Your Need-to-Know Guide to Sugar and Sweeteners

More and more research is illustrating that white sugar isn’t so great for our bodies—so what are the alternatives?

The word “sweet” can mean a lot of things, can’t it? When we call someone that, we’re expressing our appreciation for their kindness; when we use it as an exclamation, we’re clearly pretty happy about something; and when we find “the sweet spot,” it means we’re in just the right place. Much like its array of identities in the way we communicate, there are as many ways, if not more, to consider sweetness in terms of the way we flavor our food.

From natural to artificial, glucose to fructose, straight-from-the-source to highly-processed, the options for sweetening what we eat are vast and complicated. What’s more, mileage may vary depending on what your body needs, likes and craves.

Refined White Sugar

The most familiar form of sugar is the one most of us grew up associating with candy, kids’ cereals and other foods known for satisfying even the most insistent sweet tooth. It’s sucrose, also known as refined white sugar, and it’s the stuff that used to be found in abundance in nearly every kitchen in the United States. High fructose corn syrup has also found its way into boxed, bagged, canned, and bottled products for several generations, offering a quick sugar rush with few to no health benefits and lots of health warnings.

Sucrose is the second-highest ranking form of sugar on the glycemic index, scoring 68 on a scale of 1 to 100; that means it causes blood sugar to rise quickly once ingested. Another sugar that’s high on the glycemic index is glucose, which earns a whopping 96 in foods like molasses, oranges and canned fruits. That’s why OJ is so often used to quickly address an episode of low blood sugar: it gets the job done quickly. The upside of glucose and sucrose is that they literally hit the sweet spot, giving us that mythical “sugar rush” and all the good feelings associated with it in the short-term. The downside, however, is no joke: consuming great amounts of high-glycemic sugars on a regular basis can put the body on a glycemic roller coaster, creating mood swings, cravings and a host of other issues if left unchecked.

Saccharine and Aspartame 

In the 1970s and 80s, a wave of artificial sweeteners like saccharine and aspartame hit the market, but the FDA has gone back and forth over the years on saccharine’s role as a carcinogen, and aspartame has raised questions among medical experts about its addictive properties and other effects on brain chemistry. In other words, naturalists and health-conscious consumers might want to keep on trucking toward other, better ways to satisfy the need for something sweet.

Naturally Sweet

For a kick of sweetness without a ton of processing on the front end or too high a blood sugar spike on the back end, fructose can quite literally hit the sweet spot. It’s found naturally in fruits and vegetables, as well as honey and maple syrup, which can be delicious alternatives to the classic white stuff or artificial sweeteners. 

Honey’s glycemic value (around 61, stemming from a combination of glucose and fructose) is lower than table sugar, and it tastes sweeter, which means you don’t need as much. Other natural sweeteners come in the form of coconut sugar, agave (drawn from succulents), dates, and brown rice syrup, which has a comforting, earthy flavor.

If you’re branching out to see how you respond natural sweeteners, consider keeping a daily journal to record your moods, energy levels and overall thoughts on what works for you. As with any dietary treat, moderation is key (and means something different to everyone), so listen to your body and give it what it needs and likes.

Bite Into Perfection 

Perfect Bar fresh protein bars are a favorite fresh snack among the Wanderlust team, both for
their natural ingredients and how great they taste. Each bar’s primary sugar content stems from
whole food sources like honey, as well as dried fruit and naturally sweet nut butters, and
they’re packed with vital nutrients. It’s a great example of why you shouldn’t just look at the
sugar number on the nutrition label, but should also look at the full ingredient list to see where
that sugar comes from.

There are a ton of different flavors to try—like Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, Fruit and Nut and
our new favorite Dark Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter with Sea Salt—and each bar has anywhere
from 8 to 17 grams of protein. What’s missing from these bars are artificial preservatives, which
is exactly why they’re found in the refrigerator —they’re that fresh. It’s fair to say we like mixing
it up throughout the week when we need a smarter and more satisfying snack than, say, a
granola bar made with refined sugars.

 How do you satisfy your sweet tooth?