Sugar Substitutes That Won’t Raise Blood Sugar

It's easy to get overwhelmed and confused by the many options of sugar substitutes you can buy. Refer this guide when you're looking for the best sugar substitutes for blood sugar.

Grand mother baking with her granddaughter

What sweeteners don't raise blood sugar?

  • Natural sugar substitutes: Monk fruit, allulose, and sometimes stevia
  • Natural sugar substitutes for baking: Monk fruit and allulose
  • Artificial sweeteners: Splenda, sugar alcohols (Xylitol, Maltitol, Erythritol, and Sorbitol), saccharin

Monk fruit and allulose are typically the best sugar substitutes to try first. If you have a sweet tooth, and you’re struggling to reduce your consumption of added sugar, consider experimenting with these two substitutes. 

Let’s look at the details of each. 

Monk Fruit 

Glycemic Index of Monk Fruit: 0

Monk fruit, which also goes by the name of luo han guo in China has been used for centuries as a treatment for the common cold and as a digestive aid. It was named after monks in Southern China that grew the fruit over eight centuries ago. 

The monk fruit sweetener found in the grocery store today is derived from the juice of the small round fruit. The sweetener by itself has zero calories and is 150-200 times sweeter than table sugar1. Some describe monk fruit as having a fruity taste. 

How Do You Use Monk Fruit?

Monk fruit is a replacement product for sugar. It can be purchased as a syrup, granulated into crystals, or finely powdered similar to icing sugar. You may use any three of these options for your sweetening needs. 

<p class="pro-tip">Bonus: Monk fruit is heat stable so it can be used in cooking and baking. </p>

Does Monk Fruit Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

It depends. If you decide to use monk fruit as a sweetener in your beverage or as a substitute for sugar in a recipe, make sure you read the nutritional label. Some distributors of monk fruit powder will combine their product with other artificial sweeteners such as erythritol or even with maltodextrin, a processed form of carbohydrate, that can spike your blood sugar. 

Is Monk Fruit Bad For You? 

Monk fruit was deemed to be generally recognized as safe (or GRAS in FDA terms) in 2010, and to date, there are no known side effects1. Given that it's a naturally occurring sweetener, in its pure form, most tasters say that it doesn’t have a chemical aftertaste.

Many packaged versions of the sweetener contain other fillers, including sugar alcohols, which may result in an upset stomach for some people. 

Allulose 

Glycemic Index of Allulose: 0

One of the exciting new entrants to the sugar substitute arena is Allulose, which was given a GRAS designation by the FDA in 2019. 

Allulose, classified as a rare sugar, occurs naturally in wheat, figs, raisins, and maple syrup. It can also be manufactured from other foods, such as corn, using an enzymatic process. 

Unlike artificial sweeteners, Allulose looks and tastes like table sugar, while having about 70% of the sweetness. It also has no chemical aftertaste. 

Allulose, like monk fruit, is stable when heat is applied, so you can use this sugar substitute in your cooking and baking recipes. 

Which Products Contain Allulose? 

Many people are using allulose in cooking as a sugar substitute, the one caveat is that it does brown more than sugar so if you’re expecting to bake a white angel food cake with allulose, the result may be a little more on the browned side than you might be expecting.

Does Allulose Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

No; allulose doesn’t digest like other sugars; it’s absorbed in the small intestines and then excreted in our urine. As a result, you get the sweet taste, but not the rise in blood glucose levels after your meal. 

Like sugar alcohols, some people report stomach upset when allulose is consumed in large quantities.

Is Allulose Bad For You? 

One reason this new entrant is so thrilling to those of us in the metabolic health field is that some small studies indicate that allulose can help with improving insulin sensitivity, reducing post-meal glucose spikes, and may even help with weight loss3.

In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in Japan, 26 subjects that were borderline diabetics were given 5 grams of allulose (called D-psicose in the study) in their tea while other participants received a placebo2. The group that had allulose in their tea had significantly lower blood glucose after their meal than the control group.

Stevia 

Glycemic Index of Stevia: 0

Stevia is a naturally occurring sweetener that tastes 200-300 times sweeter than sugar1.

The starting material for stevia extracts may be natural so we're classifying it as a sugar substitute, not an artificial sweetener, but these ingredients are still highly processed. 

Stevia comes from a plant in the sunflower family and can be found in North and South America as well as in Asia. It has been used to make tea since the 16th century. 

There are so few calories in stevia that it can be classified as a no-calorie or zero-calorie sweetener. 

Which Products Contain Stevia? 

Stevia is an ingredient that is sold as a sweetening agent. Coca-Cola uses refined Stevia, called Truvia, to sweeten their soda drinks. Splenda also has stevia-based products that replace the need for sugar in baking and mixing beverages at home. 

Does Stevia Raise Blood Sugar Levels?

Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels9. The molecules can not be broken down or absorbed, and the product will move through your digestive system without impacting your blood glucose. 

Is Stevia Bad For You? 

Stevia is considered safe to consume. but you should be aware that many stevia products also contain sugar alcohols which can lead to stomach upset if consumed in larger quantities.

Sucralose

Glycemic Index of Sucralose: 0 

Sold under the brand name Splenda, sucralose is made from a multi-step process, and it is considered an artificial sweetener. It is a general sweetening agent that blends easily when added to sweet beverages and baked goods. 

Some artificial sweeteners taste even sweeter than regular table sugar. Sucralose is reported to be 400-700 times sweeter than sugar1! However, unlike other artificial products, sucralose doesn’t have a chemical aftertaste. 

Which products contain sucralose? 

  • Baked goods
  • Chewing gum 
  • Frozen goods 
  • Beverages including soda and flavored sparkling waters 

Does sucralose raise blood sugar levels?

Inconclusive. While considered a zero calorie sweetener that won’t raise your blood sugar, there is a small study showing an increase in glucose and insulin after ingestion6. More research is required on this. 

Is sucralose bad for you? 

Exercise caution if you plan on cooking with Splenda, as some research indicates that the compound breaks down under high heat8.  

Sugar Alcohols

Glycemic Index of Sugar Alcohols: 0

Sugar alcohols are neither sugar molecules nor a form of alcohol. They are often manufactured, although some trace amounts of sugar alcohols can be found naturally in fruits and vegetables. 

Although they are carbohydrates, they’re somewhat resistant to digestion, so the body absorbs fewer calories. Sugar alcohols are a popular option for people who are trying to lose weight or manage their current weight. 

You can identify sugar alcohols on the ingredients label of food products. Look for Xylitol, Maltitol, Erythritol, and Sorbitol (think substitutes that end with "tol"). Sugar alcohols can be mixed in with other sweetening agents, and you may recognize several ingredients on the food label. 

Which products contain sugar alcohols? 

  • "Sugar-free" products are the number one place to find sugar alcohols
  • Sugar-free gum 
  • No -ugar cranberry cocktail or other sugar-free fruit juices 
  • Sugar-free candies and baked goods 
  • Throat lozenges or cough syrup medications

Do sugar alcohols raise blood sugar levels?

Yes. Since they are still sugar, when eaten in larger quantities, they can still cause an increase in blood sugar. People who regularly check their glucose levels should consider checking their levels two hours after eating sugar alcohol to know if they will be affected. 

Are sugar alcohols bad for you? 

Sugar alcohols are safe to consume, but intake should be in moderation. When eaten in excess, they can cause stomach upset so keep that in mind when choosing where and when to add them in4

Saccharin

Glycemic Index of Saccharin: 0

This artificial sweetener has been around for over 100 years. It doesn’t contain any calories or carbs and since we can’t digest it, it passes through the digestive tract and leaves us unchanged. 

There have been some studies that showed a link between saccharin and bladder cancer in rats, but that link has not been established in humans7

Saccharin can be found in diet soft drinks, packaged and processed foods and in individual packets under the brand name Sweet ‘N Low.

Which products contain saccharin? 

  • Fruit juice beverages 
  • Canned fruit 
  • Sweet ‘N Low packets are used to flavor tea or coffee
  • Baked goods 

Does saccharin raise blood sugar levels?

No, saccharin will not raise blood sugar levels because your body does not metabolize the molecule5. The artificial sweetener will be excreted from your system through urine and regular bowel movements.   

Is saccharin sad for you? 

In the early 1970s, some studies showed a link between saccharin and bladder cancer in rats, but that link has not been established in humans. Since 2000 Saccharin has been removed from the list of carcinogens and is considered safe to consume1

Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes: Takeaway

Artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes are safe to include in your diet as you work on lowering your overall sugar intake. But these products should not be the end goal! 

Continue to work on decreasing your intake of processed foods and sweetened products as much as possible. Pick whole options and fresh fruits whenever possible (here's a list of low GI fruits), and increase the flavor appeal of your meals using spices and herbs instead of sweeteners!

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References

  1. FDA. (2018, February 8). Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States | FDA. US Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved April 28, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/additional-information-about-high-intensity-sweeteners-permitted-use-food-united-states 
  2. Hayashi, N., Iida, T., Yamada, T., Okuma, K., Takehara, I., Yamamoto, T., Yamada, K., & Tokuda, M. (2010). Study on the postprandial blood glucose suppression effect of D-psicose in borderline diabetes and the safety of long-term ingestion by normal human subjects. Bioscience, Biotechnology, Biochemistry, 74(3), 510-519. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20208358/ 
  3. Kimura, T., Kanasaki, A., Hayashi, N., Yamada, T., Iida, T., Nagata, Y., & Okuma, K. (2017). d-Allulose enhances postprandial fat oxidation in healthy humans. Nutrition (Burbank Los Angeles, Calif.), 43(44), 16-20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28935140/ 
  4. Mäkinen, K. K. (2016). Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated with the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols with Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health-Care Professionals. International Journal of Dentistry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5093271/ 
  5. Pang, M. D., Goossens, G. H., & Blaak, E. E. (2021, January 7). The Impact of Artificial Sweeteners on Body Weight Control and Glucose Homeostasis. Frontiers In Nutrition, 7. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnut.2020.598340/full#:~:text=Saccharin%20is%20~300%20times%20sweeter,58
  6. Pepino, Y., Tiemann, C. D., Patterson, B. W., Wice, B. M., & Klein, S. (2013, September). Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load. Diabetes Care, 36(9), 2530-2535. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23633524/ 
  7. Reuber, M. D. (1978). Carcinogenicity of saccharin. Environmental Health Perspectives, 25, 173-200. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1637197/ 
  8. Schiffman, S. S., & Rother, K. I. (2013). Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview of Biological Issues. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, 16(7), 399-451. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3856475/ 
  9. Seyfi, A. M., Hosseini, A. P., Velayati, N. P., & Zahedirad, M. F. (2020, March). Effects of stevia on glycemic and lipid profiled of type 2 diabetic patients: A randomized controlled trial. Avicenna J. Phytomed, 10(2), 118-127. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7103435/#:~:text=Therefore%2C%20intake%20of%20stevia%20sweetener,sucrose

About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski Headshot
Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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