inflammation, it is definitely one that you want to limit as well.
Stevia comes from the stevia plant, a bright, leafy plant that is native to South America. A study found that stevia reduced post-meal levels of both glucose and insulin in participants, suggesting that stevia may help to regulate healthy glucose levels. (6) At the very least, stevia does not cause the rapid blood sugar spikes associated with processed sugar, and it is therefore a much better option when your sweet tooth starts making its presence known. Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, 10-15x sweeter in fact, so alterations need to be made when baking with it. (7) The only thing some people don’t like about stevia is the aftertaste. It does taste a little bit like aspartame, and this freaked me out at first, but it really is just the way the plant tastes and not a result of extreme processing. Be sure to get an organic stevia brand without harmful fillers; my go-to is Sweet Leaf.
Monk Fruit Sweetener
Native to China and Thailand, monk fruit is a small, greenish-brown fruit. When in powder form, monk fruit has a similar look and feel to stevia powder, fine and white. There is no sugar in monk fruit sweeteners, and, like stevia, it has a glycemic index of zero, meaning it will not affect blood sugar. (8) Just like stevia, monk fruit can have a bit of an aftertaste, but again, this is naturally occurring and not the result of processing. Monk fruit is even sweeter than stevia and manufacturers often mix it with other ingredients to cut this down. Like with stevia, look for a brand without harmful fillers. The safest mix-ins are often inulin fibre and silica.
The best choices when it comes to finding a sugar replacement are monk fruit sweeteners and stevia when they are organic and free from harmful fillers. They are somewhat difficult to bake with, however, and their aftertaste is off-putting to some people. I personally don’t mind the taste of either, and I use both of them most often for day-to-day use such as in coffee or tea. When it comes to baking, coconut sugar is my go-to, and honey and maple syrup make an appearance in my baking and other treats as well. These, however, are definitely for more limited use.
With these suggestions, it is my hope that you can seriously cut down if not eliminate your intake of processed, white sugar. The first couple of weeks might be hard, but I promise that it gets easier as sugar makes its way out of your system! And having some low-sugar or sugar-free options around will definitely make that transition easier.
- (1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4703949/
- (2) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sugar-and-inflammation
- (3) https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=167&ContentID=shbg_blood
- (4) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/11/071109171610.htm
- (5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16366738
- (6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2900484/
- (7) https://www.livestrong.com/article/283456-how-to-bake-with-stevia-instead-of-sugar/
- (8) https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322769.php
All information, content, and material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for the consultation, diagnosis, and/or medical treatment of a qualified physician or healthcare provider. The information supplied through or on this page, or by any representative or agent of The Wellness Universe, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical, legal, or other professional advice. Health-related information provided through this website is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to diagnose or treat health problems or to prescribe any medical devices or other remedies. The Wellness Universe reserves the right to remove, edit, move or close any content item for any reason, including, but not limited to, comments that are in violation of the laws and regulations formed pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. None of the posts and articles on The Wellness Universe page may be reprinted without express written permission.
The best books for your best life are The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care series. Each filled with 25 tools for your best well-being shared by doctors, therapists, and coaches who believe in holistic, natural ways to be your healthiest and happiest you!
Join The Wellness Universe Book Club to connect with authors, ask questions, engage in wonderful, inspiring conversation, and more. Free to join!