Do the swarms of YouTube videos and Instagram posts featuring your favorite mouth-watering desserts bring up bittersweet memories? Are you dedicated to doing what’s healthy for you, yet miss savoring sweetness? Or perhaps, you find yourself challenged in giving up these sweets alongside your body’s changing needs? Well, nature is sweet, my friend, and it’s about to make your life sweeter!
There are natural alternatives to white sugar and harmful sweeteners that won’t cause drastic spikes in your blood glucose levels, allowing you a delicious experience while staying safe and healthy for you; using these, you can enjoy the occasional dessert even while managing your diabetes!
What You Need to Know: Sugar Substitutes, the Glycemic Index and the Glycemic Load
You may already be familiar with the Glycemic Index (GI), a popular tool many people experiencing diabetes use while planning their meals. The good news is that you can use this tool when searching for appropriate sugar substitutes to use in your desserts. The GI measures the rate at which a particular food increases one’s blood glucose levels in comparison to white bread or pure glucose, both set at 100 due to increasing the blood glucose levels the highest and the fastest. Those foods falling between the range of 55 or less are of the low GI category, between 56 – 70 are of the medium GI category, with anything falling above 70 being in the high GI category. When looking for an appropriate substitute, you want to find an option that is low-glycemic.
Another useful and practical tool is the glycemic load (GL). The glycemic load determines how a food would affect blood sugar levels by taking the amount of carbohydrates in one serving of the particular food, and multiplying it by its GI. Usually, the foods we want to use have a low GI, but there are times when a particular food despite having a high GI can have a low GL, making that serving safe for blood sugar levels. Food with the glycemic load falling below 10 is in the low-GL category and measured 20 or more is in the high-GL category.
Diabetic-Friendly Alternatives to Sugar
There are various natural options available to us when searching for low-glycemic sweetening substitutes. One very popular option is Stevia, with a GI of zero. In her book, Sensational Stevia Desserts, author Lisa Jobs explains the value of Stevia as a sweetener. Originating from a plant found in Asia and South America, this all natural ingredient has been safely used in various parts of the world for over 30 years! One of its major uses is in diabetes management, making it even more relevant for us.
When replacing sugar or other like sweeteners, a little bit of Stevia goes a long way! Despite tasting up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, the substance responsible for its sweetness does not get absorbed into the bloodstream, causing no spike in blood glucose levels. Another plus point is that it has no known side effects, and if you find the high-quality kind, which is the one you want, little aftertaste. Throw in the fact that its heat stable, and with a few adjustments it becomes an excellent alternative to sugar for our baking needs.
2. Monk Fruit
With a GI of zero, here is another tasteful option for a sugar substitute. This yummy goodness is 300-400 times sweeter than cane sugar, so a small amount works just right. Despite its intense sweetness, the dried version does not affect blood sugar levels. The commonly found dry version retains antioxidants responsible for not only
3. Yacon Syrup
With a GI of 1, Yacon syrup is another wholesome sugar substitute that provides natural sweetness. The majority of its sweetness is from particular sugar molecules that do not cause high glucose levels, which is what we are going for. Travelling all the way from the Yacon plant’s root in South America, it has a soulful and rich flavor. Unlike Stevia, the syrup doesn’t work well with heat, and is not the option we want to go for when cooking and baking. However, it is a good option when making no-bake desserts requiring a small amount of sweetener, or for sweetening drinks.
When using Yacon syrup, we want to avoid having too much at a time, as this can cause nausea and digestive issues. According to Dr. Weil over at Drweil.com, taking more than two teaspoons a day can cause digestive problems. If you’re experiencing an upset stomach or diarrhea, it is best to avoid using Yacon syrup. Also, look for 100% Yacon syrup so you know you’re getting the real deal.
The RD and Certified Diabetes Educator Amy Campbell highlights that there’s still a lot of research to be done on the monk fruit, and while she feels very optimistic about the fruit, it is best to consume it in moderation.
4. Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut Palm Sugar is the controversial sweetener on this list. According to the Philippine Department of Agriculture, the GI of this sweetener is 35, making it low-glycemic. Yet many people are skeptical of this number, as chemically, coconut palm sugar is 75% like table sugar. What do we make of this? Well, including soluble fiber in our meals does help our body better manage blood sugar levels; coconut palm sugar includes insulin, a soluble dietary fiber, which may be why the coconut sugar has a low GI.
Due to its ability to handle heat, we can technically use it in our desserts just as someone (else) would use regular sugar. However, we want to keep in mind that it has a considerable amount of fructose. Fructose is associated with negative health implications, such as increased insulin resistance and obesity, as well as liver damage, when consumed in large amounts. According to the American Diabetes Association, “it is okay for people with diabetes to use coconut palm sugar as a sweetener, but they should not treat it any differently than regular sugar”. The key is to use it only occasionally and in limited amounts.
5. Sugar Alcohols
Sugar Alcohols such as Xlyitol (GI 12) are good to use as natural sugar substitutes in small amounts as long as we aren’t experiencing digestive issues. Xylitol gives a sweet taste without spiking blood sugar levels like sucrose does.
6. Whole Foods: Berries and Applesauce
One easy and delicious option is using berries (blueberries: GL of 5) to sweeten desserts such as pies and muffins. In the warmer months, refresh your taste buds with a low-glycemic sorbet made of berries; it requires no added sugar and is easy to make. Check out the video below on how to make sorbets; in the first demonstration, she makes blueberry sorbet!
Another great option is applesauce. Here’s a tasty recipe requiring only applesauce and berries!
2 cups of organic unsweetened applesauce
1 cup organic fresh assorted berries (like blueberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries)
Mix these ingredients together in a bowl, and fill in 8 popsicle containers. Cover and freeze them over night, for them to be ready the next day! Enjoy!
When using any whole foods as sweeteners, let’s remember to use them in small amounts in order to keep the desserts diabetic-friendly.
Here were some naturally sweet and low-glycemic options to consider for the next time you crave the occasional dessert! It’s important to keep in mind that the GI of a food can vary depending on how it’s cooked and what it is eaten with. Also, when including any form of carbohydrates, even fruit, remember to include it in your meal plan calculations to make sure it’s safe for you.
Going to a party or family dinner? Why not make your own low-glycemic dessert to add to the table and join in on the smiles as everyone takes in sweet goodness? If the dessert you make ends up being the star of the show, I wouldn’t be surprised!