9 Healthy Natural Sweeteners Better for You Than Sugar
Sugar is sweet, but these healthy natural sweeteners are better! Yes, we were almost all raised on sugar and sweet treats and drinks. But, doctors say it’s time to scale back on sugar usage. You may think it’s going to be a really tough addiction to break, but there are several healthy and sweet alternatives you can use to kick sugar to the curb.
What is Sugar?
Sugar is a refined, sweet, soluble carbohydrate found in many of our foods and beverages. Simple sugars (monosaccharides) are a combination of glucose, fructose, and galactose, while compound sugars (disaccharides) are made up of double sugar molecules to form sugars like sucrose, lactose, and maltose.
You might also notice dextrose and glucose listed as sugars as well. Food and beverage labels will often list sugar by some of the other names (listed above) in the hopes that no one will notice how much “sugar” is really in the item. Don’t be fooled and read labels carefully, so you know what you’re getting.
What’s So Bad About Sugar?
Sugar has gotten a bad rap over the years, and rightly so. Not only can it make you obese when abused over time, but eating too much sugar can cause a host of other health problems as well, such as diabetes, heart conditions, tooth decay, insatiable appetites, poor liver health, and an unacceptable body composition.
Eating sugar is not satiating, and most sugary items can pack in quite a few calories. So, you’ll find yourself eating a lot and never getting full. The empty calories in sugar also spike your blood sugar levels, leaving you with energy spikes and crashes and a body that is ripe and primed for storing body fat. In addition, excess sugar calories are easily consumed and quickly converted to fat. Scientists even say that sugar can, in fact, be addictive.
These refined sugars are often found in processed foods and even show up in unexpected foods like condiments, sauces, soups, crackers, drinks, and more. For example, a can of soda can easily contain ten teaspoons of sugar.
Aim for the healthier natural sugars present in fruits, some vegetables, some grains, and even milk products.
9 Healthy Natural Sweeteners Better Than Sugar
1. Is Honey Better for You than Sugar?
Honey is a natural sweetener produced by honeybees. Intended for use as a food for bees, honey is jampacked with antioxidants and digestive enzymes. Raw honey is a healthy choice when it comes to sweetening your food and beverages. Honey helps your digestive system stay on track and your body fight off dangerous free radicals. It may also help people deal with allergies if they eat local raw honey as it may help strengthen the immune system against local histamines. It is, however, still high in calories.
2. Try Some Stevia
Stevia, also known as “sweet herb,” is a widely used and well-vetted natural sweetener. Made from stevia leaves, stevia comes in both liquid and powder forms. It turns out that stevia leaves have different sweetness compounds, depending on which side of the leaf you use: stevioside and rebaudioside.
The rebaudioside is much sweeter than the stevioside but is found in much lesser quantities and therefore needs more processing to produce what we know as stevia. Minimally processed stevia will normally contain some of each compound, but the stevioside tends to have a bit of a bitter aftertaste.
Because of this, stevia is sometimes mixed with sugar to give it an overall lasting sweetness. Read labels to see what you’re getting when choosing stevia. Also, beware, some people report bloating and/or gas when they use stevia products.
3. Agave Nectar is a Great Sweetener
If you’re looking for sweetness, agave nectar is another natural sugar. Agave is native to Mexico and parts of the southern United States. The nectar is gathered from the plant’s bulb and then processed into the sweet syrup we know as agave nectar. Certainly not calorie-free, it is a healthy natural sweetener with a thick viscosity that can be used in baking and beverages, including some of your alcoholic favorites.
4. Molasses Makes it Sweeter
In both light and dark varieties, molasses is a health(ier) natural sweetener. It is derived from sugar beets and sugar cane and comes in syrup form. Since it is a byproduct of sugar production, it’s not necessarily the healthiest on the list of healthy sweeteners. However, due to its higher levels of nutrients and antioxidants, it does find itself on this list when used in small amounts. Molasses doesn’t spike your blood sugar like refined sugar does, and just a little will go a long way in terms of flavor and sweetness.
5. Monk Fruit as a Healthy Natural Sweetener
Originally from China, monk fruit is over 150 times sweeter than sugar but without the calorie burden. Also known by the name “luo han guo fruit extract,” this healthy natural sweetener is another nice substitute for sugar. Although it is relatively new to the market, it’s quickly becoming a fan favorite as it’s easy to add to beverages in place of sugar for baking or sprinkled on foods for ultra-sweetness.
6. Dates are Sweet, Too!
Dates are also a viable sweetening agent. Keep in mind that dates are basically “nature’s candy” with their dense, sugary sweetness. But, calorie bomb aside, they do bring plenty of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber to the table. And they are a great way to make wonderful healthy desserts by substituting dates for butter, sugar, and even chocolate.
7. Xylitol, Not Just for Tooth Decay
While this may sound like a product of a chemistry project, it’s actually a viable natural sweetener. Unlike sugar, xylitol doesn’t raise blood sugar levels or insulin output. Some studies even say that it can help preserve bone and tooth density and relieve constipation. But, as with all sweeteners, use in moderation as some folks may have difficulty with digestive side effects like gas and bloating.
8. Coconut Sugar to the Rescue
Coconut sugar is another great sweetener, although it is a close relative of refined sugar. Yes, coconut sugar can be high-calorie, but it also contains a natural fiber called inulin. Inulin can help the digestion process and slow the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream. When used appropriately and in proper amounts, coconut sugar can be a nice, healthy sweetener to add to your arsenal.
9. Maple Syrup for Super Sweetness
All-natural maple syrup is a delicious sugar alternative as well if you’re not worried about calories. It definitely packs less of a glycemic punch than does sugar, but it’s still calorically dense. Because of its sweetness level and intense flavor, however, you may be able to use less maple syrup than you would sugar, thereby slashing overall calorie content.
Healthy Natural Sweeteners: A Recap
Quitting sugar—whether to promote health, lose weight, or because your doctor encourages you to do so—can be hard. Fortunately, because there are a variety of healthy natural sweeteners available, it doesn’t have to be bitter. You have choices that provide a bit more when it comes to nutrients or a lot less when it comes to calories. So, every diet can have a little bit of sweetness.