Let’s face it, white sugar isn’t the best thing to consume. But the real confusion sets in when people start talking about alternatives to sugar that they think are “healthy.” Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose (Splenda) and saccharin have been debated for years in regard to their damaging side effects.
While according to the FDA all of these sweeteners are technically “safe,” they are coming under increased scrutiny because of their side effects ranging from headaches and migraines to shrunken thymus glands, impairment of liver and kidney function, and mood disorders. Just watch…
Before we start lets get one thing straight… sugar of ANY kind, whether it comes from table sugar or a banana, is processed the exact same way in your body. So if that’s the case, “why care about using sugar substitutes at all?”
We’ll give you two reasons:
- What they do to your blood sugar levels
- Their Nutritional value
How they effect your blood sugar levels:
If you consume a lot of sugar (from any source), your blood sugar level will rise, which encourages more fat storage, a bigger appetite and cravings, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, development of bad bacteria in your gut and a host of other problems, such as insulin resistance and hormonal problems.
The key to keeping your blood sugar levels low:
a) Eat sugar sparingly
b) Eat it with a fiber, good fat or protein to slow down the release of sugar into your bloodstream (this is why it is best to opt for fruit)
c) Choose sources of sugar that are lower on the Glycemic Index. This indicates how much a particular food raises blood sugar (glucose) after consumption.
So which alternatives should you use?
Fortunately, there are natural sweeteners that 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 — including blackstrap molasses, maple syrup and honey — can increase the antioxidant intake.
Raw honey is a true superfood and one of our 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 organic 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 organic raw honey at farmer markets and directly from local beekeepers. And if you’re buying at the grocery store want to make sure of its nutritional value, try to find 100% Certified Organic Raw Honey as seen here. This will ensure richer flavor and 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.
Today, stevioside, the element in the leaves that makes it more than 200 times as sweet as sugar, is available in liquid drops, packets, dissolvable tablets and baking blends. It has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and none of the nasty 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. Evidence shows that dates may help to reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood and may reduce the risk of stroke.
4. Coconut Sugar
Most people have heard about the benefits of coconut water, coconut milk, coconut flour and, of course, fresh coconut. Now, more and more people are using coconut sugar as their natural sweetener of choice because of its low glycemic load and rich mineral content.
Packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients, coconut sugar is versatile and now readily available. Coconut sugar is extracted sap from the blooms of the coconut and then heated. Next, through evaporation, we get coconut sugar.
5. Blackstrap Molasses
Organic blackstrap molasses is highly nutritious, rich in copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, selenium and vitamin B6. Sugarcane and beet molasses has the highest phenolic content and antioxidant activity when compared with refined sugar, beet sugar, rape honey, corn syrup, and dates. (9)
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.
6. 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.
How to use banana puree:
First, overripe bananas are the best to use when replacing refined sugar in recipes. They are sweeter and puree well. For every cup of sugar called for in a recipe, use one cup of banana puree. To make the puree, add bananas to a food processor with a tablespoon of water and blend. Add more water if necessary to reach the consistency of thick applesauce.
As bananas brown when exposed to air, use as quickly as possible in recipes. If you are using banana puree in raw preparations, add one teaspoon of fresh lemon juice to the food processor to help retard the oxidation process.
7. 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 result? A thick, amber-colored, sweet syrup perfect for recipes calling for corn syrup and other unhealthy sweeteners.
The fermented process helps to break down the sugars into ones that are easily digestible. The fermenting process is key – some brown rice syrups are fermented with barley enzymes, meaning it contains gluten. Purchase brown rice syrups that are labeled gluten-free.
Sugar Alternatives to Avoid
Now that we’ve covered the good alternatives, the following substitutes are a big no-no. Despite them having a low Glycemic Index, research has shown that they are damaging to our health.
- Sucralose (Splenda)
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
If you’re going to consume a sweetener, might as well make it the most nutritious type possible. The reason to stay away from table sugar is because it is completely devoid of nutrients, especially in comparison to some of its more nutritious substitutes.
The Bottom Line
Stay away from pure white sugar and any heavily processed or artificial sweeteners. Stick to minimally processed natural sweeteners that are high in nutrients, and then still use them sparingly.