Complete Guide to Sugars, Sweeteners & Healthy Alternatives

Article by ross

Sugar is THE #1 FOOD we need to cut out now – more than any other food it is ravaging our body. It is highly acid-forming, inflammatory, oxidising (kills cells) and aging.

It’s the single biggest contributor to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, liver disease, Alzheimer’s and more.

Yet, still, nobody is really telling us to stop consuming it. The focus is STILL wrongly put on fat and salt (both of which are critical to good health – but that’s another guide).

A 2015 Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) research study showed that 180,000 obesity-related deaths worldwide— are directly related to the daily consumption of sugary drinks. It’s crazy.

On average we’re eating 300% more than is safe EVERY DAY…and that’s not MY safe level – that’s the super conservative, way too high government recommendation.

50% of us are eating 56 teaspoons per day – 225g…

It’s literally killing us…

But nobody is telling us to quit.

Foods don’t come with warning labels and no government is removing it from their ‘healthy eating guides’.

This is why, if you’re eating too much sugar (and maybe like most people you don’t know how much you’re truly eating) I’m here to tell you it’s not your fault. The odds have been stacked against you.

In this guide I am going to run through all of the 10 most common sugar ‘alternatives’, giving you the best, worst, how to use them and when to use them, which to avoid and which you can use.


printable healthy sugar alternatives

FRUCTOSE: The Big Sugar Secret

The information I’m about to give you is super-important.

It gives us a guide as to how we can judge and decide on which sugars/sweeteners to include and is the top level rule of sugar and our health.

So here goes:

Fructose is the very worst sugar you can consume

There, I said it.

When we talk about quitting sugar, we’re 90% talking about quitting fructose. This doesn’t mean fresh fruit (which I expand on below) – I’m talking about sugars, syrups, sweeteners and foods that are loaded with fructose.

Why?

Because while most types of sugar can be metabolised by practically every cell in the body, but when we consume fructose ONLY the liver can metabolise this sugar.

Glucose, maltose etc can be metabolised everywhere in the body, but only the liver can metabolise fructose…and when this happens, the effects on the liver include:

  1. Massive stress as the liver is basically called to drop everything else to try and metabolise and process the fructose – this leads to all other processes stopping
  2. 100% of the fructose is then stored as fat, leading to weight gain, fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, inflammation and more
  3. The by-products created by the fructose being metabolised are toxic, including the production of the only two types of saturated fat – stearic acid and palmitic acid – that are the saturated fats that raise LDL cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease (the saturated fats from foods can’t do this)
  4. Fructose messes with the regulation of our ‘hunger hormones’ – leptin and ghrelin – which send the signals that we are hungry and that we are full. With lots of fructose consumption comes the message that we’re always hungry and never full…
  5. Fructose causes blood sugar spikes much more dramatic than other sugars or foods, raising insulin levels quickly, thus requiring huge cortisol production to manage the now sky-high insulin, which then takes up 100% of the adrenal glands functioning (the adrenals produce and regulate cortisol) leading to adrenal fatigue…

Where do we find fructose in the diet & is fruit still OK?

Well of course it’s in fruit. And I am not by any way saying you have to give up fruit forever. But while you’re getting back in balance over the next few weeks to 28 days I would recommend really cutting back, definitely to no more than one piece a day – and I strongly do recommend quitting fruit juice for good – that is no good.

I definitely advise against fruit juice because fructose is far less damaging when consumed with fibre. When the fibre is removed it is even more rapidly metabolised by the liver. Same goes for dried fruits. These give a huge hit of fructose with very little fibre and immediately stress the liver.

Our bodies are designed to metabolise the amount of fructose contained in 2–3 small pieces of fruit a day (i.e. around the recommended amount of sugar we should be eating) but if you’re consuming sugar elsewhere you need to be careful with the amount of whole fruit you eat.

The issue isn’t fructose from fruit, the issue is that fructose is the sugar of choice to sweeten thousands upon thousands of processed, packaged foods. High fructose corn syrup in particular – the substance used to sweeten so many foods – especially soda – is 100% fructose – a HUGE stress to the liver.

Everywhere you look now, you’re bombarded by fructose. It’s in almost every packaged food as the main source of sweetness and is predominantly the reason why 50% of people are now consuming on average 225g of sugar every single day.

This is so important to note because it prevents us from making the mistakes that almost everybody makes when they try to quit sugar – they make sugar-swaps but swap for completely the wrong things, because they’re labelled as ‘healthy’ alternatives, when in reality they’re just a different source of fructose.

And of course, it goes without saying – always, always avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, saccharin etc. These are carcinogenic, chemical, endocrine disrupting, neurotoxins that will completely stress your body and destroy your cells.

Remember: ALL SUGAR IS STILL SUGAR

It’s been a recent trend to call things (especially raw desserts) ‘sugar free’, but they are still made with dates, maple syrup, honey, agave syrup and so on.

THIS IS STILL SUGAR!

Honey is still primarily (75%) made up of fructose and glucose – the same as table sugar. In fact the coffee shop I am typing this from has desserts it claims are ‘sugar free’ – and when I asked what makes them sweet they said maple syrup! This is still sugar!

So this is a preface to the guide below. These are all still sugars – none of them are ‘good for you’. Some are much better than others and some, despite being labelled as a health product are down-right evil.

So proceed with caution, use sparingly and stick with the handful of those that are better than the others.

What Are Sugars?

Here is a quick overview of the different types of sugar. Most people just see sugar as sugar and have never looked at it like this. But now knowing how harmful fructose it, it makes sense for us to investigate the other sugars as they all have a different effect on the body:

Monosaccharides (Simple Sugars)

Fructose

Fructose or fruit sugar, is a simple sugar naturally occurring in fruit, honey, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Fructose is very sweet, roughly one and a half times sweeter than sucrose (white sugar).

Because of the worldwide increase in the consumption of sweeteners, soft drinks and foods containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), fructose intake has quadrupled since the early 1900s.

Glucose

Glucose is the primary source of energy your body uses and we actually need glucose to function – just nowhere even near the volume we’re consuming these days.

When we eat carbohydrates, our body breaks them down into units of glucose – so the glucose provided by vegetables, a little fruit each day and foods like quinoa, chia and so on is MORE than enough.

When blood glucose levels rise too high – as they do when we eat processed foods, cells in the pancreas release insulin, signalling cells to take up glucose from the blood.

As we’ve discussed in other guides – when this happens repeatedly or too much – big big trouble….

Galactose

Doesn’t really occur on it’s own – it’s almost always seen as a part of lactose – see below.

Disaccharides (Combination of Two Monosaccharides)

Sucrose = Fructose + Glucose

Sucrose is what forms almost all common sugars we use – white sugar, brown sugar, palm sugar and so on.
It is a disaccharide made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose and is broken down rapidly into its constituent parts.

Lactose = Glucose + Galactose

Lactose is a sugar found in milk. It is a disaccharide made up of glucose and galactose units.
It is broken down into the two parts by an enzyme called lactase. Once broken down, the simple sugars can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Maltose = Glucose + Glucose

Maltose is produced by the breakdown of starch and is formed by two glucose molecules coming together.
It’s less sweet than glucose, fructose or sucrose and can be formed in the body during the digestion of starch. It’s not present in many foods or used often by the food industry as a sweetening agent.

And then we have the artificial stuff. This is what you want to avoid like the plague, because it’s usually very high in fructose PLUS other carcinogens, toxins and acids: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), aspartame, saccharine, sucralose etc.

These are the types of sugars.

Remember, fructose is the sugar that is most damaging to the body, our liver, hormones and so on. This is what we’re trying to have in moderation.

The Top 10 Healthier Alternatives to Table Sugar

1. Honey

Score: 5 out of 10

Honey is a difficult one – and lots of people are aghast that I don’t recommend it. But I don’t. That doesn’t mean you have to throw it out and never use it again – you can still enjoy honey from time to time and especially for it’s medicinal uses (look to manuka honey for this, and see below for my note).

But the fact is, honey is 40-50% fructose, making it no better than normal white sugar as far as the effect on your liver, blood sugar/insulin etc.

The bottom line here is a lot of people have been using honey like it’s a limitless, healthy product that you can have without moderation, when in reality it’s a sugar like every other.

Fructose Percentage: 40-50%
Uses: baking, on oats, in smoothies, over sprouted toast, over yoghurts

[Note: Manuka honey I treat a bit separately as I don’t see it as a ‘food’ or sweetener, I see it as a supplement to use for certain goals/situations/symptoms such as in a cold/flu remedy.]


2. Molasses

Score: 4 out of 10

Does offer trace amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc – however, has the same fructose/glucose ratio as regular sugar too. This is not surprising as molasses is made from either sugar cane or sugar beet juice. This is boiled down to a syrup and the crystals are extracted from the syrup. This leaves the remaining dark liquid – aka molasses. It’s pretty refined, which is never a good thing when you’re aiming to eat as natural as possible.

Fructose Percentage: 40-50%
Uses: mostly baking due to consistency and sweetness

3. Rice Malt Syrup/Brown Rice Syrup

Score: 8 out of 10

Rice Malt Syrup is perhaps the easiest and most enjoyable to use. It’s texture, colour and flavour is most similar to other syrups like coconut, maple and so on – but it is 100% fructose free.

It’s made from fermented cooked rice and is a blend of the complex carbohydrates, maltose and glucose.

STILL don’t go into this thinking you can now use stevia or rice malt syrup without limit and as often as you like – they will still have acidic, inflammatory effects on the body once consumed – BUT – they are great in moderation to help ease yourself away from refined sugars.

Fructose Percentage: ZERO
Uses:the same as you’d use honey or maple syrup. It’s probably the healthiest to use in baking from a fructose percentage (being zero), but it is not as sweet as regular sugar or other syrups. Dates may be a better choice in baking.

4. Agave Syrup

Score: 2 out of 10

Agave syrup is derived from an agave plant that is native to Mexico and is the same plant used to make tequila.

There’s two versions of agave, light and dark.

Dark has a stronger taste and light agave is slightly more filtered and has a light taste.

These two kinds of agave are sweeter than honey and sugar and have no aftertaste, which is why it has become so popular, especially when coupled with a deceptive ‘healthy’ tag.

The fact that it is regularly up to 80% fructose (some plants that are used lead to it ending up at almost 90%) means it’s probably THE most stressful-to-the-liver, inflammatory sugar alternative out there.

Please steer clear of this one.

Fructose Percentage: 70-80%
Uses: just don’t.

5. Maple Syrup

Score: 3 out of 10

Often used as a healthier sugar alternative. Unlike other sugar substitutes it does have some health benefits but still contains up to 40 per cent fructose.

It is made from the sap of sugar maple trees, which is boiled down to a thick syrup. It consists of 33% water and minute traces of naturally present acids, minerals and some B-vitamins.

Fructose Percentage: 35-40%
Uses: most commonly found on pancakes(!) but can be used in baking as it is quite heat tolerant and to top non-dairy yoghurts and desserts.

6. Coconut Syrup/Sugar

Score: 4 out of 10

Another that has been marketed as a super healthy sweetener, and often used in those ‘sugar free cakes’, but in reality it is still 40% fructose. It’s made from the flowers of the coconut tree and tastes NOTHING like coconut! It is quite versatile, with a caramel like flavour. It contains many amino acids and minerals, but is a little less sweet so people tend to over use it.

Fructose Percentage: 35-40%
Uses: can be used directly as a sugar alternative, and in baking.

7. Monkfruit

Score: 7 out of 10

The monk fruit, also known as luo han guo, has been used in south China for centuries and came to prominence in the Western world as a natural sweetener in supplements in the late 2000’s.

Similar to stevia – monk fruit extract is hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar, and it has no calories (like stevia, it gets its sweet taste from glycosides) which makes it a marketers dream…BUT…many people haven’t yet heard of it, because they have not been as effective at marketing as the stevia industry!

Preliminary research has shown it to have antioxidant capacity, insulin-regulating properties and is undergoing further research for it’s cancer-protective skills.

BUT, take this with a pinch of…well…sugar, as the quantities in which you’d use it (tiny) are likely not going to be enough to yield any results.

Still, it’s a fructose-free better alternative to other sugars.

Fructose Percentage: ZERO
Uses: very very sweet, so just a pinch to be used and alongside other strong flavours as over-use can create a bitterness (weirdly) and the flavour of the monkfruit extract can be picked up.

8. Yacon Syrup

Score: 5.5 out of 10

Surged in popularity due to some dubious weight loss claims. Basically, it won’t make you lose weight. There are no silver bullets or magic syrups to do that. You need to do things in my weight loss guide like this to lose weight.

However, there are some benefits and interesting advantages of Yacon syrup that are worth further investigation. It has been shown to have positive effects on gut bacteria, particularly because it contains the prebiotic fibre known as inulin and also has some antioxidant qualities.Again, the same as with monk fruit and honey etc. the health benefits are almost insignificant due to the extremely low levels of sweeteners and sugars you should be consuming BUT it’s a nice side-benefit.

Fructose Percentage: 25-35%
Uses: has a taste similar to molasses so can be used in cooking/baking, but not really as a direct sugar alternative in other uses as it has that almost burned taste.

9. Stevia

Score: 8 out of 10

Stevia is a plant-based sweetener. It’s completely fructose-free and 300 times sweeter than sugar. It’s great in recipes where you want to add a little sweetness, but avoid using it in large quantities as it can have a bitter aftertaste.

This is probably my pick of the sugar alternatives.

Stevia is so sweet you only need a tiny amount, and as with some of the other sweeteners, promising research is coming to light.

With stevia, there is a lot of chatter in the scientific community about it having strong anti-biotic potential.

In fact, one pre-clinical trial has found it effective at treating Lyme Disease which is very eye opening indeed.

This is my 2nd top pick along with Rice Malt Syrup (Brown Rice Syrup)

Fructose Percentage: ZERO
Uses: mild taste, so be careful not to overuse. Consistency, colour, taste and use similar to maple syrup so use however you’d use maple or honey: in baking, on top of things, in warm drinks etc.

10. Xylitol

Score: 2 out of 10

Oooooh, xylitol is an interesting one. Theoretically, on paper, it ticks all of the boxes: naturally found in plants, no fructose, super sweet so only a little needed…

However, the process to extract the xylitol from plants is HIGHLY refined and there are some BIG question marks over the health qualities of the xylitol once it’s been subjected to this process.

There is a risk it could be quite acid-forming, toxic, even carcinogenic after this treatment.

HOWEVER, it is showing some incredible benefits for use OUTSIDE of the body – including in toothpaste, making it a MUCH healthier alternative to fluoride.

Fructose Percentage: ZERO
Uses: not for internal use, until proven innocent! Use in products that are external to your internals, especially toothpaste.

Summary: The Sugar Alternatives

The two clear favourites are rice malt syrup for syrup-y uses and stevia for simple sweetening. Runner’s up prizes got to monk fruit and yacon syrup.

But remember, once again this is not legitimizing their use day in day out, several times a day. These alternatives are a tool to give you a better option while you’re transitioning the sugar OUT of your life for good.

Please remember that!

And until next time, I hope you’ve found this guide useful and I can’t wait to get my next set of guides, recipes and videos out to you, meet you on a webinar or training or have you join me in my Alkaline Base Camp coaching membership!

Until then, stay alkaline, stay energized and LET’S DO THIS!
Ross

Ask Me a Question or Leave a Comment Here - I'd Love to Hear from You

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  1. Doug Reply

    Thanks for your important research. My wife and l were surprise that Xyla was not mentioned as we have been using it and heard that it is a very good alternative to sugar and is healthy! Is it the same as Xyliltol which seems more refined than Xyla? Also, is Splenda in Dark Chocolate Bars OK?

    WE LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR RESPONSE. THANKS,

  2. Roger Hammack Reply

    You have many claims that lead to believe that you have the studies to back up the claims. If you do, great. I would like to see them and discern for myself as to their reliability. If not then you have to be trusting other peoples information in claims, which the food industries mainly rely on apart from the ones that do their own research and then don’t give all of their findings in truth, because of the money tree. If you know what I am saying. Seemingly good article, hope to have the evidence to back it up.

  3. Joe Reply

    this will be repeated?

    online training webinar on Monday 5th June called

    May I get your opinion of eating a lot of fruit. It does poorly since it is high in fructose but fruit in general is high in fiber, manages spikes, 70% water just like our own bodies. Love to get your thoughts.

    And, stevia I feel should be in the green herb powdered, unprocessed into white, or full leaf form. It says low carb but, it just has so few carbs it hits the no-cab category of the government, probably same as monk fruit.

    Joe

    • ross Reply

      Hey Joe – it *might be* this year but most likely not until next year now. Fruit is great in moderation and WITH the fibre, the big problems occur when it’s juiced and the fibre removed.

  4. Donald Gordon Reply

    This is a fantastic summary Ross – be great to get some more research references in too to support your scientific assessments – Well Done!

    • ross Reply

      Hey Donald

      Sure, I’ll weave those in. I have done extensive research so it’s just a case of getting around to it. I had assumed people believed that sugar was bad! Will include the refs shortly.

      Ross

  5. Lissy Reply

    Dear Ross,
    I live reading your articles. They make a lot sense to me. your articles are very helpful to human race thank you so much..Keep up the good work.

  6. tania Reply

    Hi Ross,
    Can you review Yerusalem Artichoke sweetener?
    Thank you, Tania.

  7. Susan Wind Reply

    U did not mention Erythritol, which is showing up lately in varios items. What is ur take on this sweetnet?

  8. Kelly Reginato Reply

    Hi,
    Love reading your articles, such a lot of useful information available.
    When you say to use stevia, is the white one you get in the supermarket in tablet and powder form ok to use?
    Thanks

  9. Danese D'Amore Reply

    Ross, I will be participating on your workshop on June 5.In the meantime could you answer a question for me please…would you have a list of foods that would naturally help increase stomach acid levels? Or guide me to info you already have? Thanks, Danese

  10. James Reply

    This cleared up a few things… Mahalo.

  11. Austin Reply

    Hello Ross,
    I have diligently gone through your write up on sugar and other related alternatives. I have a question or two to ask you;
    1) it bothers on processed and non processed carbohydrates. In this part of the continent; Africa, Nigeria in particular, there are two or three main sources of unprocessed carbohydrates.;
    Cassava; this is locally processed into two forms. 1) Garri, which is fried with little addition of oil. It is said that it contains cyanide. 2) Fufu, this is also locally processed. All these processes are without the addition of any kind of chemical whatsoever. They also contain high fiber but with high GL.
    Here, we consume these foods with vegetable soup.
    My question then is that , will the consumption of these carbohydrates with vegetable soup, reduce sugar as the end product in the body?
    2) I don’t know the part of the world you live, but I know that you live outside Africa, now, I know that most of your foods are all processed with one chemical or the other thereby removing all the essential ingredients of Fiber in them. how do you cope, as there is high rate of absorption of processed food in the body than the unprocessed?. All these lead to spike in blood sugar.
    Thanks so much for your contributions in awareness creation against sugar consumption.
    Austin Kanu

  12. Alan Foxley Reply

    On holiday at the moment.
    Missing my daily ” green drink “.
    Thank you for keeping in touch.
    Enjoyed reading this.
    Gentle reminders are brilliant .

  13. Rainlily Reply

    Great article, Ross! Thanks for sharing all your in depth research with the rest of us!

    What are you thoughts on erythritol? That’s another one that has been touted as healthy, natural, and safe.

    I have a stevia plant and use a few minced leaves in my occasional afternoon coffee. I do know coffee is acidic, and I’m trying to cut back.

    Totally off topic – what are your thoughts on alkaline drops to lower the acidity of something like coffee?

  14. roseanna sacco Reply

    Hi Ross, THANK YOU for being your warm, authentic self and for providing humanity with such valuable information.

    I quit sugar over 30 years ago after reading a book called Sugar Blues. I do love a sweet taste, so here is what I do:

    I use very small amounts of green stevia (I avoid white stevia – how do they get it white -using bleach?). Green stevia tastes a little like goat milk, so I use it to sweeten the kale salads I make with ground cashew nuts, garlic and sliced organic golden apple, or to sweeten dandelion greens salads with sesame oil and ground sunflower seeds…. these salads totally satisfy my sweet tooth and people who eat them are delighted.

    Recently, however, I heard about Lakanto (do you have any information on erythritol?) and started to make a dessert using locally grown fromage blanc goat cheese with org orange zest, a little salt and Lakanto which I serve with roasted pecan nuts and fresh org orange to guests. This dessert is delicious but I am wary of the erythritol.

    Roseanna Sacco
    Sweet Springs,
    West Virginia

    P.S. Working with the new owner to renovate the famous Sweet Springs Resort, one of the renowned thermal spa’s in the Appalachian mountain area. The hotel was designed by Thomas Jefferson and the healing springs drew people from all over the world to ‘take the waters’. When the welcoming structure is ready to receive the public, I would love to hold a seminar here on Beneficial Nutrition – do you ever do ‘live’ workshops?

  15. Vikram Reply

    Please also review Raw Sugar & Erythritol

  16. Piedad Gomez Reply

    Thank you, I joined the webinar; I thought honey was good and is not; after I had breast cancer i quit sugar, instead i used honey when i have sugar cravings, I’m worry now, what can i do?
    I love your information that I follow, congratulations! I juice almost every day,also I made smoothies, sweetened them with bananas is this Ok? I am really worry as I am convinced how bad sugar is.

    Thank you so much and again congratulations!!

  17. Gail Reply

    Hi Ross. Thank you for your great information regarding the different types of sugar. I was just a little confused about the fructose summary note for stevia. It reads as follows:
    “Fructose Percentage: ZERO
    Uses: mild taste, so be careful not to overuse. Consistency, colour, taste and use similar to maple syrup so use however you’d use maple or honey: in baking, on top of things, in warm drinks etc.”.
    It sounds more like a description for brown rice syrup. Could you please clarify this as the only stevia I am familiar with is either a clear liquid or a green powder or crushed leaves. Thank you so much!

  18. Steven Holmes Reply

    Hi Ross,
    I noticed you didn’t include Erythritol or Truvia in your sweetener evaluation. Could you address these please.
    Steven

  19. Lorna Kineavy Reply

    Comment only – I love reading your articles when they arrive, they not only make a lot of sense but they are easy to follow. Congratulations – you make a large dent in the world of obesity and for that I thank you. Regards, Lorna K.

  20. Sarah Reply

    Fantastic Info yet again. I have only being using Stevia but have been looking for something to use in some of the recipes that require maple syrup or honey i.e. in a salad dressing or an Asian dressing for a stir fry. Rice malt syrup will do nicely, Thanks again Ross, I can’t get enough of your website, so inspiring!!!

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