Did you know what October 1st marks the start of? Pumpkins on the porch? The time to pull out your Fall/Winter wardrobe? Yes and Yes, but it’s also baking season! With all those sweet treats tempting us, it’s time to talk sugar substitutes with our nutritionist Erica Haag. Erica is a busy wife, mother, nutritionist who lives in Evergreen, CO. 

Erica let us know up front that she’s not a big cheerleader for sugar substitutes. 

“Although sugar substitutes have fewer calories than sugar, it’s best to limit them and focus on healthy food choices.” 

But Erica, we really enjoy baking and it’s a way to show our love to friends and family so help us out here. Let’s talk specifically about honey, Swerve, Stevia and Monkfruit. 

Erica: “Swerve is a sugar alcohol: Erythritol, that also contains other oligosaccharides and natural flavors that are not named. Sugar alcohols, do not raise insulin, however, neither does fructose, which is not good for us.  There is very little research on the effect of sugar alcohols on diabetes, gut microbiome, etc. 

It seems like a good alternative to sugar, so far, but again, there is no research on it.  Like other sugar alcohols, it can cause gastrointestinal upset, bloating, gas, and diarrhea, but compared to others, it has the lowest side effects. It is not absorbed and is excreted in the urine. It is not clear to me that Swerve is better than plain erythritol, which is available for cooking in a variety of brands. 

Honey has a lower glycemic index value than sugar, meaning that it does not raise blood sugar levels as quickly. Honey is sweeter than sugar, so you may need less of it, but it does have slightly more calories per teaspoon so it’s wise to keep a close eye on your portion sizes. For diabetics, or those trying to manage their blood sugar levels, there is no real advantage to substituting sugar for honey as both will ultimately affect blood sugar levels.

One more thing, don’t even think about blue, yellow or pink. (For those not in the know she’s referring to Equal, Sweet and Low and Splenda) 

So, honey is not ideal. What should we use? 

Erica: “I’d say Stevia, Monkfruit and Swerve are the best options. These don’t affect glucose levels like others. Some people may react to Swerve because it has oligosaccharides in it, which people who are sensitive to FODMAPs will react to. 

What do you bake with in your kitchen? 

Erica: “It depends on what I am baking. Sometimes I use honey. I try not to bake often, so if I do, I honestly just use real sugar. I consider those things special treats and not to be eaten often. I think some people use sugar substitutes as an excuse to eat things that should be eaten sparingly. Sugar usually isn’t the only bad ingredient.

Many people who eat Paleo or Keto or whatever and they are consumed with figuring out how to get their sweets in with all of these sugar substitutes. Just because it’s made with a sugar substitute doesn’t mean it’s actually good for you (because of the other things with it). My thoughts have always leaned towards getting your ‘sweet’ from real foods like fruit. You can eat baked goods made with sugar, but it needs to be few and far between and in moderation as a special treat.

The Healthful Life MD team realizes that bakers gotta bake so you might as well understand your sugar substitutes. We work with each client, baker or not, to determine what food choices will get you to where you want to be. To begin a conversation about your wellness journey, call 720-336-5681.