Sugar is probably one of the hardest things to remove from our diets. Refined sugars are in everything and causes numerous health problems that range from tooth decay to obesity to diabetes and to stress. Some health professionals are calling on the government to add a ‘sugar tax’, much like alcohol and tobacco to curb the consumption of refined sugars.
Most refined sugars come from the sugar cane plant, which is a highly water intensive crop grown mainly under monoculture conditions across the tropics, most notably in India and Brazil. These 2 countries alone account for over 55 per cent of global refined sugar production every year. In the United States, the average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar per day. This is DOUBLE the recommend amount. The average Brit is no better, consuming a shocking 1.25 pounds of sugar per week. This is slightly lower than Americans, but not much better.
As consumers look for healthy sugar alternatives, they tend to seek out synthetic sugars like aspartame (which is now in just as many processed foods as refined sugars). Other synthetic sugars such as acesulfame-K are also prevalent in today’s food supply chain. However, what many consumers don’t realize is that both aspartame and acesulfame-K also come with their own problems and both of them have been linked to cancer.
So what are natural and healthy sugar alternatives? What are the best alternative sweeteners that are not refined nor are synthetically produced? We only need to look at nature to find the best and most healthy sugar alternatives that also have great nutritional value. Here are the top 8 healthy alternative sweeteners that you can try:
Best Alternative Sweetener #1 > Raw Honey
In addition to having a natural and organic flavour that best resembles refined cane sugar, raw honey is also used as a remedy for many ailments. From digestion to allergies, raw honey has been proven to be antimicrobial, antibacterial and antibiotic, which makes it very popular in non-conventional medicines. As well, raw unprocessed organic honey is also high in antioxidants, phytonutrients, carbohydrates, enzymes, amino acids, vitamins and minerals which make it the ultimate alternative sweetener to refined sugars.
Healthy Sugar Alternative #2 > Stevia
Many people have never heard of stevia even though it is was one of the most natural sweeteners in the world. Stevia comes from a herb that is native to South America and is usually 300x sweetener than traditional refined sugar. Having been used as a sweetener for centuries in Japan and South America, stevia is now the second most popular healthy sugar alternative in the world. At one point, even Coca-Cola in Japan was ‘sweetened’ using stevia before they changed it to refined sugar or aspartame. Stevia itself has absolutely no glycemic impact and no calories and is therefore suitable and safe for diabetics. You can purchase both organic liquid and powder stevia from most stores now.
Best Alternative Sweetener #3 > Molasses
Although a by-product of the refined tabletop sugar production process, molasses makes it’s way as a healthy alternative sweetener because it is less refined and doesn’t have a negative environmental impact. In addition, this heavy sweetener, also known as blackstrap molasses provides high levels of iron and calcium, which is very nutritional. Molasses is sweeter than traditional tabletop refined sugar and is best used in baking.
Healthy Sugar Alternative #4 > Coconut Palm Sugar
Another great and healthy sugar alternative is coconut palm sugar which is produced from the sap of the coconut palm. The palm is heated to evaporate the water content and then reduced to usable granules which is what you find in stores. Having a low glycemic index, coconut palm sugar is also very low in calories. The taste of this healthy sugar alternative is similar to brown sugar and can be used as a traditional sugar substitute for drinks, baking and much more. The production of coconut palm sugar also has less environmental impact than sugar cane production too.
Best Alternative Sweetener #5 > Agave Syrup
There’s much controversy surrounding agave syrup and it’s weight in the alternative sweetener space. However, pure and raw agave syrup from the agave plant (native of Mexico) can have many health benefits and serve as a great alternative sweetener to refined sugars. Finding the organic dark colored agave syrup will serve you best and is great for adding to baking. The same issues facing agave syrup also plague maple syrup, which are both plant based sweeteners. Stay tuned for more information as we dig a bit deeper into some health precautions and warnings in using these syrups on a daily basis.
Healthy Sugar Alternative #6 > Artichoke Syrup
Not readily found in stores yet, artichoke syrup is a great healthy sugar alternative. Having a low glycemic index and exceptionally sweet yet natural taste, artichoke syrup is great for diabetics and people with candida-conscious diets. The active inulin in artichoke syrup has been found to aid in calcium absorption in the body in addition to improving digestion. As well, the syrup is very rich in fiber which makes it a healthy sugar alternative.
Best Alternative Sweetener #7 > Lucuma Powder
One of the superfoods that is coming onto the market right now is lucuma powder which also doubles as a great alternative sweetener to traditional refined sugar. Lucuma powder is sweet, fragrant and has a maple-nutty taste to it, so it definitely doesn’t taste like refined sugar (word of warning). However, lucuma powder contains numerous nutrients that help our body function properly. These include Vitamins B2, B1, minerals like iron, beta carotene, carbs, fibers and phytonutrients. In addition, lucuma has lower sugar content which makes it great for breastfeeding women as well as diabetics. Lucuma powder is a great alternative sweetener for baking as well.
Healthy Sugar Alternative #8 > Dates
Mostly recommended as a cooking or baking alternative to refined sugar, dates also pack a lot of nutrients, vitamins and minerals into your diet. From fiber, oil, calcium, sulphur, iron, potassium, phosphorous, copper, manganese and magnesium (all essential for a healthy life), dates also aid in many health disorders such as constipation, intestinal diseases, heart problems, sex drive, bloating, abdominal cancer and weight gain. In cooking and baking, dates also act as a binding agent for desserts, cookies, breads and other yummy treats.
As with anything in our diet, consuming moderate amounts of natural and healthy sweeteners is the key to a happy life.