Sugar vs erythritol: How to choose

How much thought do you put in when a barista asks, “sugar or Splenda?” Your body processes artificial and natural sugars so, it is a very important, and individualized choice. For some, natural sugar is the ideal choice because the body can digest it easier, whereas synthetic options can be more diet-friendly. If you’re considering incorporating these sugar substitutes into your diet, the number of choices can be overwhelming. While there’s stevia, coconut sugar, and xylitol, today we’re breaking down the ins and outs of erythritol? If not, no worries! We’ll break down everything you need to know about this natural sugar substitute, starting with what exactly it is.

More importantly, we’ll compare some of the characteristics of table sugar and erythritol side by side, so you can make informed choices about which sweetener you choose to use. There are definitely benefits to using sugar alternatives, but are they right for you? Read on to find out!

Sugar: The sweetener you know and love

Sugar is the classic sweetener of choice for cooking and baking. Over time, though, it can have damaging effects on one’s health if consumed in excess, so a sugar substitute every now and then might be the healthier choice for you. However, sugar can be just fine in moderation and, in fact, is easier on your digestive system than many of its substitutes.

Cost

First, sugar is cheap to produce and purchase compared to substitutes such as erythritol. You can purchase 4 pounds of cane sugar for $3.29 at Safeway, and you can reliably find simple table sugar at nearly all supermarkets and local stores. This means that you aren’t limited to shopping at specialty or organic food stores for your baking needs. You can still make your favorite cakes, cookies, and smoothies after a trip to the corner store.

Calories

According to the American Heart Association, each gram of sugar you consume is worth about 4 calories. More often than you’d expect, sugar is a large portion of the total calories of your favorite sweets. However, calories are not the most important number to track when it comes to your nutrition, so don’t be afraid to treat yourself every now and then.

Health risks and benefits:

Although sugar doesn’t harm the body in small amounts, excess consumption can disrupt blood sugar levels, lead to weight gain, and decrease energy levels from that dreaded sugar crash. According to Harvard Health Publishing, consuming too much sugar also has a significant effect on diabetes, insulin production, and cardiovascular health.

The body gets most of its energy from carbohydrates, so sugars give bursts of energy rather than giving your body a strong and consistent source. Therefore, it’s not great to rely on sugar as your energy source, but a candy bar can be a really effective pick me up in the middle of the day.

Erythritol: What is it, and is it any better?

Erythritol is a type of polyol or sugar alcohol, a chemical compound about three-quarters as sweet as sugar. Research has also concluded this sweetener is safe for consumption in moderation.

According to Diet vs. Disease, this sweetener is “found naturally in some fermented foods and fruits. However, most erythritol is man-made from cornstarch.” Specifically, when certain types of starches ferment, they produce sugars such as dextrose. Some foods that naturally contain erythritol include watermelon, mushrooms, grapes, cheese, and beer (via FoodInsight).

Cost

Because a lot of this sweetener is made in a lab, it’s more expensive to produce. Typically, fermentation is a long process and only produces small amounts of the product at a time, which results in higher prices for both manufacturers and consumers.  For example, health stores like The Vitamin Shoppe sell a 16-ounce pouch of erythritol for $14.99.

Calories

Erythritol activates the sweetness-receiving taste buds in your mouth thanks to its chemical structure. While the body is able to absorb erythritol, it cannot break it down, and most will leave the body through urine. This is why this sugar has nearly zero calories, compared to sugar’s 4 calories per gram. Erythritol contains only 0.3 calories per gram.

Health risks and benefits

So what’s the catch? Erythritol isn’t as harsh on the digestive system as other sugar substitutes, but it can still cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Additionally, nutritionists have found that those who consume sugar alcohols feel less full than those who eat natural sugar, so relying on erythritol and similar substitutes can lead to overeating and weight gain.

Erythritol is a promising sugar alternative for those with diabetes since it doesn’t spike blood sugar. It is also less damaging to teeth than traditional sugar.

Now that you can distinguish some of the characteristics, costs, and benefits of sugar versus erythritol, it’s time to give each a test drive. Though each has pros and cons, you are the only one who can decide what’s best for you and your diet. This is not the only artificial sweetener out there, either, so don’t forget to do your research before making any changes to your diet.

BlissMark provides information regarding health, wellness, and beauty. The information within this article is not intended to be medical advice. Before starting any diet or exercise routine, consult your physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, the United States Health & Human Services department has a free online tool that can help you locate a clinic in your area. We are not medical professionals, have not verified or vetted any programs, and in no way intend our content to be anything more than informative and inspiring.

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