The challenge of following any healthy eating plan is not feeling that you’re being deprived of your favorite foods — including sweets. While the South Beach Diet suggests you eliminate sugar and sugary products on Phase 1 (because they cause swings in blood sugar, which may lead to cravings) and continue to avoid them except for the occasional treat on Phase 2, the good news is that there are sugar substitutes to enjoy on all Phases, if you like. Unlike regular sugar, sugar substitutes are calorie-free, and consuming them does not affect blood-sugar levels. So, if you're in the mood for something sweet, you can happily have a treat (like a rich-tasting, no-sugar-added fudge pop) made with a sugar substitute.
Here's a look at some common sweeteners.
At 600 times sweeter than table sugar, sucralose (one brand is Splenda) is the
sweetest of all artificial sweeteners. It’s used to produce low- or no-calorie
frozen and gelatin desserts, beverages, and gum. In addition to being heat
stable, sucralose has the advantage of measuring like sugar, so it's a good
substitute for sugar in baked goods. There are more than 100 studies on
sucralose that verify it's safe for consumers.
Aspartame (sold under brand names of Equal and NutraSweet) is 200 times sweeter
than sugar. Manufacturers use aspartame in chewing gum, beverages, and
desserts, and you may want to use it at home to sweeten whole-grain cereals or
iced tea. Since aspartame loses some of its sweetness during extreme heat
exposure, it's best to cook or bake with it using recipes that have been
specifically designed by aspartame manufacturers. Aspartame is the most
extensively researched sugar substitute on the market, so consumers can be
confident that it's safe. However, certain people, including those with the
rare metabolic disease phenylketonuria (PKU), pregnant women, and those with
advanced liver disease, are urged to avoid it.
Frequently found in baked goods and diet soda, saccharin is the sugar
substitute with the longest history. Several hundred times sweeter than sugar,
saccharin is heat stable, making it an acceptable choice for cooking and
baking. It's also commonly consumed as a sweetener for coffee and tea. While
there has been concern over a possible link between saccharin and stomach
cancer, this suspicion has not been confirmed in scientific studies.
K: Acesulfame K, also known as acesulfame potassium, was
approved by the FDA in 1988. It's 200 times sweeter than sugar, and
manufacturers often use it in combination with aspartame in candies, baked
goods, beverages, and frozen desserts. At home, you can use acesulfame K in both
hot and cold beverages. More than 90 studies involving the use of acesulfame K
document its safety.
alcohols: Sugar alcohols provide sweetness and texture
similar to sugar, but they contain fewer calories and don't impact blood-sugar
levels. You can identify the many different sugar alcohols available by looking
in the ingredient list for words ending in "ol," such as mannitol and
sorbitol. The main concern with sugar alcohols is the laxative effect they can
produce. Some people are more sensitive to this effect than others, so take
note of your reaction to foods that contain sugar alcohols. The limit on Sweet
Treats (75 to 100 calories daily) should also help reduce any unpleasant side
Stevia (one brand is Truvia) is a natural sweetener that comes from the Stevia
rebaudiana plant. Its most popular form is a highly refined white powder, since
the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved whole-leaf stevia
or its extracts as food additives; the FDA has identified the highly refined
forms of stevia, however, as “generally recognized as safe,” which means they
are just as acceptable for use as other sugar substitutes. Stevia is 300 times
sweeter than table sugar, yet it’s virtually calorie-free and won’t cause
spikes in blood sugar. Stevia can be used as a replacement for sugar in most
recipes and is often used in baking.
Monk fruit: Also known
as lo han guo, monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) is a natural
sweetener that comes from a round, green melon that grows on vines on remote
mountaintops in central Asia. In its extract form, monk fruit is 150 to 200
times sweeter than sugar with zero calories per serving. Sold as a powder in
packets and tasting very much like sugar itself, it can replace sugar in baked
and nonbaked desserts, beverages, sauces, cereals, and so on, or be combined
with stevia if you like to experiment. To date, monkfruit has received
“generally recognized as safe” status from the FDA. Read package labels for
sugar equivalents and how to use.
- Agave nectar: Agave nectar is a natural sweetener made from a plant indigenous to Mexico called the blue agave. The consistency of agave nectar is similar to honey, and it can be used to replace honey and sugar in many recipes or instead of a sugar substitute. Agave nectar is made from the natural sugars fructose and glucose and is 1.4 times sweeter than regular sugar. While it does have 60 calories per tablespoon, agave nectar has a low glycemic index, making it an ideal choice for people with diabetes. Unlike honey, agave nectar is also completely vegan. Because it is calorie-dense, we limit agave to one tablespoon when it is being used directly as a sweetener in beverages, on oatmeal, and so on.