What is so bad about sugar that we need a substitute?

by Charbel Dow on Sep 20, 2020


Wondering Which sweetener or sugar substitute would suit your healthy lifestyle best?

Sugar is used as a sweetener, a preservative agent, a viscosity-enhancing agent, and so on, in foods and drinks.

Its consumption has been linked with health risks and side effects, while “Sugar Substitutes are encouraged instead!

Here is to break down the facts behind white sugar and its substitutes, WHY and HOW are they better!

White sugar is obtained from Cane or beets by extracting the sweet juice, processing then crystalizing it.

Through the process of obtaining white sugar crystals, the naturally-occurring molasses is lost and chemicals are added such as Sulphur dioxide, Polyacrylamides, calcium hydroxide; and the list of complicated words goes on. These compounds denature sugar and their increased consumption is linked to dangers and side effects.

In addition to that, White sugar is made from Sucrose, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose the simplest carbohydrate molecules.

They are so simple that the processes of digestion and absorption happen quickly.

Due to that, blood glucose levels increase, which is harmful to the body: White sugar has a high Glycemic index.

If you are not being physically active to use up the glucose and burn it for energy, then your brain will send out more INSULIN to play the Taxi role: pick up glucose and it in cells. Time after time, stores grow and fat deposit forms.

The knéfeh effect- as I like to call it.

You know when you are so hungry craving a knéfeh and you get one. It’s huge, dripping syrup/Ater, SUPER high in calories, yet shortly after finishing it you are still hungry?

This is when insulin is playing the taxi role, it drops blood glucose levels quickly, making one lazy and hungry.

High blood glucose and an overall high-in-sugar diet are linked to several health complications such as Hypertension, Obesity, Type2Diabetes, Heart Disease, High LDL low HDL and high blood cholesterol levels, increased Chronic Inflammation, Fatty Liver Disease, and Cancer. All from evidence-based research.

Add that to it:

White Sugar is mainly made from monosaccharides glucose and fructose; it contains no nutrients, no added value, only health risks, a sweet flavor, preservation, texture and fermentation properties¦ and 60Kcal per tablespoon.

We call it: empty calories.


So, what is the point of consuming it? What if, all these properties can be found in different foods, only minus the health risks plus added value?

In that case, you switch!

Here are the currently most common sugar substitutes in our Lebanese households, and what you need to know about them:

  • The sugar

Sugar is sugar, carbs are carbs. They are essential for survival. The problem is not with the molecule itself but rather with its quantity, and what comes or doesn’t come along with it.

Most foods including sugar substitute contain sugar molecules including glucose. However, they got more to give us.

  • Fibers and Glycemic Index

Fibers slow down digestion, and hence absorption. In this case, blood glucose levels do not peak and nor would insulin levels. Dates, lucuma, molasses, coconut sugar and fruits are high in fibers and have a low GI. Agave has a low GI because its sugar is mainly from fructose.

Others like honey have the same GI as white sugar.

Fruits have a low GI when consumed as a whole since they’re rich in fiber. Fruit juice, however, has a high GI because juicing gets rid of the pulps and fiber hence a faster absorption into the bloodstream.

  • Nutrients

Honey is an anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-fungus. It lowers blood pressure and triglycerides and improves the cholesterol profile.

Dates contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory, Vit.B6, copper, magnesium, potassium, etc.They boost energy, improve heart health and bone health.

Tip: soak pitted medjool dates in warm water until soft then blitz until you have a thick fluid you can use as a sweetener.

Lucuma has high beta-carotene levels. It contains Niacin, Iron, and multiple minerals.

Agave is higher in anti-oxidants and less processed than white sugar.

Carob and grape molasses are very high in fiber, low in sugar and fat, high in polyphenols anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic flavonoids and calcium.

Fruits are rich in vitamins and minerals as well as flavors! Be it whole fruits, juice or dried.

Stevia is derived from the leaves of a plant. A natural sweetener, heat-stable and safe to consume.

Sugar alcohols are xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, isomalt and so on. They are associated with gastrointestinal disturbances and some may raise blood sugar levels.

Coconut sugar has healthy fats that improve heart health and blood lipid profile, maintains gut health and prevents cancer.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener with the ability to raise blood glucose and insulin levels.

Aspartame is the most controversial artificial sweetener. Although Studies have been conducted on animals more than humans, this product is linked with neurophysiological side effects, induced oxidative damage,  increased risk of systemic inflammation, cell membrane integrity, and Cancer.  Even when consumed within the daily limit. It is nonetheless the sweetener used in cases of Phenylketonuria.

  • Calories

This table shows the caloric content of a tbsp of each kind.

Note: 1 tbsp sugar – 60kcal

1 tbsp Honey 60 kcal
2 medjool Dates 133 Kcal
1 tbsp Lucuma 30 kcal
1 tbsp Agave 63 kcal
1 tbsp carob molasses 35 Kcal
cup whole fruits = ½ a cup of juice = 2 tbsp dried fruits. 60 Kcal
1 tbsp stevia zero
1 tbsp Sugar alcohols  <60Kcal
Coconut sugar 45 Kcal

1 tbsp Aspartame 

Very low

60 Kcal

It is better to get calories from nutritious natural foods than a synthetic processed empty ones.

  • Sweetness

Stevia is 200-350 times sweeter than sugar!

Yes, a tbsp of stevia would taste like 300 tbsp of sugar, so you only need a pinch. The side effects? None.

Coconut sugar is less sweet table sugar as it is 75% sucrose only, while sugar alcohols are 60% as sweet as sugar.

Aspartame and Sucralose are 200 and 320 to 1000 times sweeter than sucrose respectively. 

  • Cooking properties

Not all sweeteners handle heat properly:

Some times of honey get denatured under high heat, while dates, molasses, stevia, agave, lucuma, and coconut sugar work well in baked goods. On the other hand, sugar alcohols do not.

All of them can replace table sugar.


Technology in the food industry has so much to offer us; but, so does nature: It is meant to offer us a lot. Natural products, slightly or not processed at all, contribute better to overall health.

Always weigh the pros and cons: “Is the risk worth it?” 

“Is there a better alternative I could go for?”

Look for a product that is pure of harmful substances; make sure that it is added-sugar-free as well! And when buying food, make sure that sugar is not among the first 3-4 ingredients on the list!

A healthy lifestyle is all what SugarYok is about. And it is all about variety and moderation from natural food products.

Sugar substitutes are many and a healthier alternative is always better. Do not forget to consult a health professional before consuming a new product or before introducing it to kids.

Sincerely yours.

Nour, LD .

Papaefstathiou, E., Agapiou, A., Giannopoulos, S., & Kokkinofta, R. (2018). Nutritional characterization of carobs and traditional carob products. Food science & nutrition, 6(8), 2151-2161.
Kumar, K. S., Bhowmik, D., Biswajit, C., & Chandira, M. R. (2010). Medicinal uses and health benefits of honey: an overview. J Chem Pharm Res, 2(1), 385-395.

Soffritti, M., Padovani, M., Tibaldi, E., Falcioni, L., Manservisi, F., & Belpoggi, F. (2014). The carcinogenic effects of aspartame: The urgent need for regulatory re‐evaluation. American journal of industrial medicine57(4), 383-397.

Rahmani, A. H., Aly, S. M., Ali, H., Babiker, A. Y., & Srikar, S. (2014). Therapeutic effects of date fruits (Phoenix dactylifera) in the prevention of diseases via modulation of anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-tumour activity. International journal of clinical and experimental medicine, 7(3), 483.


FDA: http://ly/FDAstevia

Arbind Kumar Choudhary, Etheresia Pretorius, Revisiting the safety of aspartame, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 75, Issue 9, September 2017, Pages 718–730

Choudhary, A. K., & Lee, Y. Y. (2018). Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connection?. Nutritional neuroscience21(5), 306-316.

IFIC Foundation: http://bit.ly/FoodInsightStevia

Harvard health publishing, The sweet danger of sugar: https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar

Ashwell M. (2015). Stevia, Nature’s Zero-Calorie Sustainable Sweetener: A New Player in the Fight Against Obesity. Nutrition today, 50(3), 129–134. https://doi.org/10.1097/NT.0000000000000094

Uribe, J. A. G., Santos-Zea, L., & Saldivar, S. R. O. S. (2017). U.S. Patent No. 9,585,928. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Taubes, G. (2011). Is sugar toxic. New York Times, 13.

Rafiq, K., Saify, Z. S., Gul, S., Ali, S., Usman, M., & Sadia, H. (2018). Effects of Aspartame: Study of Risks and Benefits. LATIN AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY37(12), 2379-2382.