One Lump or None?
The Case for 5 Sugar Alternatives
Sugar is everywhere these days. The American Heart Association reports that an average adult living in North America consumes a massive 77 grams of sugar per day! That’s more than 6 heaping tablespoons. Sugar isn’t just hiding in your breakfast cereals and snacks—you’ll find sugar is a primary ingredient of canned soups, condiments, and salad dressings. In a country where liters of soda pop line the shelves of the supermarket, it’s probably not surprising to hear most of our sugar consumption comes through our beverages. Sugary drinks play a major role in the overconsumption of sugar, and tea is no exception.
Here in the South a lot of us like our tea on the sweet side. No shame in that! Tea and sugar have been a popular pair since the 18th century. Sweetening tea is known to elevate or transform the tea’s base flavor profiles. This is especially noticeable with aroma teas. Adding a pinch of sweetness to a cup of vanilla black tea, for example, will shift the flavor profile from smooth and malty to rich and milky. Our popular Bon Bon tea transforms from bold and chocolatey to downright decadent and desserty! Without moderation, however, all that excess sugar can be unhealthy. Luckily, there are alternatives to sugar that we can use to sweeten our beverages. Here is our list of 5 popular sugar alternatives:
Honey is a delicious sweetener with a surprising number of health benefits. We love honey (and our bee friends that make it!) here at Tin Roof Teas and carry a large selection of a flavor-infused honeys and selectively-sourced honeys. Although honey is not a zero-calorie sweetener, it is sweeter than the average table sugar, meaning you can get away with using less of it. It is also a natural source of antioxidants, and studies have shown that it may reduce blood pressure. Honey has been known to be a natural cure for sore throats and runny noses, and local varieties are even purported to help with seasonal allergies. Plus, it tastes great in all kinds of teas! We recommend pairing it with black teas.
Agave is a syrup produced from the sap of a plant of the same name. It is similar to honey in terms of appearance, texture, and sweetness. Because of this, it is often seen as the vegan alternative to honey. Another similarity that agave has with honey is that it is high in calories. Don’t let that scare you, though! Just like honey, you only need to use a tiny bit of agave to sweeten your drink. Agave is a great natural sweetener, but it is typically processed at the same levels as sugar. This means most agave isn’t any healthier than your average table sugar. Still, agave is a great sweetener and dissolves easily into drinks.
Chances are you’ve seen the word “xylitol” on your favorite gum. Unlike sugar, xylitol is known to prevent tooth decay, so it is often used as a sugar substitute in chewing gum. It isn’t widely known that Xylitol can be used as a sweetener for baking and beverages, but it can be. It is a great natural sugar substitute for the calorie conscious. Xylitol is about as sweet as table sugar, but with half the calories. It’s naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables and is deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so it’s technically not an artificial sweetener. Be wary, Xylitol does have a strong aftertaste—and excessive consumption of xylitol has been known to cause stomach aches.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, meaning it is created in a food lab. It is made by taking a sucrose molecule and replacing three hydrogen and oxygen groups with chlorine atoms. Since the resulting product cannot be metabolized by the body, it is essentially a zero-calorie sweetener. Sucralose may be a good sugar alternative if you’re simply looking to cut calories. The taste of sucralose mimics table sugar well. Apart from its low-calorie content, however, there are no health benefits to using sucralose. In fact, in 1998 the Food and Drug Administration released a report that sucralose has been found to cause minor genetic damage in mice cells. There are too few long-term studies on the use of sucralose to tell us anything substantial about the effect of sucralose on the body, but it is true that it can help you lose weight.
Stevia is a sweetener produced from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant. Like sucralose, stevia is a calorie-free sweetener. Stevia, however, is completely natural. Unlike sucralose, stevia does not require human engineering to produce. Extracting the sweetener can be as simple as boiling a stevia leaf. Still, most packaged stevia contains additives like maltodextrin and sugar alcohols. You can look for brands that advertise 100% pure stevia to avoid this. Although there is not a lot of long-term research on the use of Stevia, early research has shown that stevia affects blood sugar less than table sugar. Most signs point to stevia being a (moderately) healthy sugar substitute. Some people claim that stevia produces an unpleasant aftertaste, but its growing popularity tells us that opinion isn’t shared by everyone. Personally, we love to add stevia to our herbal teas.