The average adult adds around 400 calories a day from consuming added sugars. And, while the consumption of refined sugar is on the rise, so is the consumption of artificial sweeteners. The benefits of artificial sweeteners have been debated for years with regards to their damaging side effects to the body.
Side effects from artificial sweeteners range from headaches and migraines to shrunken thymus glands, impairment of liver and kidney function, and mood disorders. Refined sugar is unhealthy, too. Side effects of refined sugars include diabetes, tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and even poor cognitive functioning.
Fortunately, there are natural sweeteners that are healthy and tasty alternatives to refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.
Replacing the average intake of 130 grams a day of refined sugars with healthy alternatives like the natural sweeteners found in berries and nuts can improve and increase the levels of antioxidants that go into your system via your choice of food.
Top 10 Natural Sweeteners
Raw Honey: It’s a true superfood 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 glycaemic load than a single banana. Look for local raw honey at farmers markets or source it directly from local beekeepers. The darker the honey, the richer the flavour and greater the health benefits.
How to use Raw Honey: Don’t ever cook with raw honey. Drizzle it on breakfast cereals, over your sprouted grain toast, on yogurt and for salad dressings.
Stevia: Stevia is native to South America and has been used for hundreds of years in that region to support healthy blood sugar levels and help in 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.
How to use Stevia: Unlike raw honey, stevia is heat stable, so feel free to use it in any way you desire. Remember, it’s 200 times sweeter than sugar, so don’t use it in the same ratio.
Dates: Dates are loaded with potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, and vitamin B6. Harvested 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.
How to use dates: The first step is to make a paste. Date paste can be used one-to-one in most recipes, unlike stevia, and it does add bulk for baking.
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 glycaemic load and rich mineral content. It is packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous, and other phytonutrients, coconut sugar is versatile and now readily available.
How to use coconut sugar: Use coconut sugar in your favourite recipes. It is a bit coarser than refined sugar, but that is okay. Add the amount of sugar that is called for in a recipe to your food processor and give it a whirl until you get the desired texture.
Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is an outstanding source of manganese, and contains calcium, potassium, and zinc. Rich with antioxidants, this all-natural sweetener helps to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative damage. Select darker, Grade B maple syrups, as they contain more beneficial antioxidants than the lighter syrups.
How to use maple syrup: Maple syrup is heat stable, so you can use it in virtually any recipe. Add it to marinades, glazes an sauces and use for baking. Use it to sweeten homemade granola and your morning coffee or tea. For a glaze for cookies or cakes, heat until just barely simmering and add the coconut-powdered sugar from above. Stir until smooth; allow cooling to room temperature and then drizzling away!
Blackstrap Molasses: Organic blackstrap molasses is highly nutritious, rich in copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, selenium, and vitamin B6. 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 its rich sweet syrup. Blackstrap molasses comes from the third boiling, concentrating its nutrients and providing for its deep rich flavour.
How to use blackstrap molasses: Molasses has a unique, rich flavour. It may not be appealing for some to use for topping toast, porridges or other concentrated applications. However, it’s a perfect sweetener for marinades and to use in baking.
Balsamic Glaze: Balsamic vinegar is rich in antioxidants that destroy free radicals, it’s rich in the enzyme pepsin that helps to promote healthy digestion, and it tastes great.
How to use Balsamic Glaze: Balsamic glazes are available in natural health food and gourmet stores, but you can also quickly make your own glaze at home.
Banana Puree: Bananas are rich in fibre and potassium, and a good source of vitamins B6 and C. They are also naturally sweet with a subtle flavour, making them a perfect natural sweetener.
How to use banana puree: 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. 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.
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.
How to use brown rice syrup: Brown rice syrup is the perfect replacement in recipes that call for corn syrup. Use a 1:1 ratio. To replace regularly processed white sugar, use one cup for each cup of sugar called for and decrease liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.
Real Fruit Jam: The key here is real fruit jam. Berries, stone fruit, apples, pears, and grapes are all great replacements for sugar in recipes. You can use commercially available fruit jam; just ensure there is no added sugar or pectin. It’s better to make your own sugar-free jam with organic fresh or frozen fruit.
How to use real fruit jam: Replace sugar in recipes at a 1:1 ratio, decreasing the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup. Or, for recipes that don’t have added liquids, you can add a tablespoon of coconut flour to thicken the recipe as desired. To make your own fresh jam, combine four cups of your favourite fruit or berry in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently. Simmer until fruit has broken down and has started to thicken. Puree in a food processor and use immediately.
Living healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up sweets entirely; it just requires a little creativity when replacing unhealthy refined sugar and artificial sweeteners with these sweet sources of natural sugar.