The variety of plant-based zero-calorie sweeteners continues to expand, making it easier than ever to dial back on added sugar, naturally. More options means more confusion, though, so in this week’s FUELED Wellness + Nutrition, Molly gives us the rundown on low- and no-calorie plant-based sweeteners, from how they taste to the best ways to use them.
Effective January 2021, food manufacturers are now required to disclose added sugars on nutrition facts labels. As a result, many are finally looking for ways to trim added sugar, naturally.
Why this matters: The average American diet contains about 13% added sugar. This includes table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, as well as ‘natural’ sugars like raw coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey and agave.
A diet high in added sugars is pro-inflammatory, linked to an increased risk of conditions from cancer to heart disease to joint pain and more.
Added sugars also contribute to excess calories and weight gain, with minimal or no nutritional benefit.
A diet high in added sugars can set us up on the blood sugar + cravings rollercoaster, causing and perpetuating our desire for more carbs and more sugars.
Natural Plant-Based Sweeteners
High Intensity | up to 300 times sweeter than sugar [sucrose]
Stevia | approximately 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar. Derived from the stevia plant, some people may perceive stevia as bitter. Many stevia products on shelves are a blend of stevia + erythritol or monkfruit. Contributes essentially zero calories or carbs when used in products.
Monkfruit | approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. Also referred to as lo han guo, monkfruit is derived from a fruit that has been consumed in China for hundreds of years. Contributes essentially zero calories or carbs when used in products.
Low Intensity | closer to 1:1 ratio with sugar [sucrose]
Erythritol | approximately 60 to 70% as sweet as sugar but with virtually zero calories. Small amounts occur naturally in fruits; most erythritol is produced by fermenting glucose with various yeasts.
Erythritol is bulky, providing a volume similar to that of sugar, so it’s often combined with high intensity plant-based sweeteners (Swerve, for example, is a blend of erythritol and oligosaccharides). Contributes essentially zero calories or carbs when used in products.
Allulose | approximately 70% as sweet as sugar; only contributes 0.4 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram of sugar). Compared to erythritol, allulose caramelizes and browns more like sugar. High amounts linked to bloating, diarrhea, GI discomfort.
Xylitol | close to 1:1 ratio with sugar. Large amounts may have a laxative effect, but it’s otherwise safe for humans. Even small amounts of xylitol, however, can be dangerous to dogs. Xylitol can trigger a significant release of insulin from their pancreas, followed by a sharp drop in blood sugar that, left untreated, can be life-threatening. Xylitol also causes liver disease in dogs.
Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at www.mollykimball.com, and sign up for Eat Fit Wellness Bites weekly newsletter, here.