5 Healthy Alternatives to Sugar


Sugar, both processed and natural, is present in nearly all of the food we eat. Cutting back on sugar intake is essential to keeping our hearts and bodies healthy, but choosing sugar substitutes wisely can be an important aspect to overall health as well.

If you’re looking at reducing your sugar intake, a good place to start is learning about the glycemic index (GI) of many common sugar substitutes.

Glycemic index is a way nutritionists rank carbohydrates, using a scale from 0 to 100, based on the extent they raise blood sugar levels after eating. You’ll often see the phrase “glycemic load” present in rankings also. The glycemic load further clarifies the effect of a certain food on the body by multiplying the GI of a food by the number of net carbs per serving. It can be helpful in dieting because it gives you information about a whole serving of food.

Foods are given a glycemic index number from 1-100. The range is generally accepted as follows:

  • HIGH – greater than 70
  • MODERATE – between 56-69
  • LOW – less than 55

Ideally, you want to aim to eat foods with low glycemic index. These foods release a slow and steady supply of glucose into the bloodstream, unlike foods with a high glycemic index, which release a large and quick burst of glucose into your blood. Foods with high glycemic index, like candy or soda, create a vicious cycle of overeating. After you eat a high glycemic index food, your blood sugar spikes and drops rapidly, leaving you feeling hungry for more just a couple hours after you’ve eaten.

A comprehensive list of foods and their GI rating can be found on the Harvard Health site here.

Foods with a low glycemic index also have other health benefits. They’ve been shown to help control appetite and reduce insulin levels and insulin resistance. Recent studies from Harvard School of Public Health link the risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease to the “glycemic index of the overall diet.”

The World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization have recommended that “people in industrialised countries base their diets on low-GI foods in order to prevent the most common diseases of affluence, such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”

Does all this mean you can never eat candy and soda again? Not necessarily. It’s important to note that a mix of foods with both high and low GI levels can balance out the glucose release. It’s okay to splurge every once in a while.

If you’re looking to incorporate more low glycemic foods into your diet, consider these 6 natural sugar substitutes that have a minimal effect on blood sugar:


Stevia is from the plant, Stevia Rebaudiana, located in South America. It has no calories and is thought to help control blood pressure and blood sugar levels.


A sugar alcohol, xylitol has a GI of 7. It’s found in the fibers of fruits and vegetables and is often used in gum and some jams and jellies.

3. HONEY (unprocessed)

Raw honey has a GI of 30. It contains antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids and enzymes.


Barley malt syrup is made from soaking and sprouting barley to make malt and then cooking with more barley to form a sugar. It’s strained and dried into a powder and has a GI of 42.


Date sugar is not really sugar but dried dates, chopped up into small pieces, then ground. Dates are considered to have a low GI (30-50 depending on the type of date) and are high in fiber. It can be substituted for brown sugar.


These are just a few substitutes that you can choose from for baking, cooking, or having in your coffee.

Small changes in how we eat can make a big difference in our weight, our health, and our energy levels.  Be sure to read the labels on protein bars and smoothies – you might be surprised at the high amounts of sugar these products can contain. If possible, make your own smoothies, drink fresh fruit and vegetable juices without added sugars, and choose protein bars and snacks that are low in sugar, such as thinkThin.



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