The Best Sugar Substitute for Diabetes


For people with diabetes, there always seems to be some kind of occasion that pops up---holidays, birthdays, special occasions. All involving sweet sugary treats!

Unfortunately, for anyone with diabetes, managing glucose levels is essential in controlling spikes and repercussions that come with living with diabetes. Thankfully there are awesome ways to go about still enjoying life. Sugar substitutes are widely popular and beneficial in keeping food sweet but with low calories and low carbohydrates (depending on the substitute). 

image of stevia herb

There can be pros and cons depending on the sugar substitute. Factors like whether it sparks blood sugar, how it can be used in cooking or baking as a sugar substitute, whether it's an artificial or natural sweetener. All of these factors are important, but as a diabetic, the most important one is whether it affects blood glucose levels as you read the article, a list of sugar substitutions that do NOT affect blood sugar levels and a list of substitutions that DO have been provided.

 

What are the best sugar substitutes for people with diabetes?

 

The most common sugar substitutes are artificial sweeteners like Splenda and Stevia. Normally low in carbs and calories, these substitutes can add a sugary taste to foods and beverages. 

 

Here are some sugar substitutes that have been reviewed and recognized as safe by the FDA:

  1. Luo han guo (monk fruit)
  2. Sucralose (Splenda)
  3. Stevia
  4. Neotame (Newtame)
  5. Saccharin (Sweet'n low)
  6. Acesulfame-K (Sunett, Sweet One)
  7. Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal, Sugar Twin)
  8. Advantame

 

There have been studies done on artificial sweeteners, and they are still going to get an idea of the impact they have on glucose and insulin levels. From the studies, there has been a mishmash of results that vary between sweeteners. Unfortunately, a conclusion hasn't been found on whether sugar substitutes can aid in managing your blood sugar. Just like anything in life, studies have concluded that moderation is key concerning these substitutes.  

sugar free ironically written in sugar

Types of sweeteners

 

There are different types of sweeteners that are commonly used to replace sugar, mainly to replace calories or carbohydrates while still containing the sweetness factor. 

Artificial and natural sweeteners are the most common replacements. Artificial sweeteners, like saccharin, sucralose, and neotame, cannot be broken down by the body, so therefore, they do not affect blood glucose levels---perfect for people with diabetes! Natural sweeteners such as Stevia, derived from plants, also allow diabetics to enjoy a sweet sugary taste without causing spikes in blood sugar! 

Natural sweeteners

 

For those that want to stay with the more natural course of sweetener usage, here are some options for you!

  1. Tagatose
    • Manufactured from the lactose in dairy products 
    • It is on the FDA's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list.
    • Early findings show that this sweetener may help lower glucose levels and could even be used as an anti-obesity and anti-diabetes medication!
  1. Stevia
    • Made from stevia plant's leaves
    • It can boost people's glucose tolerance!
    • Make sure to do your research---there are many different brands of stevia blends out there, and some can raise your glucose levels.
  1. Monk Fruit
    • A super popular sugar substitute made from fruit
    • Contains no calories or carbohydrates
  1. Date Sugar
    • Contains one-third fewer calories than "normal" sugar
    • Another sugar substitute made from a fruit
  1. Fresh fruit
    • If you're trying to keep your food choices as natural as possible, try adding fresh fruit to your meals! 

Artificial sweeteners

 

Artificial sweeteners are usually free of calories while still containing a sweet sugary taste. Some are even sweeter than sugar itself!

Like with anything in life, artificial sweeteners should be consumed in moderation. Dr. Lustig, a leading specialist in pediatric hormone disorders, states, "It's not about the calories….It has nothing to do with the calories. It's a poison by itself.". He also goes on to state that "sugar should be thought of like cigarettes and alcohol, as something that's killing us". 

 

Natural & artificial sweeteners that won't affect blood sugar

 

There are sugar substitutes that are recommended to people with diabetes because they specifically do not affect blood sugar. Some sugar substitutions can cause spikes in blood sugar and cause the body to produce less insulin. 

Here are some safe sugar substitutes:

  1. Stevia
    • Low in calories
    • Retains flavor when heated
    • An ideal sweetener for baking and hot drinks
    • Made from Stevia (the plant), the leaves are collected and processed into fine crystals.
  1. Monk Fruit Extract
    • Naturally contains mogrosides, an antioxidant that provides the sweet taste of this sugar substitute
    • Researchers have discovered a method of extracting this antioxidant to keep this food sugar-free with no calories or carbohydrates.
  1. Erythritol
    • Sugar alcohol derived from the fermentation of cornstarch or wheat
    • low calorie option (contains almost no calories!)
    • Will not raise your blood sugar
    • Warning-
      • Sugar alcohols can upset your stomach, so make sure to start out with small amounts. If any discomfort arises, stop consuming this product.
  1. Fresh fruit
    • Easy to find and access at your local grocery store
    • Contains fiber that helps slow down sugar absorption, reducing their impact on your blood sugar levels
    • Popular substitutes like applesauce, date paste, and mashed bananas can easily replace sugar in baked good recipes!
    • Do not misconstrue this into buying other foods such as fruit juices and dried fruits.
      • These foods are normally higher in sugar content and therefore should be limited or avoided.
  1. Aspartame
    • Also known as NutraSweet and Equal
    • According to the American Cancer Society, it is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and is not to be consumed by anyone with phenylketonuria disease (1).
    • It does not raise blood sugar
    • Calorie-free 
    • It is not recommended for usage in cooking or baking.
  1. Sucralose
    • Commonly known as the brand Splenda
    • Calorie-free and doesn't raise blood sugar
    • 600 times sweeter than table sugar
    • NOTE-
      • Can be tricky to bake with! 
  1. Allulose
    • It does not impact blood glucose
    • According to Allulose.org, "it has 90% fewer calories compared to sugar, is not known to cause gastrointestinal symptoms and is not quite as sweet as sugar" (3).
    • Pubmed study found no blood sugar impact when given to dogs (4).
    • Another study reported that it is "an ideal substitute of sucrose, with high sweetness and low calories." (5)
  1. Erythritol
    • Found in the brand Swerve
    • Pubchem states that it is two times sweeter than sucrose and "occurs widely in nature and has been found to occur naturally in seven foods including wine, beer, sake, watermelon, pear, grape, and soy sauce" (6).
    • In diabetics, Pubchem also stated that "erythritol has also been shown to be rapidly absorbed and excreted unchanged in the urine," so therefore has no discernable effect on blood glucose levels (6). 
  1. Kabocha or BochaSweet
    • Relatively new to the market, this sweetener comes from a type of pumpkin native to Japan.
    • Does not contain any calories
    • In a recent unsolicited review of this product, it was found that it does not cause gastrointestinal distress nor any effect on blood glucose (7).

 

Sugar substitutes that are not blood sugar friendly

 

Unfortunately, not all sugar substitutes are friendly for diabetics. Make sure to do your research and talk with your doctor before attempting to substitute sugar with any of the examples provided in this article. Some sugar substitutions can spike blood glucose levels or have an impact on your digestive tract.

 

For example:

  • Agave - While this substitute does have a low glycemic index (so it's less likely to cause spikes in blood glucose levels), it contains more calories than granulated sugar and higher fructose content.
  • Fructose - When compared to the sucrose in table sugar, this fructose can cause the body to produce less insulin. It, therefore, can put more strain on the liver as it breaks down the sugars.
  • Maltitol - A sugar alcohol that is sugar-free but contains carbohydrates that can affect blood glucose.It is also known to cause gastric distress, especially when consumed in large quantities
  • Sorbitol According to the PubChem Chemistry Database, "Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol found in fruits and plants with a diuretic, laxative and cathartic property" (2). As stated, it can be a laxative and raise blood sugar.

Best sugar substitutes for cooking and baking

Like any substitutes made in the kitchen, first and foremost, you need to make sure that you are properly coordinating the substitutes to equal, lesser, or higher value to prevent any failures that could result in--- too much or too little sweetness, lack of texture or consistency, drying out the food due to absorption qualities of the sugar substitute, etc. Listed below are some examples of how to substitute these ingredients.

 Sugar Substitutes Chart

  Sweetener 

 1 tsp. sugar 

 1 Tbsp. sugar 

 ¼ cup sugar 

 ⅓ cup sugar 

 ½ cup sugar 

 1 cup sugar 

 

  Truvia Spoonable 

 ½ tsp. 

 1 ¼ tsp. 

 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. 

 2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. 

 3 ½ Tbsp. 

 ⅓ + ½ Tbsp. 

 

  SweetLeaf Sweet Drops Liquid Sweetener 

 – 

 ⅛ tsp. 

 ½ tsp. 

 ⅔ tsp. 

 1 tsp. 

 2 tsp. 

 

  Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener 

 1 tsp. 

 1 Tbsp. 

 ¼ cup 

 ⅓ cup 

 ½ cup 

 1 cup 

 

  Erythritol (any brand) 

 1 ¼ tsp. 

 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. 

 ⅓ cup 

 ⅓ cup + 2 Tbsp. 

 ⅔ cup 

 1 ⅓ cup

Using the chart above, you can allocate the proper substitution and measurement for your baking and cooking!

But which ones are best for baking?

  • Fruit sugars
    • Like date sugar, can easily be used as substitutes in baking (and you'll find that there are plenty of recipes with these specific ingredients!). It will give your baked goods a touch of their signature flavors.
    • 1 cup of granulated sugar = 1 cup of fruit sugar
  • Pureed Fruit
    • Applesauce and mashed banana are popular substitutes in baked goods recipes to replace sugar. When using bananas, make sure to use the ripest ones you can find and blend or mash them before adding to your recipe.
    • 1 cup of granulated sugar = 1 cup of applesauce or mashed banana
  • Sucralose
    • This sweetener is heat stable and great for baking, cooking, and canning, especially since it's much sweeter than sugar.
  • Saccharin
    • While you can substitute this ingredient for all the sugar in a recipe, the SweetN Low website recommends keeping a portion of the sugar in a recipe to retain some of the volume and texture qualities.
  • Stevia
    • Although this replacement is suitable for baking, you can't replace the sugar cup for cup.
    • It's also best to leave about ¼ cup of sugar in the recipe to help provide texture.
    • You will also probably have to use a lower baking temperature and increase the baking time.

For cooking:

 

  • Monk fruit
    • This substitute is heat stable, so it can be used in cooking and baking.
    • They are commonly used for recipes that include sauces, dressings, and beverages.
    • When it comes to baked goods, the manufacturers, Monk Fruit in the Raw recommends substituting monk fruit extract for half the sugar in a recipe.
  • Sucralose
    • This sweetener is heat stable and great for baking, cooking, and canning, especially since its much sweeter than sugar.
  • Saccharin
    • While you can substitute this ingredient for all the sugar in a recipe, the SweetN Low website recommends keeping a portion of the sugar in a recipe to retain some of the volume and texture qualities.

 

 

Some of these may require trial and error. Don't forget to visit the manufacturer's website for cooking tips and ideas based on that specific sugar substitute. It'll help lessen chances of error while cooking and baking. Enjoy! 

 

Sources-

  1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/aspartame.html
  2. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/D-Sorbitol#section=Top
  3. https://allulose.org/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27452736
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S092422441630098X
  6. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/222285#section=Top
  7. https://www.diabetesdaily.com/blog/review-bocha-sweet-sugar-replacement-tastes-like-sugar-606286/