Interview with “The Naturopathic Fitness Coach” about sugar alternatives – are they really healthy?

The ‘anti-sugar’ movement is gaining in popularity, and whilst the key message of this movement is good are we creating more harm by indulging in sugar alternatives? Everyday people are getting the message loud and clear that processed sugar is ‘bad’ and are using suager alternatives in droves but is this healthy? In this awesome interview that I did with Josie we chatted about her opinion on the topic and what she thinks is a better alternative.

For the record this is a topic that Josie is super-passionate about! Just imagine a small fiesty Romanian woman getting fired up and gesturing widley… that’s what happend when you talk to Jose about sugar!

Many are now aware of the ‘anti-sugar’ movement that has a growing community, what are your thoughts on it?

Yes, I’m sure everyone has noticed the current so called ‘anti-sugar movement’, and I hear on a regular basis that people have “quit sugar” (so they think) or they are quitting sugar for 30 days. I’m hearing from a lot of people that fruit is being eliminated from the diet and they are following Sarah Wilson’s book etc. Most of these anti-sugar programs tend to enforce the concept of swapping ‘bad’ sugar for other healthier sugar alternatives.

As a personal trainer and naturopath I am completely in agreement with the elimination of all PROCESSED as well as ADDED sugars, (perhaps with the exception of manuka and raw organic honey due to the therapeutic and prebiotic properties of both).

I am NOT, however, in agreement that natural and healthy alternatives for sugar exist.

Ok, that is a valid point, and something that I have also witnessed first hand. People are no longer eating processed sugar, but have swapped it for something supposedly better such as Rice Malt Syrup. What are you thoughts on that?

As aforementioned, I am constantly bombarded by people on a weekly basis who claim to have ‘eliminated sugar or be on a sugar free” diet yet are purchasing a 1 kg bag of xylitol every week or rice malt syrup to make their “sugar free” snacks.

There appears to be element of misinformation or misinterpretation of the information/evidence that does exists as well as some denial. The problem is that many people think that alternatives to table sugar such as xylitol, rice malt syrup, artificial sweeteners and stevia (to name a few) are better for them, but research shows that these alternatives still promote insulin secretion as well as sugar addiction and may in fact be even more detrimental to health (especially for those suffering from chronic inflammatory and bowel diseases).

It is often claimed that people are ‘addicted to sugar’, and various research has shown that sugar consumption lights up the same area of the brain as other addictive substances like cocaine. Should these ‘sugar addicted’ people be substituting?

In my opinion no, there is no replacement, you just have to give it up for good. People may argue until they are blue in the face about the metabolism of glucose, fructose, xylitol, and artificial sweeteners and how studies have shown that ingestion of xylitol, for example, does not produce as drastic a blood sugar and insulin spike as pure glucose or simple table sugar.

Yes, some of these sweeteners may not result in as big an insulin spike but they do result in insulin secretion nonetheless and if adding them to foods daily then one is simply replacing something bad for something slightly less bad.

Additionally selling ‘health’ is big business. Companies will try and convince consumers that their product is ‘healthier’ and in these circumstances some sugar alternatives come with marketing ploys such as having ‘additional trace vitamins and minerals’.

There is really is no use in attempting to pick sweeteners with promises like these as the amount that you would actually need to ingest to derive any benefit from these nutrients would then make blood sugar and insulin levels spike through to the high heavens! Consumers are being mislead yet at the same time I think there are many people who just don’t want to give up their sweet tooth.

In your opinion, what are the two most overrated sweeteners and why?

Rice malt syrup and Xylitol!

Again, we have been led into thinking that Rice Malt Syrup is a healthy food which, of course its not. It is a fructose free sugar alternative, and although it is believed that maltose/malt sugar in the syrup is slow to digest this does not make it a healthy sweetener to be used in abundance or even daily.

It remains a nutrient poor, energy dense food that will certainly mess with blood glucose and insulin. If you have ever tasted rice malt syrup you will appreciate how sweet it really is, and to be honest, something that sweet will have the same negative impact on your blood sugar levels and insulin as regular table sugar.

Xylitol on the other hand, is a sugar alcohol normally found in low concentrations in the fibers of fruits and vegetables and can also be manufactured from hardwoods and corncobs. Studies have demonstrated that xylitol does have anti-cavity actions (especially when being chewed as a gum) as well as anti-microbial properties in the bowel and nose/throat.

This, however, does not mean that adding it to your coffee and tea daily or eating xylitol sweetened muffins is healthy or will promote any health benefits without some major accompanying lifestyle and dietary changes. Previously when I worked in a health food store whilst studying naturopathy, I would bear witness to people purchasing a one kg bag of xylitol weekly or fortnightly due to the fact that they thought it was a ‘diabetic friendly’ sweetener and also had health benefits.

These people had an obvious sugar addiction which they just replaced with xylitol, which at the end of the day is just another form of sugar and they continued to have health and gut problems.

For those who want to adopt a more healthy way of life, what would you recommend?

The take home message here is to honestly forget about all sweeteners and place all energy and focus into consuming only unprocessed whole foods in order to combat inflammation as well as improve gut health.

I also think that there needs to be a change in attitude about sweeteners and sugars. Consumers need to understand that ‘healthy alternatives’ does not necessarily mean healthy. If you truly want to make a difference to your health take a leaf from our ancestors’ book.

They ate whole foods from the earth and ate what ever was available to them – yes this included fruits and honey whenever they could find it, but these ‘sweet’ treats were very rare.

The health benefits of a sugar free diet can only come from truly eliminating all processed foods and consuming nothing but whole foods most of the time.

I love that people are trying to kick start a healthy way of living and I want to support them by being REAL and sharing the truth which is no sweeteners are actually healthy. Putting those two drops of stevia in your coffee is not healthy- the healthiest option is NO SWEETENERS at all. Avoid eliminating whole foods such as fruit (unless of course you do have fructose malabsorption) and focus on eliminating all sweeteners and all packaged foods!!

Ultimately, for me, a sugar free diet is one that eliminates completely all ADDED sugars and encompasses whole foods only.

What would a typical day of eating look like for you?

A typical day for me would like something like this:

  • Breakfast: 2-3 boiled eggs with spinach/avocado salad and a black coffee (no added sugar)
  • Snack: 1 x green apple or rocket, walnut, tomato and goats cheese salad
  • Lunch: a grilled salmon fillet with steamed broccoli, two raw carrots, sweet potato and a small handful of almonds
  • Snack: half an avocado filled with diced tomato and sprinkled with Himalayan salt
  • Dinner: Poached chicken and red cabbage salad, drizzled with plenty of extra virgin olive oil

This of course will vary depending on my training and appetite, but as you can see it is mainly derived of whole foods.

(NN: please note that what she is eating is more important that ‘how much’ she is eating. I included this so that you could get an idea of what a wholefood diet looks like. The volume of food is dependent on the individual).

Do you ever have any sweet treats?

Of course, but it is exactly that – a treat. I’d probably have a couple of slices of my own homemade coconut, nut and rice malt syrup slice once or twice a week.

Josie x

JosieJosie is a fully qualified naturopath, personal trainer and coach who believes that the only way to see long term results is to embrace a holistic approach. She is exceptionally passionate about health and nutrition and is constantly studying to deliver the best up-to-date information to her clients. She is a certified nerd and loves to train the house down. She is a pocket rocket that delivers punchy information in an easy-to-understand way. To get in contact with Josie or to use her skills please contact her:


Mobile: 0418 860 377

Instagram: thenaturopathicfitnesscoach




Notes from Nardia:

To further add to this conversation that I had with Josie, Id like to point out one of the biggest mistakes I see people making when ‘converting’ to sugar free. Josie alluded to it earlier on, but put simply, avoid eating more of something because it is ‘sugar free’ or deemed ‘healthier’. I have seen many people put on body fat as a result of their overall calorie consumption skyrocketing, due to them eating more of the ‘healthy treats’.

A muffin is still a muffin regardless of whether it is made of white sugar or rice bran syrup. Just like a ‘paleo diary free, sugar free, wheat and gluten free’ dessert is still exceptionally high in calories and, if there is an overconsumption of calories there will be fat gain.

Food for thought 🙂




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