How to pick the healthiest sweetener is hands-down the most repeated question we’ve received in the past year. Sugar is a hot nutrition subject, and because of massive political lobbies, there is a lot of information (and misinformation) swirling around the internet.
Your sweet tooth exists for good motivation. Mother’s breast milk is naturally sweet and is normally that the baby should want. That preference for sweets also made early humans search for sweet fruits and vegetables, which supplied essential nutrients and good amounts of carbohydrates to gave enough energy to stay alive.
Natural sugar in very small natural quantities is really a good thing. Think eating some blueberries or a ripe tomato. Sugar in overly processed, big quantities will cause disorder on your body. Think pouring two cups of white sugar into a cookie dough mixture or drowning out your coffee with Coffemate.
Natural sweeteners are sugar sources that are near to pure state. The less refined the better so they still have vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and in some cases fiber. Even natural sweeteners should still be used with control as they are still sugar, however, they’re better than the nasty chemical and highly-processed substitutes. Stick to these natural sweeteners and forgo the white processed stuff, you’re sweet enough already.
Stevia is a leafy herb and has been consumed for centuries by native South Americans. The extract from stevia is approximately 100 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar and can be used in cooking, however, I think it’s consumed best as a sweetener in most beverages. Stevia does not have a important effect on blood sugar levels and is a low glycemic sweetener. It’s also the only natural sweetener that does not contain any calories!!!
Some scientists think that since it doesn’t have calories that it should still be used in moderation because the sweet taste can trick your body and your brain into thinking it’s eating sugar and send mixed hormonal signals. I agree, so 2-4 drops in beverages is enough for sweetness but is still safe. Stevia is available in a powder or liquid form; I prefer the liquid form the best as some people think the powdered form is unpleasant. Sweetleaf is my favorite brand of the liquid product. If you do choose the powdered form, be sure to get the green or brown powders, as the white and clear versions are highly processed.
Maybe the oldest natural sweeteners, honey is sweeter than sugar. Depending on the plant source, honey can have a range of flavors, from dark and strongly taste, to light and mildly flavored. Raw honey has a lot of enzymes, minerals, and vitamins, so it’s important to look for raw on the label because the pasteurization process destroys most of the good stuff in it. It’s also said that consuming local honey can help growing your immunity to many allergens in your area by familiarizing your body to the bee pollen from local bees. If you can’t find local that’s ok, just look for raw.
Organic molasses is a nutritious sweetener resulting from sugar cane or sugar beet and is made by a process of clarifying and blending the extracted juices. The longer the juice is boiled, the less sweet, more nutritious, and darker the product is. Molasses gives a very distinct taste to food. Blackstrap molasses is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Maple syrup is made from boiled-down maple tree sap and is a good source of manganese and zinc. Around 40 gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup. Maple syrup has much lower fructose than agave. It adds a pleasant taste to foods and is great for baking. Be sure to buy 100% pure maple syrup and not maple-flavored corn syrup.
Coconut sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar, or coconut crystals is obtained from the sweet nectar of flower buds of the coconut palm. The coconut nectar is heated until the water evaporates and then the caramelized nectar is dried and ground into granules. Coconut sugar is a great source of potassium, iron, and vitamins. It provides the same amount of calories and carbohydrates as regular sugar, but it has a lower glycemic index, giving a more stable release of glucose into the blood.
Whole pitted dates
and date paste made from soaked dates and water both also are good sweeteners, but since you have to blend them up to use them as a sweetener I didn’t put them on the list.
Everything on the list is easily accessible in most grocery stores. I like to recommend things that are easily accessible to most of the clients. There are thousands of plants on the planet and smart people have figured out how to extract natural sweetness from them. Here are a few less common natural sweeteners to try if you can find them in the stores and want to experiment: brown rice syrup, birch syrup, yacon syrup, and lucuma powder.
YOU’LL NOTE THAT AGAVE NECTAR ISN’T ON THE LIST
Agave nectar is advertised as a natural liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave cactus. That is correct, however, the process to extract it from the plant makes it very processed, similar to the process of how white sugar is made. Agave nectars are sold in light, amber, dark, and raw assortments. Many diabetics use agave nectar as an alternative to refined sugars and artificial sweeteners because of its relatively low effect on blood glucose levels due to its low glycemic index. However, agave is high in fructose and has been under much scrutiny due to potential manufacturing processes which are similar to that of high fructose corn syrup. Some research tells that fructose disturbs the hormone lepitin, which controls your appetite and satiety. Too much fructose may result in overeating and weight gain, so it’s important to consume agave nectar in judicious quantities.
How do you incorporate these natural sweeteners into your eating plans?