What are the healthiest natural sweeteners? A comparison of natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives.
In the beginning, we didn’t need a lot of sugar. Although carbohydrates are important for energy, we didn’t get them from cookies, candy, and soda. We got our sugars in a natural form-fruits and vegetables.
As our diet became more “modern”, we adapted by ingesting more sugar than ever. The increased desire for sugar led to more producing of cheaper sugars. High fructose corn syrup is very cheap to produce, even over sugar cane, and is abundantly available. GMO sugar beets are also produced to help with the sugar demand.
Most of us know that high fructose corn syrup, and other processed sugars are not good for overall health. Having too much sugar on a daily basis can wreck your health in no time. Added sugar is in nearly every processed food on the market, from cookies and ice cream to even “healthy” salad dressings.
Sugar can cause your body to become inflamed, and add to increased risk of insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is when your body can’t produce enough insulin in the pancreas to level out the sugar in the diet. This can lead to high blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels remain high, many people develop diabetes. Natural sweeteners for diabetics is a normal route to take, to help reduce insulin resistance.
Blood sugar spikes can cause resulting sugar crashes, with mood swings, extreme fatigue and even hunger afterwards. Too much sugar in the diet can also lead to candida, or yeast overgrowth. It is also linked to the possibility of increased risk of obesity, heart disease and even higher cholesterol levels.
Turning to natural sugar isn’t always the answer, surprisingly. Sugar intake is sugar intake, whether it comes from raw honey, blackstrap molasses, or white sugar. Adding too much refined sugar in your diet has detrimental effects to your health.
Are there any sugar substitutes or other types of sweeteners that will offer the same sweet that we have come to know and love in our diet, that are NOT high on the glycemic index? Will these artificial sweeteners help us keep our insulin levels steady, and not give us the sugar crashes so many people experience?
Yes, fortunately, there ARE sugar alternatives. Keep in mind, natural sweeteners are still sugar, but many contain the vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Sugar alcohol is fine to use, but you will want to keep it in moderation.
Here are some top natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives to consider.
This is made by bees as they gather nectar from flowers. The bees break down the complex sugar into simple sugar, place it into the honeycomb where the water evaporates. This leaves the golden syrupy substance we know as honey.
While honey, especially local raw honey, is considered good for you, it still is high on the glycemic index and can cause blood sugar spikes.
This is what is left behind when the sugar has been removed from the sugar cane. It’s thick, black and sticky texture can leave a bad taste for some, but it is also a good source of iron and other minerals.
This is dried, powdered dates. The fruit itself lends a slight sweetness that is not overpowering. Although it has the same glycemic index as regular table sugar, date sugar retains the minerals from the fruit, such as potassium and magnesium. It also has less calories than regular table sugar.
Made from the sap of the coconut palm tree, this natural sugar is now easily found in local grocery stores. It’s color, taste, and texture are similar to brown sugar and it lends itself easily to replacing it in baking. The health benefits of coconut sugar include being a source of iron and inulin, a fiber that acts like a prebiotic.
Made from the boiled, reduced and cooled sap of the maple tree, maple syrup is commonly found on pancakes, waffles and such. If you choose this natural sugar, be sure you are getting real maple syrup, and not high fructose corn syrup with maple flavoring.
Pure maple syrup contains niacin, Vitamin B6, and zinc. It is also lower in sodium than raw honey, and contains more calcium than honey.
What is left after the syrup making and the crystals are dehydrated. It has the same minerals as maple syrup, with only 11 calories per teaspoon.
This is “sugar cane natural”, and is made from the juice of the sugar cane being heated and dried. It’s a dark brown color and contains the nutrients like iron from the cane. It’s sweetness compares to table sugar, but with a light molasses flavor.
Often called “sugar in the raw”, this is basically sucanat stipped of it’s molasses before being dried. It also has been stripped of most of its nutrients, leaving you with less processed table sugar. It has the same glycemic index as table sugar, and the same flavor.
A simple plant with a powerful sweetness. It has zero calories, and it is not metabolized by the body. With no impact on blood sugar, it is a sugar alternative for many. However, a little bit goes a LONG way with stevia and it can have a bitter aftertaste that is unappealing to many.
Stevia can come in powdered form, little serving pills (think sugar cubes), or liquid extracts. You can also make your own stevia extract with grain alcohol and dried stevia leaves. Simply add 1/2 cup stevia leaves to a quart sized mason jar. Add vodka to fill the jar. Shake to combine. Shake daily for 2-3 weeks, then strain the liquid.
Toss the leaves, saving the infused liquid. Store in a dropper bottle. To use, add 2-3 dropperfuls to each recipe and adjust to taste.
A sugar alcohol that has no effect on blood sugar. Erythritol can be used 1:1 in place of regular sugar without a taste difference. This particular sugar alcohol is 90% absorbed before it reaches the large intestine. As a result, it doesn’t usually cause the gastric distress other sugar alcohols can.
Malitol, xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol
They come from mainly plant and fruit sources, and altered through a chemical process. Zero calorie sugar alternatives that are processed in the large intestine. Overindulgence can cause gastric distress.
Sugar alcohols are found in many processed foods such as candy, ice cream, and other baked goods. Read the label carefully if you wish to avoid them. They are the sweeteners that end in -ols.
Xylitol is thought to help prevent tooth decay, and can be found in toothpaste. This can be fatal to dogs, so care should be taken to avoid dropping foods made with xylitol.
When transitioning from plain, processed, white table sugar, these are the top natural sweeteners and sugar substitutes to keep in mind.
As always remember moderation is key to everything. Use your natural sweeteners and you will still come out ahead, as they have vitamins and minerals that will help nourish your body while you get your sweet fix.What natural sweeteners do you use most? Be sure to share in the comments!
Heather’s homesteading journey started in 2006, with baby steps: first, she got a few raised beds, some chickens, and rabbits. Over the years, she amassed a wealth of homesteading knowledge, knowledge that you can find in the articles of this blog.