In Part 1 of my 5 part series on beating your sugar cravings, we discussed eight causes of cravings, part 2 was about artificial sweeteners. Today, we will discuss the top 10 natural sweeteners.
In general, we consume approximately 400 calories a day from added sugars! And while the consumption of refined sugar has been rising, so have artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, ACE K and saccharin have been debated for years in regard to their unhealthy side effects. And refined sugars aren’t much healthy either.
Over the last three years or so, corn growers and affiliated organizations have pushed high fructose corn syrup or corn syrup as a natural sweetener. This is not true because the majority of HFCS is produced from genetically modified corn.
Note: Corporations are changing high fructose corn syrup/corn syrup to other names: maize syrup, glucose syrup, glucose/fructose syrup, tapioca syrup, dahlia syrup, fruit fructose, and crystalline fructose to fool the public. Be sure to read labels.
Another note: Fructose is a simple sugar that is rapidly metabolized by the liver causing a “sugar high.” This quick-acting sugar is believed to lead to increased storage of fat in the liver, resulting in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, digestive upset, and atherosclerosis. And, agave nectar is a questionable sweetener.
So, natural sweeteners are the best way to go. They are healthy and tasty alternatives to refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. According to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, substituting healthy sweeteners such as blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, and honey; can increase antioxidant intake.
Top 10 Natural Sweeteners
- Raw Honey
Raw honey is a superfood and one of my favorite natural sweeteners. It’s packed with enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin. Together, these essential nutrients help to neutralize free radicals while promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
One tablespoon of raw honey has 64 calories and has less impact on glycemic load than a single banana. It’s important to note that these are the benefits of raw honey. Once honey has been pasteurized, it loses the many of the health benefits that raw honey brings to the table.
Look for local raw honey at farmer markets and directly from local beekeepers. The darker the honey, the richer the flavor and the greater the health benefits.
Stevia is native to South America and has been used for hundreds of years in that region to support healthy blood sugar levels and prompt weight loss.
Stevioside, an element in the leaves that makes it more than 200 times as sweet as sugar. Stevia is available in liquid drops, packets, dissolveable tablets, and baking blends. It has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and none of the negative side effects of artificial sweeteners, making it an ideal natural sweetener.
Stevia is related to the sunflower, and some people experience a slight metallic aftertaste. If that has been your experience with stevia in the past, try a brand that is higher in the steviosides. Many find it to be sweeter, without a residual aftertaste.
Dates are loaded with potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, and vitamin B6. From the date palm tree, they are easily digested and help to metabolize proteins, fats and carbohydrates.
- Coconut Sugar
Most people have heard about the benefits of coconut water, coconut milk, coconut flour and fresh coconut. Now, more people are using coconut sugar as their natural sweetener of choice because of its low glycemic load and rich mineral content. Coconut sugar is extracted from the sap of the coconut palm and then heated. Through evaporation, we get coconut sugar.
Coconut sugar is packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients. It was mentioned above that coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index than sugar. This may be due to its inulin content. Inulin is a type of fiber that has been shown to slow glucose absorption.
Coconut sugar is very similar to regular table sugar and should be used sparingly. And it is high in calories.
- Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is native to North America and comes in two different grades Grade A – lighter syrup and Grade B – darker syrup. Maple syrup processing requires four steps: Drilling the hole in the tree, hanging a bucket to catch the sap, boiling the sap to evaporate out the water, and then filtering of any sediment. This processing system can be time consuming.
Maple syrup is an excellent source of manganese, and it contains calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, and zinc. Because it is rich with antioxidants, this all-natural sweetener helps to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative damage. Suggestion: Select darker, Grade B maple syrups, since they contain more beneficial antioxidants than the lighter syrups.
Much like coconut sugar and honey, maple syrup is a slightly better option than regular sugar, but it should still be consumed in moderation.
- Blackstrap Molasses
Organic blackstrap molasses is highly nutritious, rich in copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, selenium and vitamin B6. Blackstrap molasses is higher in antioxidants than both honey and maple syrup.
There are several types of molasses, depending on which level of processing it has gone through. All molasses is obtained from raw cane sugar, made by boiling it until it’s a rich sweet syrup. Blackstrap molasses comes from the third boiling, concentrating its nutrients and providing for its deep rich flavor.
- Balsamic Glaze
Balsamic vinegar is rich in antioxidants that destroy free radicals, rich in the enzyme pepsin that helps to promote healthy digestion, and it tastes great. Balsamic glaze can used to flavor salmon or other fish.
- Banana Puree
Bananas are rich in fiber and potassium, and a good source of vitamins B6 and C. They are also naturally sweet with a subtle flavor, making them a perfect natural sweetener.
Overripe bananas contain lots of natural sugar making it a natural healthy alternative. Once bananas are peeled, they need to be used right away as they oxidize once they are exposed to air.
- Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup starts with brown rice that is fermented with enzymes to break down the starch. The liquid is then heated until the syrup consistency is achieved. The end result is a thick, amber-colored, sweet syrup which is a perfect healthy alternative for recipes that call for corn syrup and other unhealthy sweeteners.
Note: The fermentation process helps to break down the sugars into ones that are easily digestible. The fermenting process is key here. Some brown rice syrups are fermented with barley enzymes, meaning they contain gluten.
- Real Fruit Jam
When we say real fruit jam we want to use real fruit. Berries, stone fruit, apples, pears and grapes are great replacements for sugar in recipes. If you are in a hurry and need something readily available, it is okay to use commercially available fruit jam; just be sure there is no added sugar or pectin. It is better to make your own sugar-free jam with organic fresh or frozen fruit. It’s easy and economical.
Living healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up sweets entirely; it just means you need to replace unhealthy refined sugars and artificial sweeteners with these natural sweeteners. Some of these natural sweeteners need to be used in moderation. Explore and find what natural sweetener you like best.
If you are pre-diabetic or diabetic, consult with your physician before using any of these natural sweeteners.