The Best Healthy Sweetener For Coffee
Last week I was having lunch with some coworkers. We were at a fancy restaurant (actually a corporate owned lodge on a beautiful lake) that served press pot coffee after the meal. Most everyone reached for a packet of sweetener to add to their coffee. Some people, the people sitting closest to me, looked at me sheepishly. Is this stuff going to kill me, they asked.
“Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but probably.” Ok, that probably wasn’t entirely accurate, but it was the response they needed to hear.
I think it’s great that people are aware that sugar isn’t something they should be adding to coffee. Sugar in the morning spikes insulin and is said to keep it elevated all day long. If we avoid sugar and carbohydrates first thing in the morning, we can have less cravings and lower insulin during the rest of the day, all things being equal (no not the sweetener, that stuff will kill you).
Most people are probably not aware, but have felt the effects of having too many carbohydrates or sugar at lunch. Dump a bunch of sugar in your post lunch coffee or eat a bunch of carbs at lunch and you’ll want to curl up under your co-workers desk and take a snooze for an hour. Trust me, I have been that person. For years and years I remember being so tired after lunch that all I wanted to do was snuggle someplace cozy and snooze. I couldn’t focus on my work or be productive in meetings. Unless I could get outside or do something physical, it was snooze time for me.
Based on the sugar crash and the overwhelming research linking sugar consumption to disease, we all want something healthier to add to our coffee. Most people just reach for the most convenient sugar substitute. Sucralose (Splenda), saccharine, aspartame and Asulfame Potassium (Ace K) are the typical sweeteners given out by restaurants and coffee shops.
Most sweeteners, whether plain table sugar or Sucralose are well studied and proven to damage health, not every well studied, but likely to damage health, or not studied enough to know what long term use will do, but correlated with other substances known to be bad choices for health. All this equates to sugar and artificial sweeteners being poor choices.
There are however, a handful of sweeteners that are better for your health. Notice I didn’t say good. Ideally, we would use appropriate (small) amounts of honey, molasses and fresh fruit for sweetness or nothing at all, and simply get used to the natural flavors of our food, including bitterness. But that doesn’t always work out, and most of us enjoy, and we’re likely genetically programmed to enjoy, added sweetness.
What’s the Deal with Artificial Sweeteners?
Adding the wrong sweetener may make an otherwise very healthy cup of coffee into a health hazard.
Coffee is the leading source of plant polyphenols in the US. Plant polyphenols are beneficial for our health. While we don’t want to give up coffee, we may want to be careful what we add to it.
For the record, coffee and caffeine are shown to be beneficial to most people. There are some studies that show the opposite however. Based on the latest thinking, we believe this is largely due to 2 factors. The first is that our individual genetics may make us very slow metabolizers of caffeine and thus caffeine stays in our system longer. These people often experience more jitters, anxiety and stress after drinking coffee. For these people, coffee (at least caffeinated coffee) is probably not healthy. They can stick with decaf. Second, coffee sold in the US does not have to meet the stringent mycotoxin limits that coffee shipped elsewhere in the world has to meet. Naturally, we get the highest mycotoxin containing beans here in the US because we do not have regulatory limits on such things. Not all coffee will contain these toxins and not everyone is sensitive to them, but for those who are and get mycotoxin laden coffee, this can be a big health problem. (Try Bulletproof Beans which have been certified free of over 27 known toxins).
Saccharin – is this still a thing? Originally extracted from coal tar, this substance is now made in the lab from toluene. It’s truly an artificial sweetener as it’s made from coal tar or crude oil. Past studies linked this sweetener with bladder cancer, but overall it’s been proven to be safer than other artificial sweeteners. However, the fact that it’s totally unnatural and made from oil I would avoid putting it in my body.
Sucralose –marketed under the tradename Splenda, this artificial sweetener is potentially dangerous when heated and even if not heated, is associated with increased blood sugar, seizures and blurred vision. Dr. Mercola claims Splenda is closer to DDT than to sugar based on the chlorinated backbone in which it’s based. Avoid this sweetener like the plague.
Aspartame – the American Diabetes Association actually links eating more Aspartame with diabetes risk. In addition, aspartame breaks down quickly into methanol, phenylalanine and formaldehyde in the gut. Now, the FDA and other industry groups claim it’s safe to eat aspartame, but all three of those breakdown products are toxic. Perhaps the amount of each of those products is not significant, but if you are intent on avoiding toxins, you probably want to avoid aspartame. Dr. Mercola calls aspartame the most dangerous substance. Aspartame is responsible for 75% of adverse reactions to food additives. Others list aspartame as a chemical poison. Just say no kids.
Acesulfam Potassium (Ace K) – Ace-K has been linked to kidney problems. Some people claim Ace-K a very dangerous artificial sweetener, while others like Dave Asprey says if he had to eat one artificial sweetener, it would be Ace-K. Ace-K is said to contain methylene chloride, a carcinogen and is associated with numerous disease and ill health effects. Best to avoid this one if at all possible.
Sucrose (Table sugar) – Dr. Mercola has a great article about all this right here. Table sugar is natural, but by now, all of us have heard that sugar causes inflammation and too much sugar causes diabetes and numerous other diseases and probably fuels cancer cells. We simply need to consume less sugar, the less the better. Don’t be fooled by terms like evaporated cane juice, raw sugar, organic sugar, cane juice crystals as those are all just another name for sugar.
Agave – Nope, sorry folks. This is trickery! Often thought to be a health food, this sweetener is composed of mostly fructose with some glucose. The fact that it is high in fructose is what makes it a poor choice. Agave is actually higher in fructose than the dreaded High Fructose Corn Syrup. The high fructose leads to storage of this sugar as fat in your body. Avoid it.
Better Sweetener Choices
Monk Fruit Extract (Gua Lohan) – Looking like a small melon, this fruit has been used for hundreds of years by Buddhist monks, so it must be awesome! This is one I haven’t experimented with much, but from all research and appearances seems to be a great sugar substitute with little to no downside. Be careful if you buy this that it isn’t mixed with sugar (dextrose) as sometimes happens. Read the labels. This is a non-caloric food.
Erythritol – Many Bulletproof recipes are made with Erythritol and for good reason. If made from hardwood sources and not GMO corn it’s a great substitute. Although I’m not sure if it really matters what it’s made from if it’s pure erythritol at the end, so you choose. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol and this can be important for some people to know. Sugar alcohols can cause gastric distress, aka gas. Use at your own risk. Try a little at first. I find I can use it no problem. It almost makes food taste minty because it gives a cooling sensation in my mouth when I eat foods made with it.
Xylitol – Another sugar alcohol, xylitol should be used with caution until you know if you’ll have mad gas the next day. Nothing worse for me than heading into work after eating some cookies the night before made with tasty xylitol. Be careful with this one if you have dogs, it’s pure poison to them as are all foods made with it. Otherwise, a great sweetener that won’t spike insulin, though does have calories associated with eating it. I don’t use this one much, see references to gas.
Honey – while still a caloric sweetener, honey can be used in small quantities and is a fully natural food. It has not been altered from its natural state, assuming you buy raw honey. Only the comb and bee parts have been removed. Honey can be healing and has been used for thousands and thousands of years. Honey is totally fine to use in limited quantities. If you’re making and eating cookies with honey every day, you’ve gone too far.
Molasses – The dark side of sugar. In a good way. This is all the vitamins and minerals and goodie filled good from the sugar making process. Sugar is washed and centrifuged to remove all the stuff that’s not pure sugar. Molasses is that stuff. It’s filled with good stuff, but also still has sugar in it. Not a health food, but as a sweetener, far better than many others. I use it occasionally if I feel like a bowl of oatmeal after a hard day of lifting or working. A small jar of molasses will last me 8 years. Just sayin.
Maple Syrup – Maple syrup is a natural sweetener from the sap of maple trees. I think this is a good choice for very occasional use. There’s nothing wrong with appropriate use of sweeteners and this one is actually local to most northern states in the US. I like to add a splash to my coffee on special occasions,but mostly use it to flavor my kids’ oatmeal.
The Best Healthy Sweetener for Coffee
Stevia – Probably THE best coffee sweetener. Made from the leaf of a stevia plant. You can grow this right in your own home as a house plant and eat the leaves. They taste exactly like the sweetener. Stevia is a zero calorie sweetener. It’s been said that stevia can still produce an insulin response due to how the gut bacteria processes it, so don’t go overboard on the stevia. Also watch out for processed artificial sweeteners that say Stevia on the package, but are actually sugar and sucralose with a tiny amount of stevia. Read the labels! I love using English Toffee Stevia drops in my Bulletproof Coffee in the morning.
What I do
I often like my coffee a little sweet if I’m adding Brain Octane and Ghee. My go to morning drink for the last few years is a 22 ounce Bulletproof Coffee made with Bulletproof Beans (either decaf or half decaf and half caffeinated), 1tbs Brain Octane Oil, 1tsp of grass-fed ghee or butter, 1tsp cocoa butter, ½ tsp cocoa powder and a few drops of liquid dark chocolate stevia. This dink is a chocolate oasis!
For treats or desserts I like to mix almond butter and honey or make a paleo cookie or pie recipe with honey or erythritol and xylitol. And of course we can’t forget everyone’s favorite Bulletproof Get Some Ice Cream.
Don’t be afraid of natural sweeteners like honey, molasses and sugar. While these aren’t ideal for everyday consumption, they are superior to many of the fake sugars and sweeteners out there.
Also, try out some recipes using xylitol and erythritol. I like using these sweeteners once in a while, but often I’ll just use honey and since I’m not eating treats every day and I’m very active, I’m OK with that.
Steer clear of artificial sweeteners.
I recommend you go out and buy a bottle of dark chocolate liquid stevia and try carrying packets of powdered stevia with you to work or the coffee shop. I noticed Starbucks has been carrying stevia now, but I always travel with my own, just in case. Be careful because sometimes packets that say “stevia” are mostly sugar with some stevia added in. The bottle is small and you can bring it with you to work. You co-workers will be intrigued and probably try to steal some.
Soon, everyone, your co-workers included, will know the Truth. Artificial sweeteners are gross and natural sweeteners taste better and are better for us.