New announcement. Learn more


Sweeteners, Part 2: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Food For Thought

  • Keep in mind that sugar is not the issue, per se. It is the overconsumption of sugar that causes metabolic disease.
    Sucrose is a glucose bonded to a fructose.

  • Adding fructose or sucrose to the diet can lead to the development of obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidaemia, and occasionally high blood pressure.

  • Strong associations between fructose sweeteners intake and insulin resistance, metabolic diseases, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, fatty liver, chronic kidney disease gout and overeating.

  • If you feed your gut bacteria with a low carb, low sugar diet, organic or spray free foods with ample vegetables and if you food is preservative and additive free, then good bacteria will thrive and help you overcome cravings and assist in weight loss and blood sugar control.

  • Taste buds can become more attuned to subtle and rewarding flavours. The desire and need for sweeteners ease.

  • Beware the sweetener trap: eating sweet-tasting foods and drinks may promote the craving for more sweet-tasting treats. Sweeteners tend to promote snacking and overeating because the body doesn’t recognise that it has just eaten. All sweet tastes, whether real sugar or sugar substitutes, act upon the same sweet taste receptors of the tongue and trigger similar brain neural reward pathways that according to researchers, “perpetuate their intake,” so they can maintain sugar addictions and cravings. This could be due to hormonal effects, other effects on satiety signals, or effects on gut microbiota.

  • Zero-calorie sweeteners’ impacts on pregnant women, the developing foetus and young children are unknown and could be potentially risky for long term metabolic health.

  • While some sweeteners may be better than others, the best strategy for achieving optimal health and weight loss may be learning to enjoy real foods in their unsweetened state.

  • Look up the lecture “The Bitter Truth” by Dr. Robert Lustig, MD. on Youtube.

Natural Sugars/ Sweeteners

Raw Sugar Cane

The local names are Panela, Rapadura or Jaggery. derived from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice. Naturally occurring sugars are often considered healthier than plain white table sugar. However, though less processed, they still contain the same sugars and therefore have similar effects in your body. White granulated sugar is one of the world's most refined foods. It's 99.9 per cent sucrose, refined from the natural sugars that occur in the sugar cane but with all 'impurities' such as minerals including a little potassium, calcium, magnesium and other minerals but they're not present in great quantities and polyphenols completely removed, this remaining sticky brown fluid is molasses. When unrefined, these minerals and polyphenols remain and add a distinct toffee like flavour to raw the sugar.

Coconut sugar

This is about 70- 80% sucrose, with the remainder coming from glucose and fructose. This is a nice baking alternative.

Coconut Palm Sugar

Coconut palm sugar comes from coconut palm blossom and has a slightly caramel taste and smell. Like blackstrap molasses, it's rich in minerals such as magnesium, potassium and zinc. The sugar content in coconut palm sugar is mostly sucrose.

Raw Honey

Several cave paintings in Cuevas de la Arana in Spain depict humans foraging for honey at least 8,000 years ago. The Glycemic Index of honey varies from 32 to 85, depending on the botanical source. While honey could have a relatively high GI, the GL (Glycemic Load) is average. Honey contains nearly equal portions of glucose and fructose (40% each) as its main sugars, along with smaller amounts of sucrose, maltose, and other sugars. It has the same relative sweetness as sucrose (table sugar). It has attractive chemical properties for baking and a distinctive flavour when used as a sweetener. Most microbes do not grow in honey, so sealed honey does not spoil, even after thousands of years.
Processed honey lacks essential nutrients, which are destroyed during pasteurisation and heating processing and it often contains added sugar.
High-quality honey tends to crystallise, as it contains nutrients and enzymes not present in processed types. Honey contains flavonoids, which are frequently found in fruits, and vegetables and are known for their antioxidant ability.

Rice Syrup

Brown rice (malt) syrup, also known as rice syrup or rice malt, is a sweetener which is rich in compounds categorised as sugars and is derived by steeping cooked rice starch with enzymes to break down the starches, followed by straining off the liquid and reducing it by evaporative heating until the desired consistency is reached. It contains complex carbohydrates, maltose and glucose and is low in fructose. It may contain potentially harmful levels of dietary arsenic. It has a very high GI (98) which is even higher than table sugar (65) and about the same as glucose (100). This means that if you use this sweetener, you will likely experience large blood sugar spikes.

Maple Syrup

Pure maple syrup is made from evaporated maple tree sap. It consists primarily of sucrose and water, with small amounts of the monosaccharides glucose and fructose from the break down of the sucrose in the boiling process. It is high in manganese and riboflavin are at high levels along with moderate amounts of zinc, calcium. It contains less net carbs than honey and coconut palm sugar. If used in moderation, maple syrup is suitable for a low-carb diet.

Date Syrup

Organic date syrup has a rich flavour and can be used as a substitute for processed sugar. Its mineral content includes calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and iron. Date syrup is rich in the monosaccharides glucose and fructose, and so most of its sugar content is absorbed into the bloodstream in the mouth, meaning that it raises the blood glucose levels more immediately than other syrups. Date Syrup is higher in magnesium and potassium than some natural sweeteners such as maple syrup and honey.

Blackstrap Molasses

To make molasses, sugar cane is harvested and stripped of leaves. Its juice is extracted, usually by cutting, crushing, or mashing. The juice is boiled to concentrate it, promoting sugar crystallisation. The result of this first boiling is called first syrup ('A' Molasses), and it has the highest sugar content. Second molasses ('B' Molasses) is created from a second boiling and has a slightly bitter taste.
The third boiling of the sugar syrup yields dark, viscous blackstrap molasses ('C' Molasses), known for its robust, significantly more bitter, flavour. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has crystallised and been removed. The caloric content of blackstrap molasses is mostly due to the small remaining sugar content.
It contains significant amounts of vitamin B6 and calcium, magnesium, iron, and manganese; one tablespoon provides up to 20% of the recommended daily value of each of those nutrients. Blackstrap is also a good source of potassium and is sold as a dietary supplement.

Yacon Syrup

Yacon syrup is a sugar substitute extracted from yacon plant from its tuberous roots grown in South America, Andes. The root has been used for its nutritional and medical purposes for hundreds of years. Like maple syrup, it's made via natural evaporation. It is about 75% as sweet as sugar.

It consists of 50% of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and a fibre called inulin which does not increase blood sugar, and 35%, free fructose. Yacon syrup is also high in antioxidants and potassium. FOS are known as a prebiotic, food for gut bacteria and intake favours the growth of health-promoting bacteria while reducing bad bacteria populations. Moreover, the end products of FOS fermentation by the intestinal bacteria, short chain fatty acids (SCFA) are signalling molecules in the regulation of the immune response, blood glucose balance and lipid metabolism. Yacon syrup has beneficial effects on blood glucose and insulin concentrations after a meal. Excessive consumption of yacon syrup can lead to stomach discomfort. This is due to the fibre content and you should not use more than a few teaspoons a day. Do not use it for baking, as the structure of FOS breaks down at high temperatures (over 120 °C/ 248 °F) called the Maillard Reaction of which creates AGE’s Advanced Glycation End products linked to premature aging, oxidative damage and systemic inflammation.


BochaSweet is one of the newest sweeteners on the market. It’s made from an extract of the kabocha, a pumpkin-like squash from Japan. This extract reportedly has the same taste as white sugar, yet because of its chemical structure, pentose, it can be used for energy, but doesn’t require insulin. Very little is known is about its health effects and published studies on kabocha extract are lacking.


Other Naturally Occurring Simple Sugars


Tagatose is a monosaccharide naturally occurring in dairy products, fruits such as apples, pineapples, oranges, raisins and dates and cacao. Tagatose is produced from lactose naturally found in whey based foods.

The taste is very similar to table sugar and Erythritol. It is 92% as sweet and contains only 38% as many calories as sugar (< 1.5 kcal / g). It has a small effect on blood sugar and insulin levels. It has a glycaemic index of 3 which is very low.

It also inhibits digestive of carbohydrates in the small intestine decreasing carbohydrate absorption in the body, potentially beneficial for diabetics. It is prebiotic (feeding healthy gut bacteria) and antioxidant.

Only 20% of the tagatose ingested will be absorbed in the small intestine. The rest makes it way to the large intestine where it is fermented Higher doses over 10-30 grams of tagatose cause mild stomach discomfort.


Allulose is a "rare" sugar naturally found only in a small quantity of foods including wheat, figs, jackfruit and raisins. It is a monosaccharide (simple sugar) and a new (2015) low-carb sweetener with the same sweet taste as sugar, but with minimal calories and carbohydrates.

Over 70% of the allulose is absorbed in your blood, but it is eliminated in the urine before it can be metabolised for fuel. Only minimal fermentation in the gut occurs with a low likelihood of bloating or gas.

There are several studies reporting that allulose can directly aid fat loss. It is
strong antioxidant, inhibitory digestive enzymes and competes with glucose absorption. It assists in lowering blood sugar and increasing insulin sensitivity and may protect the pancreatic beta cells normally injured by high blood sugar.

It is generally considered as being safe, however, the effects of long-term ingestion has not been investigated, with more studies being needed.

High Fructose Sweeteners

Strong associations between fructose sweeteners intake and insulin resistance, metabolic diseases, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, fatty liver, chronic kidney disease gout and overeating

Agave Syrup

This contains at least 60% fructose, with the remainder coming from other sugars and carbohydrates. It has a lower GI than sugar because unlike glucose, fructose does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels in the short term. This is why high-fructose sweeteners are often marketed as "healthy" or "diabetic-friendly." However, there is far more to diabetes management than a tunnel view of blood sugars. Fructose increases insulin resistance especially of the liver, so will worsen metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

It's about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, but also provides 1.5 more calories. While this sap is high in sugar, it also contains healthy fibre like fructans, which are linked to beneficial effects on metabolism and insulin. When processed into a syrup, the fructans are extracted and broken down into fructose by exposing the sap to heat and/or enzymes. This process, which is similar to how other unhealthy sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup are made, destroys all of the health-promoting properties including significant amounts of antioxidative components, of the agave plant.

HFCS (High-Fructose Corn Syrup)

It is manufactured from corn starch where some of the glucose is converted to fructose yielding 42-55% fructose content. It contains no essential nutrients. HFCS is mainly used for processed foods and breakfast cereals and soft drinks.


Natural Foods as Sweeteners or Sweet Treats

Berries or Freeze-Dried Berry Powder

Berries are generally known to be the most nutritious and lowest in net carbs of all fruits. If you can find freeze-dried berries and berry powders with no additives, try them in smoothies, yogurt and baked goods. Blackberries, raspberries and strawberries have the least amount of net carbs (6-8 g per cup), blueberries contain more than twice the amount of net carbs. However blueberries are very good for you containing flavonoids (mainly anthocyanidins), polyphenols (procyanidin), phenolic acids, pyruvic acid, chlorogenic acid and others, which have anticancer, anti-obesity, prevent degenerative diseases, anti-inflammation, protective properties for vision and liver, prevent heart diseases, anti-diabetes, improve brain function, protective lung properties, strong bones, enhance immunity, prevent cardiovascular diseases, and improve cognitive decline. The anthocyanins and polyphenols in blueberry are major functional ingredients for preventive chronic disease.

Dark Chocolate (75% cacao or more)

Chocolate originates from Mexico, where an ancient tribe called the Olmecs (1200 BC to 300 BC) were the first to domesticate the plant and use the beans. The Mayans worshiped a goddess of chocolate/cocoa named “Ixcacao”. Chocolate, considered an aphrodisiac, was available only for special occasions and for those with wealth and power.

Cocao contains over 300 different chemical compounds and is 20 times stronger antioxidant than blueberries. It is also a source of protein, calcium, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, magnesium, sulphur, flavonoids and essential fatty acids. Phenethylamine is released into the brain when we're attracted to someone and in lesser amounts when we eat dark chocolate.
Chocolate affects your emotions and mood by raising serotonin levels. Theobromine is a mild stimulant sometimes used as a treatment for depression. It releases the compound anandamide, which translates as “internal bliss,” which produces uniquely euphoric feelings of relaxation and contentment.

The compounds in cocao cause relaxation of the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure, protect blood lipids from oxidation, improved cholesterol profile, and decreases insulin resistance. modulate inflammatory markers and cardiovascular health and possess a range of protective cardiovascular effects.

Naturally Occurring Low-Carb Sweeteners

While there are an estimated 400,000 flowering plants on earth, about 100 are highly sweet.


Stevia is derived from the leaves "sugar leaf" of the South American plant Stevia rebaudiana. It has been used in food and beverages by South American natives for many centuries and in Japan since the mid-1970s. It is used as a sweetener and sugar substitute and is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.
Nutrients in Stevia include protein, fibre, monosaccharaides, lipids, essential oils, vitamin C, b-carotene, vitamin B2, and vitamin B, antioxidants compounds and minerals such as cobalt, magnesium, iron, potassium and phosphorus.

It’s constituents exhibit therapeutic benefits with lowering blood glucose and blood pressure, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antidiarrheal, diuretic with a positive impact on tooth decay, plaque formation and immune function.

Liquid stevia product sometimes gets "cloudy", therefore store in the fridge.

Monk Fruit (Lo Han Guo/ Luo Han)

Monk fruit, also known as longevity fruit, is a fruit native to China and northern Thailand that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat obesity and diabetes. It's as sweet as stevia, but without the bitter after taste of most stevia products. Although the fruit in whole form contains fructose and sucrose, monk fruit’s intense sweetness is provided by non-caloric compounds called mogrosides which are 300 times sweeter than sugar, but are calorie free and carb free. The consumption of monk fruit has been shown to lowers blood sugar by stimulating insulin secretion in diabetic rats.

Lucuma Powder

Lucuma, also known as egg fruit, is a subtropical fruit native to Peru, Chile and Ecuador. Lucuma powder tastes similar to apricots, sweet potato, maple and mango. It's high in phenols, carotene and B vitamins, especially B3, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium. It has antioxidant properties, decreases blood glucose and provides protein and fibre.

It's mildly sweet and you can use the powder to sweeten up smoothies or baked goods. Although it's great for flavouring it doesn’t add a great deal of sweetness.


Inulins are a group of naturally occurring polysaccharides produced by many types of plants. Their sweetness is 70-80% of the sweetness of sugar. It functions as a prebiotic, providing food for colonic bacteria. Sources include Chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, banana, garlic, jicama, onion and yacon. A subgoup of inulins are Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) which exhibits sweetness levels between 30-50%, they don’t increase blood sugar, but does contribute energy in other ways at about 150 kcal per 100g. Inulins have beneficial effect on blood sugar and is one of the best sugar alternatives for diabetics and those on a low-carb diet. Consuming a more than 20g daily can cause gas and bloating. They are not suitable for baking. Chicory root, is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Sugar Alcohols (Polyols)

Polyols are naturally abundant in fruits and vegetables, like grapes and mushrooms as well as in fermented foods like soy sauce. Mannitol and erythritol have GI of zero whilst maltitol has a GI of around 40.

Sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, lactitol, and maltitol and sucralose are already established and widely used as sugar alternatives. Severe disadvantage of polyols, namely sorbitol and xylitol, is that they can cause diarrhoea.

They are often used to create a sweet taste in toothpaste, mouthwash,
tablets, tablet coating, lozenges, medicated chewing gum and syrups.


Made from fermented corn or corn starch and is a newer polyol and is not a laxative. It's because 90% of Erythritol is absorbed before it enters the large intestine and is excreted via urine, though large quantities, it can cause stomach discomfort. Unlike the other polyols it has a GI of 0 and 0.2 calories per gram and does not affect blood glucose or insulin.

It is only about 70% as sweet as sugar.


Xylitol has a GI of 13 and has 3 calories per gram. It does affect blood sugar and insulin levels, but insignificantly if consumed in moderation. It is 1 to 1.3 times sweeter than sugar. It is toxic for dogs and cats, so keep it safe out of their reach!


Mannitol does not affect blood sugar but has more calories compared to Erythritol, about 1.5 calories per gram. It draws water from the intestinal wall so taking in too much can cause diarrhoea, abdominal pain and gas. It has also been associated with heart failure, electrolyte abnormalities, and low blood volume. Mannitol is not recommended for people with anuria and congestive heart failure.

Sugar Alcohols derived calories

Table: courtesy of KetoDietApp

Sugar Alcohols derived calories

Artificial Sweeteners

These are calorie free and intensely sweet.

Several large cohort studies have found positive correlation between artificial sweetener use and weight gain and increased subjective appetite. Aspartame, acesulfame, and saccharin were all associated with heightened motivation to eat.

Numerous studies have indicated an important role of the gut microbiome in body weight control and glucose metabolism and regulation. Non-caloric artificial sweeteners cause glucose intolerance through changes in the intestinal microbiota, raising questions about the contribution of artificial sweeteners to the global epidemic of obesity and diabetes!


Aspartame was discovered in 1965 and consists of two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartate, linked to a methanol back bone. It is about 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Though it has been deemed as being safe, its use has been implicated in learning problems, headache, seizure, migraines, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Studies suggest that aspartame higher than or within the recommended safe dosage, may disrupt the oxidant/antioxidant balance, induce oxidative stress, and damage cell membrane integrity, potentially affecting a variety of cells and tissues and causing a deregulation of cellular function, ultimately leading to systemic inflammation. It’s use is dangerous for people with phenylketonuria (PKU), a disorder of amino acid metabolism.
Aspartame may cause bloating, sugar cravings, weight gain, and an increased appearance of. Aspartame is commonly found in sugar-free products, cooking sauces, cereals, diet sodas, sugar-free yogurts, flavoured water, drink powders (beware of some protein powders that contain Aspartame) and even children's medicines and toothpastes.


Acesulfame potassium was discovered. It is 120 times sweeter than sucrose. It is considered safe.


Neotame is chemically related to aspartame. It was FDA approved in 2002 and is currently the most potent sweetener available with an estimated sweetness that is 7000 fold of sucrose. Neotame is rapidly metabolised, completely eliminated
and does not accumulate in the body. It is considered safe.

Discovered in 1879 saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener and is 300 times sweeter than sucrose but has a bitter aftertaste. It is considered safe.


Sucralose was synthesised in 1979 by the addition of a chlorine to sucrose. About 11-27% of ingested sucralose is absorbed from the gut and is excreted in the kidneys. Sucralose has 600 times the sweetness of sucrose. It is considered safe.


Cyclamate was discovered in 1937. It is 30–50 times sweeter than sucrose. It is considered safe.


Its sweetness potency is 2000 times greater than that of sucrose. It is readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and then rapidly excreted. It is considered safe.

In Conclusion

Enjoy the odd sweet treat using whole natural sugars such as raw cane sugar, coconut sugar, honey or maple or yacon syrup. Remember, when looking for a healthy sweetener, the lower the fructose content, the better. These include black strap molassas, rice syrup and Yacon syrup.

If you are diabetic or needing to follow a ketogenic diet for other medical reasons, then

While all sweeteners have potential for negative impacts, if sustaining your ketogenic or low carb diet is helped by the consumption of sweets from time to time, consider natural sweeteners that don’t affect blood sugar or insulin levels. The three choices that may do the least harm are currently believed that stevia, monk fruit and erythritol, all of which have no impact on blood glucose and insulin response.