The Healthiest Sweeteners – Alternatives to Sugar

sugar-alternatives

It seems that everywhere we turn there is a new study proving that an excess of refined sugar is the root cause of many of our most devastating health problems. In the short term it can sap our energy, cause unwanted weight gain, and accelerate premature aging. In the long term it can lead to diabetes, a damaged liver and even cancer.

Unfortunately, replacing these sugars with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols isn’t the best option. Although they haven’t been around long enough to definitively assess true long term damage, there is enough anecdotal evidence that they cause gastrointestinal distress, nervous system damage and overeating. These reasons are why I choose to steer clear of them altogether.

This can make you feel defeated and frustrated – doesn’t this mean everything that tastes good is bad for you? However, I find in my practice that when you replace these refined sugars with their natural counterparts it causes a taste-bud reset. What I mean by that is that you can enjoy the sweetness but are satisfied by less. It is important to note that even the most natural form of sugar is still sugar. So as with anything, moderation is key!

Here are my top 5 natural sweeteners:

Blackstrap Molasses

Blackstrap molasses is one of the most nutrient dense of the natural sweeteners. This means that it not only contains a sweet flavor but is also high in B6, manganese, potassium and iron.

How to use:

Blackstrap molasses has a rich texture and flavor, which I believe lends itself best in marinades or baking. Try using it as a substitute for brown sugar in recipes.

Dates

Dates are a whole food, which means they maintain their fiber. Fiber helps with digestive health and balances blood sugar, which can improve mood and helps with weight loss. They also contain iron, magnesium and selenium.

How to use:

Dates can be used with baking but my favorite use of dates is adding them to smoothies for an added sweetness and fiber.

Raw Honey

Local raw honey not only provides a delicious sweetness but also many health benefits. It can help alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms, boost your immune system and improve athletic performance.

How to use

Honey is a great addition to your post workout meals or as a sweetener for herbal teas.

Stevia

Stevia is a plant native to South America. It is a zero-calorie sweetener that does not have an impact on your blood sugar. This makes it ideal for those with blood sugar issues. The tricky thing about stevia is that many of the popular brands on the market utilize a very processed version of stevia as well as other added sweeteners. For this reason, it is important to really look at the ingredients list and make sure it says “whole leaf stevia” rather than Reb A or stevia extract.

How to use

I find that stevia is best when added as a sweetener to drinks. The whole leaf stevia is about 30x as sweet as sugar so remember, a little goes a long way!

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup has a high level of anti-oxidant activity, which helps protect cell damage from free radicals and prevent premature aging. This is why maple syrup will often be found in homemade skincare products. However, those anti-oxidants also help prevent inflammation and other triggers for disease, so consuming it with breakfast will be just as beneficial as rubbing it all over your face! As with stevia, there are a lot of fillers when it comes to maple syrup. Be sure to look at the ingredient list and make sure it says “pure maple syrup” rather than cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

How to use

There are two grades of maple syrups: A & B. Grade A maple syrup is typically lighter and best used to drizzle on top of things or use as a sweetener in drinks. Grade B is darker and denser in taste (and anti-oxidants) and best used in baking and cooking.

Tara Coleman
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Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist with a private practice in San Diego, CA. She speaks nationally on the topics of health and nutrition and has been cited as a nutrition expert by media such as NBC, FOX, SELF, Cosmopolitan and Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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