Sugar Alternatives

May 22, 2023 | Nutritional Information

Sugar alternatives are often used as a substitute for regular sugar in order to reduce overall sugar intake and improve health. With the recent increase in sugar alternative consumption, the question that arises is whether sugar alternatives are actually good for you or are they just tricking your brain.

Evidence shows that sugar causes many health problems such as obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dental cavities, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and cancer (1). It may also contribute to insulin resistance and impaired glucose tolerance, both of which have been linked to cognitive impairment (1). Sugar intake may also cause complications in pregnancy (1). Several strategies have been proposed to prevent these health issues by cutting back on sugar consumption and replacing it with alternatives (1). Some sugar alternatives are natural and some are synthetic—synthetic alternatives are referred to as artificial sweeteners.

The best sugar alternatives are naturally occurring sweeteners such as date palm, grape sugar, honey, sorghum, sugar cane, beetroot sugar, jaggery, and coconut sugar (1). Not only do these products have a high content of natural sugars, but they also contain many minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and various other healthy substances (1). Consumption of these natural sugar alternatives prevents one from the harmful effects of sugar while also providing additional health benefits (1).

Some Natural Sugar Alternatives and their Benefits:

Natual Alternative


Reported Health Benefits

Date Palm Dietary fiber, minerals, carotenoids, vitamins,
– ​​Rich in nutrients
– Promotes digestive health
– Boosts energy
– Anti-inflammatory properties
– Supports heart health
– Helps manage diabetes
– Supports bone health
– May have anticancer
Grape Sugar Flavonoids, fructose, pectin, proanthocyanidin – Provides quick energy
– Helps regulate blood sugar levels
– Supports brain function
– Enhances athletic performance
– May help with weight management
– Improves digestion
– Supports immune function
Honey Niacin, water, riboflavin, potassium, copper, trace amounts of vitamins – Rich in nutrients
– Aids in wound healing
– Supports digestive health
– May help with seasonal allergies
– Supports heart health
– May improve sleep
– May have anticancer properties
Sorghum Bioactive compounds, polyphenols – Rich in nutrients
– May help regulate blood sugar levels
– Supports digestive health
– May have anti-inflammatory properties
– Supports heart health
– May have anticancer properties
– May improve bone health
Sugar Cane Vitamin A, vitamin B complex, minerals – Rich in nutrients
– Boosts energy
– Supports liver health
– May improve digestion
– Anti-inflammatory properties
Beetroot Sugar Betalains, bioactive compounds – Rich in nutrients
– Lowers blood pressure
– Anti-inflammatory properties
– May improve athletic performance
– Supports liver health
Jaggery Vitamins, magnesium, calcium, zinc – Rich in nutrients
– Boosts immunity
– Supports digestion
– Anti-inflammatory properties
– May improve respiratory health
Coconut Sugar Iron, calcium, zinc and potassium, polyphenols,
– Low glycemic index
– Rich in nutrients
– May improve heart health
– Anti-inflammatory properties
– May improve digestion

Another type of sugar alternatives are non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS). These sweeteners can be artificially or naturally produced substances that have a higher sweetening capacity as compared to refined sugar, in addition to no caloric content (1). Monk fruit and stevia are two types of non-nutritive sweeteners (1). Monk fruit possesses antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and anti-obesity properties, among many other health benefits (1). Stevia is particularly helpful for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and dental cavities prevention (1).

The last type of sugar alternatives are artificial sweeteners. There are many artificial sweeteners available in the market, such as acesulfame K, advantame, aspartame, cyclamate, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, sorbitol, maltitol, and xylitol (1). Our brains and bodies react differently to artificial sweeteners, as compared to real sugar or natural sugar alternatives (2). Consuming sugar activates our brain’s reward pathways, which release chemicals (such as dopamine) that make us feel good, and this explains why people love consuming sugar (2). In the case of artificial sweeteners, our reward pathways are only partially activated as artificial sweeteners are sweet like sugar but they do not possess the calories that are required for energy (2). When reward pathways are not fully activated it can be harmful because our brains are being tricked into overeating in order to feel satisfied (2). So even though in theory the consumption of artificial sweeteners provides less pleasure to individuals, which should result in a decreased appetite, these individuals end up eating more and consuming higher-calorie foods than individuals who do not consume anything sweet or just consume real sugar (2). A research study has shown that artificial sweeteners may eventually increase our cravings for real sugar, whereas eliminating sugar and artificial sweeteners from one’s diet can reduce sugar cravings in as little as one week (2).

When an individual consumes sugar, it enters their bloodstream through the digestive system and raises their blood sugar levels (3). The job of the pancreas is to secrete hormones (such as insulin) into the bloodstream in order to regulate blood sugar levels (3). The pancreas functions like a factory that converts sugar into something that our bodies can utilize (3). In contrast to real sugar, artificial sweeteners do not raise blood sugar levels or insulin levels (3). As a result, the pancreas reacts to artificial sugars differently since they provide almost nothing for the pancreas to react to (3). Thus, using artificial sweeteners can result in abnormal pancreatic function and insulin levels, as well as changes in other metabolic processes, which may increase our risk of developing associated diseases like type 2 diabetes (3).

Every individual’s digestive system has microorganisms that help break down the food that we consume, collectively called the gut microbiota (3). The gut microbiota reacts differently to artificial sweeteners as compared to real sugar (3). The more artificial sweeteners that these microorganisms are exposed to, the less competent they become in breaking down real sugar (3). This alteration in the microbiota can affect how much nutrients our bodies can absorb from the food we consume (3). This means that even when we consume the right food, we may not obtain the vitamins and minerals that we require (3).

Artificial sweeteners were invented with the goal to taste like real sugar without causing weight gain or the diseases that are associated with real sugar. However, it can be seen through research that artificial sweeteners can end up having negative effects on the brain and body, therefore it is best to avoid them or consume them in moderation, and instead, try to incorporate natural sugar alternatives into our daily lives.


Blog Written by: Aysha Qureshi

May 2023 Nutrition Dispensary Inc.


Advice and/or information provided is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease.

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