Almost all of us love sweet foods and an occasional dessert. Unfortunately, sugar and most sweets are among the very worst things to be consuming if you want to heal a chronic condition and function at your best. So, what are the best sweeteners out there when we want to satisfy our sweet tooth that won't elevate our blood sugar and cause insulin roller coasters?
When looking for a healthy sweetener, there are several things to consider:
A healthy sweetener does not contain chemicals. It is made of only unambiguous, natural, whole-food sourced ingredients.
It also should have minimal or no impact on blood sugar and insulin levels.
A healthy sweetener also has nutritional value and promotes gut microbiome.
I have done extensive research for years and found three types of sweeteners that meet these criteria. Let’s look at why they are the best options:
1. Monk Fruit:
Monk fruit (also known as lo han or lo han guo) is a small, melon-like fruit native to Southeast Asia. It's been consumed for hundreds of years and used in Eastern medicine as a cold and digestive aid. Is Monk Fruit Sweetener Healthy?
Monk fruit has a positive impact on blood sugar levels. Preliminary studies show promise for improving insulin signaling by protecting pancreatic insulin-releasing cells from oxidative stress.
Monk fruit has zero calories. It contains flavonoids, amino acids, polysaccharides, and triterpenes (which may have cancer-fighting potential).
Studies have found that mogroside V (one of the five compounds isolated from monk fruit) has the ability to inhibit tumor growth in pancreatic cancer. It does this by interfering with the rapid dividing of cancer cells, thereby preventing angiogenesis (blood flow to the tumor) and even promoting cancer cell death. Additionally, monk fruit has almost identical immune-boosting and anti-microbial properties as stevia. Studies also show that monk fruit is an antioxidant and provides protection to the liver.
Stevia is a plant in the ragweed family. It has been used for thousands of years by South American tribes. Stevia is a zero-calorie sweetener and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia’s sweetness comes from two primary components that are isolated from the stevia plant. The two components are stevioside compounds and rebaudioside compounds. The stevioside compounds have a sweet taste and a notable licorice-like aftertaste. The rebaudioside compounds are isolated in highly-refined commercial stevia products because they provide sweetness without the licorice aftertaste. These refined commercial stevia products may be healthier than other chemical sweeteners, but whole-plant stevia extracts are the best option.
Stevia has no impact on blood sugar levels and has been found to have beneficial effects on blood sugar balance. It may even improve insulin signaling. Analysis of a whole-leaf stevia extract found that the stevia leaf is a diverse source of nutrients. It contains a broad range of polyphenols, carotenoids, chlorophyll compounds, and amino acids.
Stevia contains compounds including quercetin, apigenin, and kaempferol, all of which have been shown to reduce oxidative stress and potentially help control the development of cancer. It is important to buy stevia in either plant or whole-plant extract form with both stevioside compounds and rebaudioside compounds, as these have been shown to have a higher anti-cancer effect than stevioside alone. Stevioside has been isolated in research as a potential immune-boosting agent. Evidence also suggests that stevia has mild antimicrobial effects when taken internally and has shown promise in combating Lyme disease.
3. Yacon Root
Yacon is a large perennial plant that is mainly grown and cultivated for its tuberous roots. It primarily grows in South America, including the Central and Northern Andes. It has been a traditionally grown vegetable for thousands of years and has a wide variety of uses.
Yacon tubers are mostly composed of fructooligosaccharides and water. This means that the majority of the carbohydrate sugars cannot be digested by the body, resulting in a very low-calorie level and prevention of excess sugar coming into the bloodstream. Yacon also helps the body increase its vitamin and mineral absorption of all other foods, so while there aren’t many vitamins and minerals in Yacon itself, it is important for the intake of these essential components of human health. Yacon is still rich in potassium, calcium, and phosphorous.
There are also many other health benefits of Yacon, including preventing diabetes, regulating blood pressure, lowering triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, helping increase weight loss, and it's rich in pre-biotics which can promote a healthy gut microbiome. Also, the slight laxative effect of yacon reduces constipation, bloating, and other more serious gastrointestinal conditions, such as gastric ulcers and colon cancer.
I personally prefer to use yacon syrup for my morning porridge and gluten-free pancakes and pure organic monk fruit for cooking and baking. You may easily find these products on amazon.com. Give them a try, and feel free to write to me to share your thoughts.
Jenny Noland, MS, CNS, CNGS, CKNS, LDN, MBA
Functional Nutritionist in Eugene, Oregon
Board-Certified Nutrition Specialist
Board-Certified Nutritional Genomics Specialist
Board-Certified Ketogenic Nutrition Specialist
Certified Oncology Nutrition Specialist
Personalized Nutrition Therapy for Metabolic Dysfunction and Cancer Care
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