Healthy Sugar Substitutes

Healthy Sugar Substitutes

There is a wide range of substances available on the market as sugar substitutes. For less aware customers, it is enough for the manufacturer to ensure, through colorful advertising on the packaging, that their product has a much lower calorie content than white sugar. But is that always true? Are we always reducing calorie intake when choosing a "light" product?

The three most popular substances used in food products are aspartame (E-951), acesulfame K (E-950), and saccharin (E-954), which is added to food most often in the form of sodium saccharin. These substances are found very often in the composition of "light" products. They are several times sweeter than sucrose - aspartame and acesulfame K have a sweetness about 200 times greater than sucrose, and saccharin is even 300-500 times sweeter. Furthermore, it has been proven that the sweetening power of these substances decreases with their concentration in the product, which is why manufacturers add them much less, making these ingredients practically calorie-free. However, there have been long-standing controversies surrounding the carcinogenic effect of these substances on the human body. It is already known today that excessive use of them can contribute to metabolic disorders, disruption of lipid metabolism, weight gain, and changes in natural intestinal microflora.

Xylitol seems to be a healthier solution. Xylitol is a sweetening substance belonging to polyols. It is often called birch sugar because it was originally obtained mainly from birch wood. It occurs naturally in plants, fruits, and vegetables, including plums, strawberries, cauliflower, as well as in mushrooms, and, attention, in our body. It has a low glycemic index, which means that, unlike traditional sugars, it does not cause sudden insulin spikes in the blood. In Europe, it is listed under the symbol E 967 as a food additive that is safe for use by both adults and children.

Choosing xylitol over sugar is worthwhile due to its lower caloric content and glycemic index. However, xylitol is not the only available sugar substitute: we also have options like maltitol, erythritol, and stevia.

Maltitol is an organic chemical compound from the group of polyols, consisting of glucose and sorbitol. It is obtained from natural raw materials and used as a substitute for sucrose. Due to its creamy consistency, it can also replace fats. Therefore, it is particularly used in the production of dietary sweets. Because polyols are of natural origin, no Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) index has been set for them, which means that consuming maltitol, even in relatively large amounts, does not pose a serious threat to human health. However, attention should be paid to the side effects that may occur after exceeding 20-40 g of sugar alcohols. Both xylitol and maltitol can cause diarrhea and increased gas production.

Stevia is a natural, low-calorie, and healthy sugar substitute. Among all the other sweeteners, whose effect on the body researchers still consider a significant issue, stevia can be called a healthy alternative. The advantage of stevia is its therapeutic property, particularly important for diabetics because it successfully lowers blood glucose levels and affects the reduction of glucagon levels (insulin antagonists). In addition to reducing blood glucose levels, stevia is equally effective in lowering blood pressure and does not contain phenylalanine - it can be consumed by people with phenylketonuria. It is also worth emphasizing that stevia is safe for everyone, including children and the elderly.

Erythritol belongs to natural sweeteners. It is less sweet than sucrose, providing about 60-70% of the perceived sweetness. Erythritol is virtually calorie-free (0.2 kcal/1g) because it does not undergo metabolic processes in the body. It gives a cooling sensation and helps maintain oral health. Consumed in moderate amounts, it does not cause digestive problems (excessive consumption may cause laxative effects). Erythritol prevents the development of cardiovascular diseases by reducing oxidative stress. Erythritol does not raise blood glucose levels, and its glycemic index is 0, so it can be consumed by people with diabetes. These benefits place erythritol as one of the basic sugar substitutes for people with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Source:
K. Patyk - Xylitol
A. Dolińska - Can sugar substitutes help us fight obesity?
M. Wilkowska - Maltitol E965
O. Marzoł - Stevia - something more than a sweetener
P. Biaduń - Healthy sugars - do they exist, where to find them?

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