Dr. Nancy answers:        Recommended Natural Sugar Substitutes and Ones to Avoid   © 2013 Nancy Emerson Lombardo, Ph.D., Brain Health and Wellness Center®

Stevia is just fine.   It is in fact the primary component in terms of sweetness in Truvia, Purevia and several other products.  In Truvia the other component is Erithritol.  You can go on my website and search for a newsletter a couple years ago that went into more detail on these options.  The main point I make is  1) stevia is very sweet 200-300x sweeter than sugar so in its pure form you need very little 2) since most manufacturers add a “filler” to give their product more bulk, it makes a huge difference what the filler is. Some are good for us, others are not.  E.g. a product I recommend against is Stevia in the Raw®.   They use maltodextrin as the primary ingredient in their baking product sold in large packages.  Maltodextrin, derived from corn, spikes blood sugar even worse than refined glucose sugars and is used in thousands of products manufactured in the US and elsewhere because since it has about 3.75 calories/gram, and thus can be labelled as having “zero calories” which is permissible in the US for all foods having less than 5 kcal per serving. And of course it is cheap, thanks to the federal subsidies on corn in the US.  Maltodextrin comes in several forms, some less sweet than others, and thus can serve as filler when less (or more) sweetness is desired.  Also, some classify maltodextrin as a sugar, and others do not.  Technically it is a poly- or oligosaccharide comprised of 3-20 linked sugars, mostly glucose, and thus is technically is a “complex carbohydrate.” The food industry can thus use it in products labelled “sugar free.”  Yet maltodextrin has a high glycemic index, digests quickly and thus both spikes blood sugar, sometimes worse than refined glucose or white bread, and thus can increase insulin problems and promote fat gain. Thus in my opinion, maltodextrin is a terrible choice when one is trying to go “sugar free” or avoid products that spike blood sugar and insulin.


And in the little green packets of Sugar in the Raw, the filler is 1 gram of dextrose, a corn sugar. There are  there are almost 4 calories in each packet; Anything under 5 calories can legally be labelled “zero calories”.  The amount is smaller than in a packet of pure refined sugar, but why use any sugar when there are better options.  The average consumer doesn’t recognize the word dextrose as “sugar. ” Most sugars recognizable by the consumer end in “ose” (glucose, fructose, dextrose), yet dextrose isn’t as familiar to the average consumer as glucose and fructose so isn’t always recognized as a true sugar that acts in the body similar to glucose.


My favorites for baking are either pure stevia for baking using perhaps bean, chickpea or almond flour to add back bulk and extra nutrients, a mixture of stevia and coconut sugar and/or applesauce, or any of the above flours, or Truvia™®.  Coconut sugar is a true sugar but has a relatively low and safe level of glycemic index, even lower than agave syrup.  It is newer on the market and not as known as agave or raw honey.  It looks like and tastes more delicious than brown sugar, and is slightly sweeter.  Thus you can use coconut sugar in similar ratio to substitute for white or brown sugar, but I tend to use a little less, or cut the sugar in 1/2 using coconut sugar for that 1/2 and a packet or two of Sweet Leaf or Truvia for the other 1/2 if the decrease in volume isn’t an issue.


In the packets:  My favorite is the SweetLeaf® brand which uses inulin, a healthy fiber, as the bulking agent, inulin is something actually extra good for us.  But SweetLeaf®  isn’t carried by all the regular grocery stores so is harder to find.


Then second to SweetLeaf®, and easier to find, Truvia, which used erithritol, a sugar alcohol naturally found in common foods (e.g. melons, white grapes and pears).  Purevia sometimes uses Erithritol as the bulking agent, other times however they use other not recommended agents. So read the label and continue reading for bulking agents to avoid, that are besmirching the good name stevia has won.


This is complicated so if you have more questions, read April 2010 newsletter article elsewhere on this website (LINK), or search authoritative sights elsewhere on the web, especially for advice for baking.  Also remind yourself why looking for a sugar substitute is worth it in the first place in our article on “Squelch the Sugar,” in the July 2010 newsletter.  There we report studies about how sugar inflames the brain and excess sugar can shrink the hippocampus, the short term memory center of our brains that is also affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

And be sure to check out our dessert recipes putting to use some of these suggestions, deliciously.

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© 2013 Nancy Emerson Lombardo, Ph.D., Brain Health and Wellness Center®



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