The average American consumes over 19 teaspoons (about 2/5 of a cup) each day. Do you know how much sugar you are eating? As the occurrence of diabetes and other health issues rise, so does the consumption of artificial sweeteners. However there are so many kinds with mixed information about each one. This guide will show you which sugar alternatives are okay to consume, and which should be avoided.
Many artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin, are declared “safe” by the FDA. However, there have been a variety of negative side effects linked to these sugar alternatives. These side effects include mood problems, issues with liver and kidney function, migraines, and even cancer.
On the other hand, refined (processed) sugars, such as table sugar and corn syrup, also have their share of negative side effects including obesity, diabetes, and cancer. So which sweetener should you choose?
Luckily, there are some natural alternatives to refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Of course, the key is moderation. But there is no reason you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Here is a list of natural sugar alternatives that you don’t need to be afraid of.
Zero and Low Calore Sweetners
Why should you use a low calorie sweetener?
Zero calorie sweeteners have recently gained a bad reputation – and for good reasons. Most have negative side effects that range from diarrhea to cancer. However, there are natural sweeteners that are sourced from plants that have little to no calories and are sweeter than sugar.
If you are trying to lose weight but are having trouble shaking off your sweet tooth, don’t worry! Here are three natural sweeteners to use in place of sugar that have zero (or few) calories, so you can still satisfy those sweet cravings, guilt-free!
Stevia is a South American plant that is related to the sunflower. It has been used by native people as a sweetener for hundreds of years and has recently gained popularity in modern society. Stevia is 200 times sweeter than table sugar but has no calories, and therefore no carbohydrates. This makes stevia an approved sweetener for diabetics and keto-diet followers. It is available in a variety of forms including liquid drops, tablets, and powder.
How to use Stevia:
Stevia can be used any way you wish, but you only need a little bit because it is so sweet. It is great for sweetening coffee, tea, and other drinks, but can also be used for baking. If you plan to use Stevia as a sugar substitute for baking, you will need to add another ingredient to make up for the bulk that sugar would have added to the recipe. Many recipes suggest adding a fruit or squash puree, egg whites, or coconut flour, depending on the type of recipe.
Erythritol is not zero calorie, but at 0.24 calories per gram, it is a negligible amount. This sweetener is naturally found in many fruits including grapes and melons and has been produced as a crystalline sugar substitute. There no negative side effects when consumed in moderation.
How to use Erythritol:
In crystalline form, Erythritol can easily be stirred into liquids to sweeten coffee and tea. However, it is not the best sugar substitute for baking because it dissolves with heat and does not caramelize. This means you could end up with gooey baked goods (too gooey), if you do not use other ingredients to compensate for the lack of texture.
Monkfruit is a plant native to Southeast Asia. The sweetener is made by collecting the juice of the fruit and sometimes it is left as a liquid or processed into a powder. Monkfruit is an acceptable sugar alternative because in addition to being zero-calorie, it contains antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation. Monkfruit is 100-250 times sweeter than sugar. Like Stevia, you only need a little bit to reach the desired level of sweetness in your recipe. Because monkfruit has no calories or carbohydrates, it is another approved sweetener for diabetics and keto-dieters.
How to use Monkfruit:
Some brands of Monkfruit sweeteners can be used in the same amount as sugar in a recipe because they include ingredients that dilute the sweetness, such as dextrose. This sweetener can be used in baking, drinks, sauces, or anything you want.
Natural Sugar Alternatives
Avoiding sugar and sweeteners altogether is the ideal way to lose weight, improve health, and reset your taste buds to enjoy the real flavor of food. But, it can be excruciating work to kick the cravings. At the end of the day, maybe you just don’t want to quit sugar – and that is okay. Nature has provided us with plenty of sweet sources that pack on other health benefits too.
Remember, while these natural sweeteners contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they are not a multivitamin. They have calories, and must still be consumed in moderation. Because they are not calorie-free, they can still contribute to weight gain if excess calories are consumed. This means you can have your cake, but try to not eat it everyday if you want to be healthier.
Here are four natural sweeteners with health benefits that can be used as a sugar substitute:
Raw honey is sweet and also packed with healthful nutrients such as antioxidants, iron, zinc, and B-vitamins. Honey is beneficial for the immune system and digestive health. When choosing a honey, make sure to pick a raw version that is darkest in color to get the best benefit. Once honey has been pasteurized, it is no longer raw and the nutrients have been cooked out
How to use Raw Honey:
Since the nutrients in honey are lost with high heat, it is best to avoid cooking and baking with raw honey. Eat it raw by drizzling it on toast, yogurt, and use it to sweeten tea or make no-bake desserts.
The coconut has many uses – coconut water, coconut oil, coconut flour, and fresh coconut have all gained popularity for its many health benefits. Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic load than white table sugar and it is full of minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium. Coconut sugar is also rich in phytonutrients and other antioxidants that are beneficial to health.
How to use Coconut Sugar:
Since it is available in a crystalline form and similar in sweetness to table sugar, it can be used in the same ratio as sugar in a recipe. It is a great sugar alternative for baking and can also be used in many other ways including to sweeten drinks and make sauces.
Maple Syrup is one of the least processed sweeteners. Making maple syrup is as easy as drilling a small hole in a Maple tree, catching the sap in a bucket, boiling it, and filtering out debris. In addition to being minimally processed, Maple syrup is a good source of antioxidants and minerals like calcium, manganese, and zinc. When choosing a syrup, the darker the better, just like with honey. Also, make sure to check the ingredients on your syrup bottle, the only ingredient should be maple syrup – definitely not corn syrup.
How to use Maple Syrup:
Since it is only available in liquid form, Maple syrup is easy to use in marinades, sauces, glazes, and to sweeten drinks. However, it can be used for baking. It is already heated when it is boiled during processing, so you do not need to worry about nutrient loss.
Molasses is a product of boiling raw can sugar over and over. It is a good source of vitamin B6 and is full of minerals like copper, potassium, and iron. It also contains many antioxidants to fight free radical damage to blood vessels. It has a deep rich flavor that pairs well with the dark rich color. Because of its richness, it is not the best substitute for all recipes, but it can be used in a variety of ways.
How to use Blackstrap Molasses:
Due to its distinct flavor, molasses is a sweetener that is best used for marinades and sauces. It can also be added to recipes that call for brown sugar to add a caramel-like flavor.
Whole Food Unprocessed Sweetners
The absolute best sweetener that nature has provided is whole fruit. Sugars occur naturally in fruit, along with water, fiber, antioxidants, and many vitamins and minerals. The abundance of other nutrients, especially fiber, slow down the digestion of sugars. This means the sugars are released from the food and enter the blood more slowly, leading to a slow rise in blood sugar.
When sugar is consumed without these extra nutrients, like when drinking a soda, the sugars are absorbed into the blood quickly. This leads to a spike in blood sugars that is hard for the body to handle. Overtime, this can lead to hyperglycemia and diabetes.
Therefore, the healthiest way to beat that sweet tooth is to eat fruit. But, what if you want to make cookies instead? Believe it or not, you can use fruits to make cookies. While the whole fruit needs to be manipulated a but, most of the benefits still remain. Here are four fruits that can easily be used to sweeten your life.
Dates are a very sweet fruit packed with potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, and vitamin B6. Because it is a whole plant food, it is also full of fiber that slows digestion of the naturally occurring fruit sugars in dates. This means there is a slower and steady rise in blood sugar, instead of a quick spike. While dates are delicious as a quick snack, they can also be used as a natural and healthy alternative to sugar in recipes.
How to use dates:
Before using in a recipe, the dates need to be made into a paste. Here is how to make a date paste:
- Remove the pits and soak the dates in warm water until they are soft.
- Drain and reserve the liquid.
- Add the dates and 2 TBSP of the soaking liquid to a blender and blend until smooth. If you need more liquid, add 1 TBSP at a time until it is blends into a thick paste.
Dates are a bit sweeter than sugar, so use less date paste than the amount of sugar called for in a recipe. For every 1 cup of sugar called for, 1/2 to 3/4 cup of date paste should work.
Overripe bananas are the ultimate whole food unprocessed sweetener. Bananas are a healthy fruit full of fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and other vitamins and minerals. They are naturally sweet, easy to digest, and the fiber helps to slow digestion of sugars for sustained energy and will help avoid a blood sugar spike.
How to use bananas:
The trick is to leave bananas on the counter until they are brown and soft, then freeze them. When you are ready to bake, pop one or two in the microwave and heat until they are gooey and defrosted. Put them in a bowl before peeling them, or you will have a mess. When you start to peel them, they should slide out of the peel easily. Mash up the gooey bananas with a fork and use in place of sugar. For every 1 cup of sugar called for in a recipe, you can use 1 cup of mashed banana.
Ripe persimmons are super sweet, squishy, and mash easily. In addition to fiber and antioxidants, Persimmons contain a lot of vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, and B-vitamins. The nutrients in persimmons can help improve heart health, reduce the risk of cancer, and reduce inflammation too.
How to use Persimmons:
Leave the persimmons on your countertop until they are very squishy. Peel, mash or blend into a puree, and use in place of sugar in recipes for baked goods, like cookies, muffins, and sweet breads. You can also use them to make fancy pancakes or waffles!
Apples are high in vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and a variety of antioxidants. Eating apples regularly can improve digestion and reduce high cholesterol. Unlike bananas and persimmons, you do not need to wait for apples to over-ripen. You can use them for a fruit puree straight from the store – or even better you can purchase applesauce instead! If you choose to go the simple route, find and applesauce that is unsweetened and does not contain any artificial sweeteners. The only ingredients should be apples, and vitamin C (this stops it from browning like apples do).
How to use apples:
Applesauce can replace sugar in recipes easily. For every cup of sugar called for in the recipe, use 1 cup of applesauce. This works great for cookies, muffins, pancakes, breads, and more!