Too much intake of refined sugar has been linked to various health concerns such as diabetes. Because of these health issues, it is strongly advised to avoid sugary products. What about our cravings for something sweet?
For some people they can easily surpass their cravings for sweets. For some, especially those with a sweet tooth, this can be a difficult battle. If you’re one of those who have a hard time giving up sugar, don’t worry. There are natural sugar alternatives you can opt for. Most of these products contain healthful compounds like vitamins and minerals.
With that said, here is a list of natural sweeteners you can use instead of sugar.
As one of the most popular natural sweetener, stevia is an herb that has an intense sweet flavor. In fact, it is much sweeter than refined sugar. The best part, it does not have any sugar molecules. Thus, it will not affect your blood sugar levels. So, what is the source of its sweetness?Credit: Image courtesy of Flyingbikie - pixabay.com
Stevia has two active ingredients that produce its sweet flavor - stevioside and rebaudioside A. Basically, these two compounds can also offer other health benefits. Studies have shown that stevioside can lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It can also help you lose unwanted pounds. Lastly, it is also linked to cancer prevention.
With all its health benefits, stevia is definitely a good choice to sweeten you food and drinks. But, it has a minor flaw. Stevia has a bitter or metallic aftertaste. This can be a turn-off for some people. Nonetheless, there are some stevia products that has minimal aftertaste. Products that only has rebaudioside A taste better than those containing both active ingredients.
There are various strevia products you can choose from. It is strongly recommended to opt for the powdered dried leaves. It is the least processed version of stevia. You can also opt for stevia extracts and powders. But, you have to meticulously check product labels. Some stevia brands have added ingredients like maltodextrin (corn). Others have undergone several manufacturing processes which may diminish its health benefits.
2. Monk Fruit
As of today, stevia may be the most popular natural sugar alternative. But, monk fruit is becoming its formidable rival. Why?
Like stevia, monk fruit’s sweetness is not from glucose, sucrose or fructose. Yes, it is a fruit. But, monk fruit’s manufacturing process will eventually remove most of its sugar molecules. So, why is monk fruit sweet?
Monk fruit’s sweetness comes from its mogrosides. This compound is not only known for its intense sweet flavor. It is also a powerful antioxidant. This is probably why monk fruit is also known as the “longevity fruit.” But wait, there’s more. This sweet fruit also has medicinal properties. It is medicinally used as an expectorant. It was also used as a treatment for constipation and diabetes. One study also found that this wonderful fruit can prevent cancer due to its antioxidants and ant-inflammatory properties.
As you can see, both stevia and monk fruit are head to head in terms of their health benefits. But, monk fruit has an edge. It does not have an unpleasant aftertaste like stevia. However, it is fairly new in the market. To fortify its health claims, we need to find more studies or researches. Nonetheless, it is still considered as a safe natural sweetener. You can use it as a sweetener for teas or smoothies and a sugar alternative for baking.
When buying monk fruit sweeteners, it is best to opt for the dried fruit. You can buy this kind of product in Chinese markets. If you can’t find the dried fruit, you can also opt for other varieties. There are extracts, powders and crystallized products made of monk fruit.
Lakanto is sweetener with a blend of erythtritol and monk fruit. As a sugar alcohol, erythtritol helps balance monk fruit’s intense sweetness. Lakanto also has a sugar-like texture. Thus, you can use it in place refined sugar for your drinks and in baking.
3. LucumaCredit: Image courtesy of Dtarazona - wikimedia commons (public domain)
Third in this list of natural sweeteners is Lucuma. It is a tropical fruit that has a maple syrup like flavor. Since it has a glycemic index of 25, it's a good alternative to refined sugar. Aside from that, it also contains some nutrients.
Basically, lucuma also known as “Egg fruit,” has several healthful compounds. It is high in beta-carotene, iron, niacin, and dietary fiber. One study also showed that this natural sweetener has anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties.
Fresh lucuma fruit is not available worldwide. But, you can still buy the powdered dried fruit. This sweetener is the same as flour. Meaning, it adds a creamy texture to your drinks and smoothies. You can also use it for baking. However, it is not as sweet as sugar. So, you may end up using more depending on your preferences.
4. Dates SugarCredit: Image courtesy of sweyang - pixabay.com
Another fruit that you can use as a natural sweetener is dates. Basically, date sugar is made from dehydrated dates. Hence, it is also considered a whole food. So, what makes dates an excellent sugar alternative?
Known as energy boosters, dates are rich in healthful compounds, like antioxidants and dietary fiber. It is a good source of vitamin B, iron, potassium, calcium, manganese and magnesium. But, that doesn’t end there. A date also provides numerous health benefits.
For one, its vitamin B6 can improve our brain’s performance. Its magnesium contents can also help lower blood pressure. Lastly, it also possesses anti-inflammatory properties. The best part, it is sweeter than sugar. So, you only have to use minimal amounts of this natural sweetener to satisfy your cravings for sweets.
What about its high fructose contents? Yes, 80% of dates' components is fructose. However, one study shows that fructose in fruits is metabolized differently than industrialized fructose. A fruit’s phytonutrient contents play a crucial role in this scenario. These nutrients may help slow down the rapid blood sugar spikes typically observed in high fructose intake.
Since date sugar is a whole food, it will not melt of dissolve in your beverages. Still, you can include this healthful natural sweetener for baking. You can also use it in your pancakes, waffles and smoothies.
When buying dates, you have to avoid those that have a rancid smell. When refrigerated, you can keep dehydrated dates for a year. You can also opt for fresh dates, which can last for about eight months. This is especially true if you refrigerate and keep it in a tightly sealed container.
5. Yacon SyrupCredit: Image courtesy of Unsplash - pixabay.com
Some of you have probably heard or read about yacon syrup’s capability to aid in weight loss. This is actually the reason why yacon syrup is so popular. But, for now, let’s focus on why it is a good natural sugar alternative.
Yacon syrup has small amounts of glucose, fructose and sucrose. But, majority of its components is fructooligosaccharides (FOS). What does this entail?
Since majority of yacon syrup’s components is FOS, it is generally considered a low-calorie sweetener. It also has a low glycemic index, which is 1. This makes it a great sugar alternative for diabetics.
Furthermore FOS also offers several health benefits. For one, it is a soluble fiber that aids in proper functioning of our digestive system. It is also considered a prebiotic food, meaning it acts as food for the good bacteria in our intestines.
Keep in mind that too much consumption of yacon syrup may lead to digestive problems. But, if you’ll only use it to sweeten your drinks, no adverse reactions will occur.
High temperature (120°C or 248°F and above) may break down the chemical structure of FOS. For this reason, using yacon syrup for baking may not be a good option. Nonetheless, you can still use it to sweeten you toast, pancakes and drinks.
6. Coconut Nectar and Coconut Sugar
Most of you know the wonderful benefits of coconut. As you read or hear the words coconut nectar or sugar, you’re probably thinking of the tropical fruit. But, this natural sugar alternative is not the same as the fruit. This is because coconut nectar is typically made from the sap of a coconut’s blossoms. So, is this a good product?
Since the process of making coconut nectar uses low heat; it still has its enzymes and nutrients. Although it has a glycemic index of 35 (lower than refined sugar), its nutrient contents makes it a good sugar alternative. It contains vitamin B, C and minerals like iron, potassium and magnesium. It also contains amino acids.
Although coconut nectar contains glucose, sucrose and fructose; majority of its components is inulin. Like fructooligosaccharides (FOS), inulin is a fiber that acts as a prebiotic food, which aids in our digestion. Overall, these two types of fiber are the reason why coconut nectar has a lower glycemic index compared to refined sugar.
What about coconut sugar? Basically, it is the dehydrated or crystallized version of coconut nectar. You can use it instead of brown sugar. However, if you’re looking for an unrefined sweetener, coconut nectar is a much better choice because it has no additives and preservatives. The best part, its healthful compounds is mostly preserved during the manufacturing process.
7. Blackstrap Molasses
What is the byproduct when sugar molecules are extracted from sugar cane? The answer is molasses. There are several varieties of molasses. A highly recommended product is blackstrap molasses. How so?
Considered as the darkest of all molasses, the sugar molecules in blackstrap molasses are mostly removed. Thus, it has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar. But, this does not affect its overall nutrient value. Keep in mind that sucrose is the only compound removed during its manufacturing process. It is still high in vitamin B, iron, selenium, manganese and potassium.
In one study, they measured the antioxidant contents of some of the widely used sweeteners. Do you know the rank of blackstrap molasses? No, it’s not first. It was actually ranked second while dates earned the top spot. Still, this study proves that blackstrap molasses can offer some health benefits.
The downside for this bittersweet-flavored product is its level of sweetness. It is not as sweet as sugar. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your preferences. A remedy for this is to mix it with another compatible sweetener like maple syrup.
With that, you can use blackstrap molasses for marinades and baking. You can also use it to add flavor for your coffee and other drinks.
8. Raw HoneyCredit: Image courtesy of Hans - pixabay.com
Raw honey has been considered a healthful product for centuries. One reason for this is it has valuable compounds like enzymes and essential nutrients. It also possesses numerous healing properties. In fact, it is an ingredient in various home remedies such as a natural remedy for coughs. But, is it a good choice for adding sweetness to your food and drinks?
For most people, raw honey is probably their favorite sweetener. This is not surprising since it can provide antioxidants and other essential nutrients. But, like sugar, it has glucose and fructose. Meaning it can raise blood sugar levels, but at a lesser rate compared to sugar. Nonetheless, if you’re using it sparingly, raw honey is still a better choice compared to refined sugar.
Keep in mind that honey is not heat stable. It loses its healthful compounds and healing properties when heated. Hence, it is not an excellent sweetener for baking.
Aside from that, pasteurized honey is ubiquitous. You have to avoid these products. This is mainly because pasteurization uses high temperature. This process eventually diminishes honey's overall nutrients. For this reason, you should only opt for raw and locally produced honey.
9. Maple Syrup
Like honey, real maple syrup can also be used as a natural sugar alternative. Unlike honey, maple syrup is heat stable. So, you can use it for baking.
Maple syrup has sucrose (2/3). For this reason it has a glycemic index of 54. But, what makes it better than refined sugar?
Basically, its glycemic index is still lower than refined sugar. Aside from that, maple syrup has healthful compounds like manganese, calcium, potassium and zinc. It is also a good source of cancer-fighting compounds namely antioxidants. Lastly, it has anti-inflammatory properties.
When buying maple syrup, it is highly recommended to opt for the grade B syrups. It is the darkest variety of this sweetener. It also has the strongest flavor, which is best for baking. Most of all, darker syrups have more antioxidants and valuable compounds compared to lighter syrups.
You should also avoid products that are maple-flavored. These kinds of products contain High Fructose Corn Syrup and other additives. As much as possible, you should only choose real maple syrup.
While most of these natural sweeteners can provide healthful compounds, some of them can also raise blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes or trying to lose some pounds, products like raw honey or maple syrup should be avoided. But, you can still use stevia or monk fruit as natural sweeteners.
Aside from that, some of these natural sweeteners also contain some amounts of fructose. As you know too much fructose consumption is also linked to various health concerns. When our liver processed too much fructose, it is not converted into energy. Instead, it is stored or processed as fats. For this reason, it is also best to limit or control our use of fructose containing products.
Lastly, checking product labels is a must. Most of these sweeteners are usually sold with added ingredients. One example for this is stevia. Usually they blend this natural sweetener with other ingredients. Take Truvia as an example. It is a popular sweetener containing stevia. But, is it a good product? The video below can shed more information.
With that, always keep in mind that too much sugar consumption can lead to various health risks. Aside from health problems, sugar is also addictive. As much as possible, we should find ways on how to overcome our cravings for sugary products. Using these natural sweeteners is a good alternative. But, as always, it is best to use these products in moderation. The best way to get our daily dose of essential nutrients is by eating whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
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