A Diabetic's Guide to Natural Sweeteners
Many assume that a diabetes-friendly diet lacks sweetness and excitement, but it doesn’t have to be that way! We spoke with Dr. Thinh Xuan Ho, primary care physician at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group, to share wholesome ingredients and interesting alternatives to make your meals delicious and nutritious. One way you can do this is by using a diabetic-safe sweetener in place of granulated sugar in your favorite recipes.
Sweeteners Diabetics Should Avoid
Not all natural sweeteners are safe alternatives for people with diabetes. For example, while agave has a low glycemic index (meaning it’s less likely to cause spikes in blood glucose levels), it has more calories than granulated sugar and higher fructose content. Fructose (compared to the sucrose in table sugar) can cause the body to produce less insulin and put more strain on the liver as it breaks down the sugars.
In short, an alternative sweetener’s side effects or impact on insulin resistance may outweigh the benefits. Practice caution in your consumption of artificial sweeteners and even natural ones like maple syrup, corn syrup, and xylitol.
4 Safe Sugar Substitutes for Diabetics
Monk Fruit Extract
Monk fruit naturally contains mogrosides, a type of antioxidant that’s responsible for this treat’s sweet flavor. Researchers have found a way to extract this antioxidant to create a sugar-free sweetener that contains no calories and doesn’t affect blood sugar levels.
To create stevia sweetener, manufacturers collect the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant and process them into fine crystals. Stevia is low in calories and maintains its flavor during heating, so it’s an optimal sweetener to use in baking or hot beverages.
Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that comes from the fermentation of cornstarch or wheat. It has very few calories and has no impact on your blood sugar. While erythritol is less likely than others to do so, sugar alcohols can upset your stomach. Start with small amounts and discontinue use if it causes any discomfort.
Did you know you can find the most natural sweetener in the produce aisle? Fresh fruit can be a great addition to your recipes, as they contain fiber to help slow down your sugar absorption and, in turn, reduce the impact on your blood sugar levels. Try using mashed bananas, unsweetened applesauce, or date paste in your next recipe.
According to Dr. Ho, “Most fresh fruits have a low to medium glycemic index, so they do not lead to a sharp rise in blood glucose level compared to other carbohydrate containing foods.” That means this is generally a safe way to add extra sweetness to your diet as we cannot eat lots of fruits at the same time. “A portion of fresh fruit contains about 15 to 20 grams of carbohydrates on average, which is similar to a slice of bread.”
“Most people with diabetes do not need to reduce the amount of fruit they eat,” Dr. Ho added. “Dried fruits and fruit juices, however, can be high in sugars so better be limited or avoided.”
A Diabetes-Friendly Dessert
Put what you’ve learned into practice! Try our Oatmeal Raisin Banana Cookies:
Oatmeal Raisin Banana Cookies
¼ cup natural peanut butter (without added sugar)
1 ½ cups rolled oats
¼ cup oat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ cup raisins
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mix the rolled oats, oat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and raisins together. Set aside.
- Mash the bananas, and mix with the peanut butter. Incorporate the dry ingredients until you have a smooth dough.
- Take a large spoonful of dough, roll it into a ball, place it on a cookie sheet, and gently press it down. Continue until you use all the dough.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes.
If you have diabetes, you don’t have to give up the meals you love. Schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician or endocrinologist for advice on how you can modify your diet and achieve better health.
Medical News Today | What are the best sweeteners for people with diabetes?
American Diabetes Association | Glycemic Index and Diabetes
Healthline | The Best Sugar Substitutes for People with Diabetes
Diabetes UK | Sugar, sweeteners and diabetes
Healthline | Monk Fruit Sweetener: Good or Bad?
Healthline | Erythritol — Like Sugar Without the Calories?
Medical News Today | Is agave syrup the best sweetener for diabetes?