In a recent conversation with a friend who has a family history of diabetes, she expressed concern that she may be pre-diabetic and that she really needs to cut down her sugar intake but she is afraid of chemical sugar substitutes.
This article is for her and anyone else who is diabetic or concerned about diabetes or looking for safe alternatives to sugar — that actually taste good.
I won’t go into the health problems associated with sugar. They are well documented and they apply to a lot more than diabetics or people trying to lose a few (or a lot of) pounds. And I won’t underscore the correlation of high sugar intake with occurrence of cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease because there is a lot of literature out there that already does that. If you are reading this article, I’m sure you already know that.
What I’m going to focus on are the SAFE sugar alternatives that have either no or extremely minimal affect on blood sugar. Essentially, that means sugar substitutes that have zero carbs and zero calories but that don’t have negative side-effects or known cancer risks.
And of course, in the ever SO FRENCHLY way, they also have to taste good.
So right off the bat, no, I’m not talking about any of those little pink packets or little blue packets of unpronounceable chemicals.
There are safe, naturally-occurring substances that work surprisingly great as sugar substitutes. And that taste good. I mean really good.
Here are the ones that I personally have found to be the best for specific uses. And at the end of the article, I am going to share the best packaged products at the best prices I have found. And note here please that these are not in order of preference. Our personal choice is found at the bottom of the article.
Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol. I know the name sounds like an artificial chemical, but it it’s not. Erythritol is actually is a naturally-derived substance that occurs in the normal fermentation process of fruit.
It has virtually no aftertaste and it has zero calories and zero carbohydrates. And it has zero impact on blood sugar — which of course helps make it a really great sugar substitute.
Erythritol cooks wonderfully and most people cannot tell the difference between it and sugar. It is safe and easy to use in cooking and at high temperatures.
It has only two tiny negatives, both of which are small and have little impact on most of us.
In large doses there are reports that Erythritol can cause mild gastrointestinal irritation. But I mean large doses. In my use, I’ve never experienced any gastrointestinal problems whatsoever with it. But I do know a couple of people who say it bothers them if they use too much of it. I think in both cases they have histories of “sensitive” colons, but nonetheless, it is something to be aware of and monitor in your own usage. For most people, however, Erythritol seems to have no unwanted side-effects.
In using Erythritol in recipes, you have to be aware that Erythritol it is hygroscopic. That means it does not attract moisture. So for desserts that require a crumbly consistency, it is great. But for desserts that need a smoother consistency, you might need to adjust your liquid up a bit if you are using pure Erythritol as a sugar substitute.
Many of my friends who are big-time cooks rank this as their favorite sugar substitute.
By far the best buy on pure Erythritol for baking is on Amazon. You can get Anthony’s Natural Erythritol Granulated Sweetener on Amazon for just under $4.50 a pound if you buy it in the 5-pound resealable bag. You can buy smaller quantities, but the savings of this size is significant. And it’s shelf stable.
Stevia has been on the American market for at least ten or fifteen years — much longer than the other sugar substitutes in this article.
You can grow Stevia in your backyard. I have grown it for several years now in my herb garden. And the leaves of the plant are indeed super sweet. All it takes is a tiny bite to confirm it. I mean super sweet. When distilled Stevia is 150 times sweeter than an equal amount of table sugar.
A big advantage is that you can grow your own and muddle it in a drink like you muddle mint leaves for a Mojito if you want to.
The only problem is, I personally don’t like the taste of Stevia. It’s sweet, but it also has an almost immediate aftertaste that I do not like at all. Some people either don’t notice it or don’t mind it. But I do. It’s still in my herb garden because it’s a cute little plant. But I’ve gradually been digging it up and giving it away to friends who don’t seem to mind the taste like I do.
Some of the aftertaste is eliminated when the Stevia leaf is commercially produced. Apparently it is dried, bleached in some manner, then ground into a fine powder to be sold either in bulk or in individual serving packets.
I have to admit, I have not read anywhere that commercial Stevia goes through a bleaching process. I suspect it has been bleached only because my dried Stevia leaves turn brown and commercial Stevia is white.
One advantage of Stevia is that it is readily available in most stores, is marketed under several dozen different brand names, and (probably because of it’s wide availability and length of time on the market) Stevia is the cheapest sugar substitute you can find in most grocery stores.
There is no evidence of any negative side-effects from Stevia. It has no calories or carbohydrates and no impact on blood sugar.
The only problem for me is that I can’t stand the taste of it. But a lot of people love it. And it’s cheap enough that it is easy to give it a try.
Almost all Stevia is mixed with something. You have to read the label very carefully to determine what it is mixed with because products are even mixed with table sugar to reduce caloric intake. But be aware commercial Stevia is mixed with almost a dozen different substances. Read the label.
The pure granlated Stevia most people seem to like is Stevia All-Purpose Natural Sweetener from Natural Mate. You can find it on Amazon for under $10 a pound.
But this pure processed Stevia is actually is a lot less expensive to use than the initial price makes it seem because the use ratio is 3:8. Nature Mate states on the container that for every 2 teaspoons of sugar a recipe calls for, you use 3/4 teaspoon of Stevia. We suspect Nature Mate states the conversion in this way because 3:8 is darn hard to measure in your kitchen. And frankly, even artfully stated on the container, 3:8 is still darn hard to measure in the kitchen.
Luo Han Guo — called Monk Fruit in English
The botanical name for Luo Han Guo (what we call Monk Fruit) is Siraitia Grosvenorii. It is native to southern regions of East Asia. First cultivated by Buddhist monks, the melon fruit from Luo Han Guo — or “the monks’ fruit” — is harvested and then dried. Originally used by the monks for medicinal teas and for ceremonial purposes, it is now farmed commercially in several areas of southeast Asia.
Monk Fruit contains no calories or carbohydrates but is 200 times sweeter than our usual table sugar.
It has no known side-effects and is recognized by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration as safe. It also has naturally-occurring antioxidants. Recent European research has shown it also may gently stimulate the body’s production of insulin.
Marketed as Monk Fruit Sweetener pretty much worldwide now, this stuff is remarkably sweet. In fact, it is so sweet (and so expensive in its pure form) that it is almost always blended with something else. And the key is to make sure you know what it is blended with.
I will not list the products that blend Monk Fruit with sucralose or other chemical compounds. I just urge you either to use the brands I list at the end of this article or inspect the ingredient label on any brand you are considering closely because not all Monk Fruit sweeteners are indeed safe. But that is due to what is mixed with the Monk Fruit, not because of the Monk Fruit itself.
It is difficult to find pure Monk Fruit sweetener on the American market. I have not been able to find pure Monk Fruit sweetener in any four-walls grocery store even though I have looked. But I have found two brands on online that are 100 percent Monk Fruit.
One is Natri Sweet’s All Natural Monk Fruit available on Amazon in a powder form. It comes with a scoop that equal one teaspoon of sugar. Just be aware that you have to use 48 of their scoopfuls to equal a cup of sugar. And the company specifically says you can’t bake with this alone. It needs to be mixed with either Erythritol or Stevia to give it the body needed for baking. I have to admit I have not attempted to cook with the pure Monk Fruit powder. I have just taken Natri Sweet’s advice as gospel and trusted it. Several people I know prefer to buy pure Monk Fruit and pure Erythritol and blend them together themselves for baking. But regardless, I like having access to the pure Monk Fruit powder. And as far as I can tell, it’s only fairly recently become available on Amazon.
The other all-Monk Fruit sweetener I have recently found is Monk Fruit Extract from It’s Just, also available on Amazon in a powder form. The It’s Just does not have a scoop measuring system like the Natri Sweet version, but the price is quite good comparatively. Just remember Monk Fruit is so sweet that for something like a cup of coffee, you just need a pinch of it. The conversion It’s Just says to use is 1/32 teaspoon of their Monk Fruit powder to equal the taste of 1 teaspoon of sugar. It seems to me that would be a huge pain in the kitchen. I think you would almost have to have a digital kitchen scale and convert recipes to weight instead of volume. To me that is another thing that makes the pure Monk Fruit inappropriate for baking.
Monk Fruit & Stevia Blend
This blend contains no calories or carbohydrates and has virtually no impact on blood levels.
I have never known anyone to experience gastrointestinal problems with sweetener that was a Monk Fruit-Stevia blend.
And certainly blending Stevia with Monk Fruit is a huge improvement over using pure Stevia — at least to my tastebuds. I have baked with this blend several times with good results and I have one Keto baker friend who says this blend is currently her favorite sweetening agent.
My “acid test” for a sweetener is a teaspoon in my coffee. I absolutely cannot force myself to drink the whole cup of coffee if the teaspoon is of Stevia. I can drink it if the teaspoon is Monk Fruit-Stevia blend. But I won’t. The coffee is better black to my taste than to have any amount of Stevia in it.
If you want to try Stevia, I would suggest starting with this blend because the Monk Fruit really elevates it and truly pulls a lot of the Stevia taste out of it.
I have to say I am very drawn to a little plant I can grown in my own yard. I keep wanting to like Stevia. I mean, what’s not to love, right? Turns out it really does revolve around taste. Safety of course first. But taste is vital. So taste it. See what you think.
I’m going to add a totally unscientific observation here and I would be curious about your feedback. I have noticed that people who don’t like the taste of Cilantro seem to not like the taste of Stevia. And conversely, the people I know who either love Cilantro or don’t mind it in food are the same people who seem to be fine with the taste of Stevia. So that may be a guide.
Of those on the market right now we prefer this Monk Fruit-Stevia Blend from Natri Sweet on Amazon for around $11. I need to point out two things, however.
First by weight it is expensive because this pouch only contains 4 ounces, so a full pound is closer to $44. But the second thing is this blend is four times sweeter than sugar so you do not replicate 1:1 with this. You use it 1:4. In other words you measure out 1/4 the amount of “sugar” that the recipe calls for if you recipe states ingredients by volume like most in the U.S. But if you are using an European recipe that measure by weight, this unequal ratio has to be considered in your baking if you convert from a recipe that calls for sugar.
Monk Fruit & Erythritol Blend
There are quite a few versions of blend of Monk Fruit and Erythritol blend on the American market nowadays. We have experimented with more than a dozen of them and the ones we like best are marketed by Milliard, Smart138, Namanna, HealthGarden, Microingredients, Anthony’s, and Lakanto.
Be aware that HealthGarden markets several versions of a Monk Fruit blend — one version is blended with Erythritol and one is blended with Stevia. So if you have a preference, be sure to read the labeling closely.
It is unclear to us, even after some fairly vigorous investigation, exactly what ratios are used and how much the ratios vary between the different distributors. All we can do it go on taste.
For our money, the two that rise to the top of the heap are Anthony’s and Lakanto.
You usually can find Anthony’s Erythritol & Monk Fruit Sweetener Classic Granulated on Amazon for under $10 in a 1-pound bag. Anthony’ s makes both a brown sugar version and a confectioner’s sugar version. You can find Anthony’s Erythritol & Monk Fruit Sweetener Golden Granulated on Amazon for around $11, and you can find Anthony’s Erythritol & Monk Fruit Sweetener Powder for about $12.
But we keep coming back to Lakanto Monk Fruit Classic Sweetener because we like it the best. Read on to the end of the article for more specifics of why and links to the three major Lakanto sugar replacement products.
ARE THERE ANY TO BE WARY OF?
A treatise and sugar and all of the chemical sweeteners is beyond what I am trying to do here. There is lots of information on the internet about chemical sweeteners.
But there are two specific sweetening agents I’m seeing on the market a lot right now that I want to point out. One because a friend has a personal tragedy with it. And the other because there is not a great deal of literature on it yet.
My first concern about this was raised when I got a list from the ASPCA of what common kitchen ingredients are poisonous to dogs. If you have a small dog and it happens to scarf up a muffin made with Xylitol, your dog is going to be poisoned and probably will die.
The is exactly what happened in my friend’s house. The ingestion by her dog was an accident. But her adorable little friend is dead nonetheless.
At the very least, be cautious if you use Xylitol.
You will find several commercial Monk Fruit blends that are blended with Allulose. Sometimes Allulose is marketed under the names of Psicose, d-Psicose, d-Allulose, or Pseudo-Fructose.
Although most commercially used Allulose is lab manufactured, Allulose can occur naturally in dried fruit, maple syrup, and brown sugar. It has low calories and does not affect immediate or discernible 24-hour blood glucose or insulin measurements.
But I would suggest steering away from anything with Allulose in it.
Although clinical trials have found a decrease in both obesity and fat when comparing Allulose to placebos, there have been some concerning findings in the trials. The main one is that those same studies each found found no differences in the markers linked with diabetes, including fasting blood glucose, glycateAd hemoglobin, blood glucose, and insulin levels between the allulose and placebo groups. They also found that Allulose use had little effect on the levels of fat in people’s blood. And further, researchers found that levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were unchanged in all groups.
These trial have been limited. But the initial findings do not bode well in my mind. Although there may not be clear and present danger with Allulose use in these limited studies, the wider health benefits of other sugar substitutes seem to be missing.
ALL THE ‘OSES
In general, if an ingredient ends in ‘ose,’ I steer clear of it.
SO WHICH SUGAR SUBSTITUTE IS THE BEST?
Our favorite everyday sugar substitute.
A Monk Fruit-Erythritol blend called Lakanto Organic Monk Fruit Sweetener.
Available on Amazon at around $16 a pound, it is both USDA-certified Organic and non-GMO certified. This is marketed as a “White Sugar replacement.” Amazon seems to have the best price on it, and although you may be able to find the Lakanto brand at your local grocer’s, it is difficult to find the organic version — the one in the light teal bag.
Honestly, in a direct taste test in our own kitchen, we could not tell which brownies were baked with sugar and which were baked with this. There was a slightly different taste, but we liked both batches of brownies equally…and could not discern which was baked with sugar and which was baked with this sugar substitute. The guesses were all guesses, and they were split down the middle.
If you are on a really tight budget or you don’t care about organic vs non-organic products, there is an alternative.
Lakanto makes several varieties of this sweetener, including this same blend that is not certified organic marketed under the name Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener Classic. You can get it for around $11 per pound on Amazon. This version in often available in your local grocery. The non-organic “Classic White” comes in a peachy red bag.
As noted earlier in this article, we like Anthony’s products a lot and Anthony’s makes the same three versions of sugar substitute that Lakanto makes. But we like Lakanto better.
We have tried a dozen other brands. They vary in price a little, though not a lot. But we always come back to Lakanto because there is absolutely no problem with granulation in what we bake. In some of the others, that is a problem in some of our recipes. Lakanto has never ceased to amaze.
But our absolute top-of-the-heap favorite sugar substitute isn’t that.
It’s Lakanto Monk Fruit Golden in the 28.22-oz bag.
The “Golden” is what Lakanto considers a “Raw Sugar Replacement.” It’s what I use when a recipe calls for brown sugar — with great results. And on the few days I want to sweeten my cup of coffee, this is the one I use because the taste is simply superb. I can’t really describe the difference between it and the other Lakanto sweeteners, but I prefer the taste of this one, even in cooking. However, even though it is non-GMO, it is not organic-certified.
In my cup of coffee “acid test,” Lakanto Golden is utterly superb.
It is sold in the same color of peachy red bag as the Classic White, so be sure to read the label carefully. They do make a clear distinction on the front of the bag in words, but the color of the bags are identical.
But I want to draw your attention to pricing the the Lakanto Golden. It a strange quirk, if you buy Lakanto Monk Fruit Golden in a 16-ounce bag, you will typically spend about for it, even on Amazon. So if you buy the 16-ounce bag, it runs pretty close to $20 a pound. But if you buy Lankanto Monk Fruit Golden in a 28.22-ounce bag on Amazon, you pay around $14 — or roughly $8 a pound.
I know that is backwards to the norm. Most items drop in price when you buy in greater volume. And the first time we saw it we thought it was a mistake. But has remained at those pricing levels for about six months since we first noticed it.
Since it is shelf stable, in our opinion the larger quantity of the Golden is by far the best buy.
What about confectioner’s sugar and powdered sugar substitutes?
Lakanto and several others provide an option in the finer powder. But we usually don’t purchase it. We simply take about half of a new bag (or whatever our container will hold) and whir it to a fine powder in our Vitamix. It doesn’t take a Vitamix — that’s just what we have in our kitchen. You can do the same thing with any high-speed blender. And that is exactly what the vendor does. Whether you buy the Classic White or the Confectioner’s versions, they have the same chemical makeup. Of course, you can wait to whir up the finer version until you need it if you want to. Just expect that it condenses some in the finer powder so you may have to measure out a larger volume than you expect if your recipe states the amount in volume rather than weight. By weight, both versions will be equal.
COMPARISON OF SUGAR SUBSTITUES
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