15 January 2009

How sweet it is: The Skinny on Low Glycemic Sweeteners

The market for alternative sweeteners has started blossoming into quite the selection - no longer are consumers tied down to shopping at obscure health food stores or sending away bulk orders to specialty shops to find alternative ingredients, now super markets and even corner stores are following the trend which is shifting toward using natural whole ingredients.

While our quest for natural ingredients may have started as a trend, it may --- as a result of decades of digesting over processed, convenience type foods that saturate the market and whose establishments flood food courts and tend to cluster urban sprawl --- be a necessity to help reverse the ill-effects we have brought on ourselves through poor food choices.

There are many reasons to want an alternative sweetener, some include lifestyle choices - from Vegans who want to avoid bleached all-purpose sugar that may be processed using animal bones, to Raw Foodists who believe that all food they consume should be in the closest state to nature as possible (i.e minimally processed through heating), to those who are required to follow restricted diets such as those who suffer from Celiac Disease, or those who are diabeticsW. There is a great pdf document that you can download that touches on both Celiac Disease and Diabetes - outlining the connection between the two diseases and foods you consume.

In this post I want to concentrate on sweeteners that are suitable for diabetics. Those sweeteners that are low-glycemic. I will show some examples of each category of low glycemic sweeteners: unrefined, sugar alcohol, artificial, and herbal sweeteners.

There are many choices for alternative sweeteners. Natural, unrefined low-glycemic alternatives include:
  • Brown Rice SyrupW, which comes in different grades and gluten-free versions. It is normally used in cooking or baking ,by substituting a ratio of 1 1/4 times BRS to 1 amount of honey, molasses, or all-purpose (refined) sugar called for in a recipe [if using BRS to substitute for AP sugar - reduce liquids in your recipe by 1/4 cup for every cup of BRS used]. The main component of BRS is maltose and several complex carbohydrates - which are absorbed very slowly by our bodies, making it a good low glycemic W choice.
  • Agave NectarW or Agave Syrup, is produced commercially in Mexico. Juice is expressed from the core of the agave, called the piña.[1] The juice is filtered, then heated, to hydrolyze carbohydrates into sugars. Sources I have read say: "It is not manufactured from starch, but rather from fructans. [6] Due to its fructose content and the fact that the glycemic index only measures glucose levels, agave syrup is notable in that its glycemic index and glycemic load are lower than many other natural sweeteners on the market. [5] When using Agave, substitute 25% less for sweeteners called for in a recipe (ratio of 3/4 Agave to 1 cup refined sugar or other sweeteners), you will need to reduce your liquids by as much as 1/3. If using for baking make sure to reduce your oven temp by 25 F°.
Other low-glycemic Sweeteners options consist of Sugar derived alcohols such as:
There are many more sugar alcohol alternatives. Most are great because they actually prevent tooth decay, and they can be used in producing hard candies and confections. (seen allot in dental offices) The downside to these sweeteners is after a certain amount is eaten - it produces a laxative effect.

Another option and maybe the most well known category of low-glycemic sweeteners are those that are artificial. These artificial sweeteners have been largely used in commercialized products.
  • SplendaW , a.k.a Sucralose is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar),[4] twice as sweet as saccharin, and four times as sweet as aspartame and can be found in 4,500 products. Unlike aspartame, it is stable under heat and over a broad range of pH conditions and can be used in baking or in products that require a longer shelf life.
  • AspartameW This sweetener is marketed under a number of trademark names, including Equal, NutraSweet, and Canderel, and is an ingredient of approximately 6,000 consumer foods and beverages sold worldwide. It is commonly used in diet soft drinks, and is provided as a table condiment in some countries. However, aspartame is not always suitable for baking because it often breaks down when heated and loses much of its sweetness.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding artificial sweeteners. and the safety of longterm ingesting. For those who cannot have sugar otherwise, these artificial sweeteners bring hope. Artificial sweeteners tend to have an unwanted aftertaste after ingested, and like Sugar Alcohol based sweeteners , they too have a laxative effect if eaten in large quantities.

The last category of low-glycemic sweeteners are herbal based. These sweeteners generally come from the parts of different herb families:
  • SteviaW The species Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni, commonly known as sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, is widely grown for its sweet leaves. As a sugar substitute, stevia's taste has a slower onset and longer duration than that of sugar. With its extracts having up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar, stevia has garnered attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar food alternatives.
People have told me there is a learning curve with Stevia - you have to acclimate your tastebuds to the actual taste of stevia - it is sweet, but the ratio needs to be just right or you find a bitter after taste.

Recently the Food and Drug Administration (a.k.a FDA) approved 2 Stevia derived sweeteners, a first for the United States. One of the approved sweeteners Truvia, was developed by Cargil and The Coca-cola company.

Beverage brands such as Odwalla and Sprite's New "Green" line of sodas, all are planning to feature Truvia as the main sweetener in their products geared toward eco-friendly and diet soda buying consumers.

I got a chance to try Truvia. I was pretty interested because of what people had told me about Stevia, and that made it a challenge, plus the approval of this sweetener is pretty huge in the world of herbal ingredients.

Truvia comes in packets, much like Sweet 'n' Low, or regular table sugar you find at restaurants. Each packet is equal to 2 teaspoons of regular all purpose sugar. Truvia is also a Certified Kosher ingredient.

In the realm of eco-friendliness - The box and packets themselves are all recyclable paper and printed with Soy ink (big bonus there).

I tasted a few grains of Truvia by themselves, and noticed a very light vanilla note, and hints of tapioca. The aroma of Truvia is also similair to tapiocca custard. The look and texture is similair to fine sugar used in professional bakeries. I got a slight tingling, almost effervescence like sensation on my tongue once I tasted the Truvia grains.

Truvia did not pass my "coffee" test. I added it to my normal brewed coffee w/ half 'n' half and got a definite bitter aftertaste, similair to that of Dandelion greens. I would say that the ratio of one packet may be adjusted according to personal taste - I would use much less.

But maybe I need to acclimate my taste buds slowly to get used to the taste of Truvia in my coffee? I consider my morning coffee a sacred practice and I think I am not yet ready to change it. My favorite alternative to sugar in coffee is Agave Nectar - this stuff is great, I prefer the light colored agave syrup, as this has the least amount of flavor profile between Light Agave syrup and Amber Agave syrup varieties. If you taste the light agave syrup on your finger, it is very similair to normal sugar in taste.

Truvia preformed well however in my baking tests. I looked through the recipes found on the Truvia website. Some of the recipes include:
I decided to try the Classic Cheesecake recipe. It was not that bad, the taste was not as different as I had expected - texture was slightly affected, not as firm as traditional cheesecake formulas, but overall if you were looking to cut out refined sugar and calories this version might be a good bet. This cheesecake recipe has 270 calories and 4 grams of sugar per serving as compared to regular cheesecake that has 310 calories and 20 grams of sugar per serving.

Overall I would say that Truvia is pretty pleasant to the palate when used in baking and is great when trying to use a natural low glycemic sugar substitute, similair to sugar in quality. The ratio of Truvia to sugar might need to be adjusted when substituting in recipes - but you can use a combination Truvia with Agave Syrup to cut the aftertaste of stevia, as they both are low-glycemic sweeteners.

You can visit the Truvia website for more info: http://truvia.com/index.html



2:45 PM, January 18, 2009 Reply  


Here's a study that looks at 500 other studies. Found it on pubmed.com. Read the headline and the last part.

***Aspartame: a safety evaluation based on current use levels, regulations, and toxicological and epidemiological studies.***

Magnuson BA, Burdock GA, Doull J, Kroes RM, Marsh GM, Pariza MW, Spencer PS, Waddell WJ, Walker R, Williams GM.

Burdock Group, Washington, DC, USA.

Aspartame is a methyl ester of a dipeptide used as a synthetic nonnutritive sweetener in over 90 countries worldwide in over 6000 products. The purpose of this investigation was to review the scientific literature on the absorption and metabolism, the current consumption levels worldwide, the toxicology, and recent epidemiological studies on aspartame. Current use levels of aspartame, even by high users in special subgroups, remains well below the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European Food Safety Authority established acceptable daily intake levels of 50 and 40 mg/kg bw/day, respectively. Consumption of large doses of aspartame in a single bolus dose will have an effect on some biochemical parameters, including plasma amino acid levels and brain neurotransmitter levels. The rise in plasma levels of phenylalanine and aspartic acid following administration of aspartame at doses less than or equal to 50 mg/kg bw do not exceed those observed postprandially. Acute, subacute and chronic toxicity studies with aspartame, and its decomposition products, conducted in mice, rats, hamsters and dogs have consistently found no adverse effect of aspartame with doses up to at least 4000 mg/kg bw/day. Critical review of all carcinogenicity studies conducted on aspartame found no credible evidence that aspartame is carcinogenic. The data from the extensive investigations into the possibility of neurotoxic effects of aspartame, in general, do not support the hypothesis that aspartame in the human diet will affect nervous system function, learning or behavior. Epidemiological studies on aspartame include several case-control studies and one well-conducted prospective epidemiological study with a large cohort, in which the consumption of aspartame was measured. ****The studies provide no evidence to support an association between aspartame and cancer in any tissue. The weight of existing evidence is that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a nonnutritive sweetener.****

12:51 AM, January 19, 2009 Reply  

Great post. Usefull information.

12:06 PM, January 19, 2009 Reply  

Wow! Really interesting info. For quite a while I was trying to find a sweetener that would be "sugar in taste" and finally gave up and still use sugar. Truvia sound as an ideal option for me as vanilla flavour won'e bother me at all and it's environmental soya ink... I love it! Thanks.

11:09 PM, January 19, 2009 Reply  

Hi, This is my 1st visit to your blog.Thank you for this advice That was very interesting and informative.Keep up the good work.

11:54 PM, January 21, 2009 Reply  

For me I'd rather use the all-natural sweeteners - extracts from fruits and must be organically grown. Quite choosy me? Because I find these artificial sugar unworthy or useless.

2:37 PM, January 22, 2009 Reply  

Hi everyone, thanks for your comments.

I saw this interesting blurb on todaysdietandnutrition.com

All Sweeteners Not Equal for People With Diabetes:

"Researchers from the University of Massachusetts and the University of San Paolo in Brazil have discovered that some sweeteners, such as date sugar and less refined dark brown sugars, may help manage type 2 diabetes and related complications. According to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, the researchers discovered that many such sweeteners are rich in antioxidants that may help control diabetes-related high blood pressure and heart disease. Several even may inhibit the action of alpha-glucosidase, an important enzyme related to type 2 diabetes."

This goes right along with my post. The ability to have a natural sweetener with heart & BP preventative side effects is a great bonus.

1:44 PM, January 27, 2009 Reply  

I can't begin to thank you enough for that info.

My partner has just been diagnosed as diabetic, and as a former chef I didn't really nknow where to start. I was hating the thought of having to discard all the dessert recipes that she loves so much,

Now it looks like I may be able to resurrect a few of them.

thanks again

2:38 PM, January 27, 2009 Reply  

Thanks for the comments Everyone.

@Cheap Posters: Thanks for copying the info from that study. It gives more balance to this discussion.

@Wenningstedt auf Sylt: I tend to agree. There have been allot of problems associated with synthetic foods. You should be choosy - it is your body & it is a choice to be educated & weary of what goes into it.

@Michael Eliades: You are welcome. I know how overwhelming it can be learning you are diabetic - during my 2nd pregnancy I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. I had to monitor my blood sugar with a meter and watch my sugar and carb intake. Luckily once I had my baby, my blood sugar levels came back to normal.

There is a lot of information on the web devoted to the diet for diabetics - do a google search for "low-glycemic", the worst things for blood sugar tend to be "bleached flours", white rices etc.Try to use more whole grain flours or search for alternatives to wheat flour - just make sure to ask a Registered Dietitian if what info you found is indeed the best fit for your partner.

I am glad you found this post helpful. As a former chef you may find it allot easier to substitute ingredients and re-work recipes than a home cook.

Good Luck!

2:35 PM, February 12, 2009 Reply  

I love the way they come out with something special and then they also give you ideas of how to use these syrups! Lovely....look at this for example, Crunchy Apple Cinnamon & Pear Salad..what a tasty idea!

12:01 PM, February 21, 2009 Reply  

I've had some good luck using Stevia as a sugar substitute. I mainly use it for non-baking. In my coffee, teas, etc. Anyone have any good cookie recipes?

11:29 AM, February 27, 2009 Reply  

Very Good post, thank you!

3:14 AM, March 05, 2009 Reply  

To our bodies, a sugar is a sugar. The only exception to this are the "sugar alcohols" like xylitol or sorbitol, which, though naturally-occurring (and in fact we create xylitol in our carbohydrate metabolism), are different kinds of sugars, five-carbon instead of 6, and are absorbed much more slowly than are the other, more well-known sugars. They are sugars, and therefore they do have calories, but not as many as the other sugars because we eliminate them before they are completely absorbed.

7:05 AM, March 20, 2009 Reply  

Thank you for posting this, it was really helpful for me! I especially want to try the brown rice suryp, which sounds really natural.

I love your blog, keep up the good work here..

11:25 AM, May 04, 2009 Reply  

Great and informative post! I've been looking for good info on sweeteners. I've been using Stevia but wanted to know what else was out there. Thanks!

10:17 AM, June 03, 2009 Reply  

i have a couple of relatives who are both diabetics so they use some of the sweeteners you mentioned here... i tried some of them but they just wouldn't agree with my taste buds...

3:43 AM, June 09, 2009 Reply  

Yes it very necessary to have a natural sweetener. Nowadays there are many sweeteners available in the market. The important thing is too choose a good and naturally sweet tasting sweetener. Many thanks to you for providing such an important information.

11:44 PM, June 11, 2009 Reply  

Yes very interseting it is...i have gone trough numerous of recipies but this one seems to be really a different one.It is very kind of you that you osted so many different posts and made your knowledge available for every one.

11:46 PM, June 15, 2009 Reply  

NIce and intesting post....but i am confusedabout one thing that, can dibetic people take this syrup. If is it so then it will really help you.

1:25 AM, June 17, 2009 Reply  

I love sweet stuffs and I went through your whole recipie i loved it that time. I am exitited that when ever i will taste it how amazing it would be.

2:41 PM, June 30, 2009 Reply  

i'm not a big fan of artificial sweeteners, to me nothing beats the sugar that i grew up using... but don't get me wrong, it's a great thing that these alternatives are much more 'available' to people who are diabetics and people who prefer using them..

4:52 AM, July 03, 2009 Reply  

Those artificial sweeteners scare me. Some look like there out of that book 1984 (the one with big brother). I would never use an artificial sweetener.

8:39 PM, July 14, 2009 Reply  

Useful post!I've been searching for Stevia.Now I know more about it by this post.Thanks!

10:43 AM, July 16, 2009 Reply  

Use fresh orange juse to sewwten the steamed, bioled or roasted rhubard-its good roasted actuallly it brings out the natural sweetness - then just squeeze on some juice and enjoy.

1:15 PM, July 20, 2009 Reply  

I've recently started using Splenda as an alternative sweetener, but it has a slightly different flavor from normal sugar. I was introduced to it by volunteering with an emergency services agency providing meals for the homeless. Dietary balance is extremely important and we try to keep the meal as healthy as possible.

This is very good information and I may experiment a bit to find a sweetener that fits my tastes.

2:15 AM, August 05, 2009 Reply  

Thank you for this sweet information.

8:58 AM, August 07, 2009 Reply  

I am tried truvia and is really excellent. I am diabetic and I got a lot of pounds two years ago so I have good reasons for truvia.

11:01 AM, August 15, 2009 Reply  

Thanks for the small write up on the Agave which I'm starting to see much more often here in San Diego. Baking with it seems like it may be a bit of a challenge moving forward because of the changes in recipes.....especially because I'm not Julia Child!

1:59 PM, September 14, 2009 Reply  

yup, thanks for this great article... i learned a lot on preparing sweetener that could not induced diabetes. this would really a big help!

5:55 AM, October 06, 2009 Reply  

im not sure what kind of sweeteners are now on the market, but i remember, that my mother have been taking some, which, later, have been withdrawn from the shelfs, due to the affect on the body

9:23 AM, October 06, 2009 Reply  

Thank you for post ;)

9:36 AM, October 08, 2009 Reply  

I've had some good luck using Stevia as a sugar substitute. I mainly use it for non-baking. In my coffee, teas, etc. Anyone have any good cookie recipes?

12:33 PM, October 17, 2009 Reply  

I have heard about sweeteners before but I really don't like any sweets. I mean whatever sweets I take comes from chocolates or cakes so I don't have any option and otherwise for my tea needs, I don't use sugar with it. I try to take less sugar but would prefer honey over any other artificial sweetener.

3:48 AM, October 21, 2009 Reply  

I had NO idea there were so many options! The only one I've tried is agave nectar.


10:51 AM, November 02, 2009 Reply  

Most articles I read talk about Splenda being the leader in artificial sweetener category, however I have also been directed to articles that indicate that the long term effect of splenda is not positive and that long term users have come across issues...such as memory loss as an example.

2:11 AM, November 16, 2009 Reply  

The main point of such type of food - it is a healthy one. May be it is not that tasty or sweet as analogues - but at least it doesn't harm health ;)

7:45 PM, November 28, 2009 Reply  

thanks for the information,thats a great read for me

8:28 PM, December 03, 2009 Reply  

Nice post.I like sweeteners very much and i cwill try using them.Thanks for sharing the article.

4:19 AM, December 16, 2009 Reply  

Amazing Post! You wil be a big help to others like me! :)

7:23 PM, December 26, 2009 Reply  

Diabetes is a very common disease among peoples. Thanks to the modern science that we have now got several alternative sweetener products. You have shown a variety of sweetening products, I can choose one that is comfortable for me.

2:37 PM, December 27, 2009 Reply  

it's very very good article ;) very thanks ;)

12:53 AM, January 28, 2010 Reply  

I read talk about Splenda being the leader in artificial sweetener category, however I have also been directed to articles that indicate that the long term effect of splenda is not positive. thanks..

3:39 AM, January 29, 2010 Reply  

The brown rice syrup and agave nectar are great options that satisfy cravings while not sending you on a rollercoaster for the rest of the day!


10:10 PM, February 14, 2010 Reply  

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful for me.

8:24 AM, February 19, 2010 Reply  

It's great that there are alternatives but I think that you should also be careful about what kind of sweetener you are eating.

5:07 AM, March 07, 2010 Reply  

I think, Stevia is a good substitute for sugar, one of my best friend just being diagnose with diabetic and he is sick worried about his diet now, so I stumble across this article while searching for an alternative and now I am much relieved to find such a good alternative of sugar for him. Cheers.

7:46 AM, March 11, 2010 Reply  

I'm deabetic. Your article was very usefull for me. thanks a lot.

12:00 AM, April 21, 2010 Reply  

Hey, that is a great post. Thank you so much for these.

10:07 AM, May 05, 2010 Reply  

I LOVE sugar, and for healthreasons i can not eat sugar anymore. First , i would like to say that all the substitudes, do not taste like ' the real thing ' sencond : they give you diarea.
I live in Belgium, and in America, the supermarkets are filled with good sugarfree produkts. Here in belgium there are almost no sugarfree produkts

2:43 PM, May 07, 2010 Reply  

What about honey!?!?! Honey is certainly not as low on the glycemic index as some of the other sweeteners you mentioned but it is certainly more natural, and more easily digested than some of them. Not to mention honey is a GREAT sugar substitute for baking! Here is a site that has some great tips for baking with honey and some free honey recipes. www.besthoneysite.com

12:45 AM, May 16, 2010 Reply  

I cant eat sugar like I used to. I have a diabetic pump that gives me insulin all day long. I do enjoy artificial sweetener though.

9:22 PM, June 28, 2010 Reply  

That's great.Keep good job for your post.Thanks for share.

4:15 AM, July 24, 2010 Reply  

I like sugar very much. Chocolates are my passion. Friends call me sugar boy.

2:18 AM, July 30, 2010 Reply  

I do like sugar like all of you but i can't eat to much of it anymore. I think that honey can be a good substitute product and natural.

5:41 PM, August 05, 2010 Reply  

Our family loves the agave necter. I tried it to try to break my Splenda habit and it is pretty good.

10:39 PM, August 18, 2010 Reply  

Nice healthy post :) Cheers!

7:44 AM, October 11, 2010 Reply  

Almost everyone in our family have diabetes and these artificial sweeteners put sunshine to our day. It's nice to see so many products catering specifically to people who are deprived of "sweetness".

10:02 PM, October 12, 2010 Reply  

Excellent review. Specially what you told about sugar and diabetes.

11:50 AM, October 22, 2010 Reply  

Thanks for the post! It's a great help for me.

2:29 PM, November 11, 2010 Reply  

Some chefs are already starting to make candy bars with stevia instead of sugar. It will only be a short time before major companies like Mars will be using sugar free options in their candies! yum or gross?

4:30 AM, November 17, 2010 Reply  

Truvia is supposed to be a good one but I also agree that not all sweeteners are good for diabetics. The problem is that you start giving these sweeteners to diabetics saying that normal sugar is harmful and when you discover that these artificial sweetener could be harmful too, what do you say to the patient in your house and what alternative do you have for them now?

8:47 AM, February 01, 2011 Reply  

Interesting post, although it would have been good to hear what you personally think of artificial sweeteners compared to more natural ones. Personally, once I heard that there were natural alternatives, I started to encourage all my friends to use those, as the man-made stuff is full of stuff that isn't good for your body.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

9:39 AM, March 30, 2011 Reply  

I stopped using Splenda as it was giving me migraines. Since then I've been using stevia and love it. I haven't baked with it, but I do use it as a sweetener in things like mojitos.

9:54 PM, March 30, 2011 Reply  

Thanks for sharing that post. I suggest you limit your intake of sweets because they might affect your health in general.

4:02 AM, June 02, 2011 Reply  

thanks for introducing these products with me ,before this i am not aware of some products you mentioned

8:14 PM, June 19, 2011 Reply  

it is niche blog and this article is helpfull for somebody have diabetes problem

4:53 AM, July 14, 2011 Reply  

Good post, the Aspartam you mentioned above, I don't use it anymore due to health issues .... prefer Stevia.

12:13 AM, August 25, 2011 Reply  

I suggest you limit your intake of sweets because they might affect your health in general.

10:48 PM, November 29, 2011 Reply  

There are some interesting points in time in this article but I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There is some validity but I will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we want more! Added to FeedBurner as well

6:13 PM, January 12, 2012 Reply  

Cool post, thanks for putting the time into this. I was unfamiliar with Stevia and appreciate the information.

10:46 PM, January 19, 2012 Reply  

I recommend Stevia to everyone I know. It's a much healthier choice in my opinion than processed artificial sweeteners. I stayed away from those poison a long time ago after reading this: http://www.mercola.com/Downloads/bonus/aspartame/report.aspx

10:17 AM, January 24, 2012 Reply  

Interesting things always good to read I generally search over Google and read good blogs I really liked your blog. Thanks for sharing it here.

12:28 PM, February 19, 2012 Reply  

Now this is an awesome resource on low glycemic sweeteners.

Actually even being petite a person can still have diabetes or a high glycemic rate if they have genetic predisposition. By using those kind of low glycemic sweeteners those individuals can not only avoid diabetes but they will decrease the amount of any extra calories they may ingest, thus decreasing the risk of being obese.

I already knew aspartame, but that Agave Nectar really seems promising. I'll try it out if I find where to buy it!

5:25 PM, February 26, 2012 Reply  

From my personal point of view, I try not to use any sugar or sugar substitutes at all. I would say, except baking , I only use honey, maple syrup or agave nectar. Growing up at beekeepers family, I am kind of addicted to honey. I think it is healthiest from all sugars you can get. It contains mainly fructose and glucose . It has lot of vitamins and antioxidants . It doesn't get any more natural than that.
Have a sweet day :)

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