Needless to say, quitting refined sugar is a very difficult journey. But given how negatively sugar can affect the body, it is totally worth the effort. Table sugar is not only high in calories and is inflammatory, but it also provides no nutritional benefits, whatsoever. Side effects of eating too much sugar range from tooth decay, some types of cancer, heart disease, and obesity to diabetes and poor cognitive functioning.
Fortunately, there are some amazing natural sugar substitutes that deliver some jaw-dropping healthy benefits. Here are 9 healthiest natural sugar alternatives for you to try:
Raw honey is a powerhouse and a true superfood. It is one of the best natural sweeteners, and healthy sugar alternatives, with a lower glycaemic index than sugar. It is packed with antioxidants, B vitamins, phosphorous, niacin, iron, calcium, enzymes, potassium, riboflavin, zinc, and vitamin B6. Moreover, it also houses propolis, beeswax, pollen, and royal jelly.
The flavonoids and phenolic acids in honey deliver antioxidant effects, which help prevent inflammation, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. You can use honey in baking, sauces, and as a sweetener in tea and coffee. Plus, it is also an alternative of molasses in case you don’t like the latter.
Dates are rich in magnesium, fibre, potassium, copper, minerals, manganese, vitamins, and iron, so using date paste as a sweetener can offer you more nutrition than table sugar. Dates are easy to digest, and they metabolise fats, carbohydrates, and proteins.
Date paste is one of the best sugar alternatives to use in baking, raw treats, and for sweetening smoothies. In addition, dates are known to help in the reduction of LDL cholesterol in the blood and the chances of getting a stroke. And the best part is that you can make date paste at home with a food processor.
You might have heard of the benefits of coconut milk, coconut flour, coconut water, and, of course, coconut. And now coconut sugar is also rising to fame as a natural sweetener with a lower glycaemic index than sugar, partly due to its inulin content.
Coconut sugar is extracted from coconut palm’s sap, and it’s unrefined. So, it holds all the nutrients and vitamins and doesn’t contribute to blood sugar fluctuations. It houses a few nutrients, including iron, calcium, potassium, zinc, phosphorous, and antioxidants. It also has a neutral taste that is similar to cane sugar.
The classic pancake topping is also one of the best sugar substitutes. Maple syrup is a thick and sugary liquid produced by cooking down maple tree’s sap. It is an outstanding source of calcium, potassium, manganese, zinc, and iron. Richer in antioxidants than honey, this all-natural sweetener facilitates, the neutralization of free radicals and, the reduction of oxidative damage.
Maple syrup has less fructose than agave and can be used to add flavour to porridge, plain yoghurt, salmon, vegetables, salad dressings, and chicken etc. You can also use it to sweeten your homemade granola or add it to your coffee or tea.
Also Read: Maple Syrup - Does It Ever Go Bad?
Used throughout Scandinavia, Xylitol is extracted from silver birch tree’s bark. It has 2.4 cal per gram, which is 40% less than table sugar. Xylitol’s lack of fructose makes it a promising alternative to sugar. Fructose is the main ingredient responsible for sugar’s dangerous effects. Moreover, xylitol has an amazingly low glycaemic index, so it doesn’t increase blood sugar levels or insulin levels, unlike sugar.
Xylitol suppresses the bacteria in the mouth responsible for tooth decay, so it is frequently used in sugar-free toothpaste, mints, and gum. It’s also linked with improved bone health and dental health.
Blackstrap molasses is a strong flavoured, sweet, thick, brown fluid with a syrup-like consistency. It’s made from boiling down beet juice or cane juice. It has a dense, full-bodied, robust flavour that, when baking, provides natural caramel colour and tones.
Unlike processed sugar, molasses is impressively rich in vitamin inositol, B Vitamins, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, and iron. The darker the colour of the molasses, the richer the nutrient profile. It is also suggested for people, with low blood iron levels, and its nutrients benefit heart and bone health. Molasses is popular in baking bread, biscuits, and in dressing dips as a flavour enhancer.
Made from the agave plant, originating in Southern Mexico, Agave syrup boasts a rich, honey-like taste. It is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar but has a low glycaemic index due to its high fructose content, the highest content of all sweeteners. Agave does not cause any immediate spikes in blood sugar as well.
This delicious syrup lacks the bitter aftertaste that some sugar substitutes have. But because of its liquidity, you will have to make some adjustments to your recipes, particularly while baking. Raw food enthusiasts are also a fan of it because, during processing, it is not heat-treated above 45°.
Monk fruit is an all-natural, calorie-free sugar alternative with a zero glycaemic index. It is also fit for vegan and low-carb diets. Monk fruit is rich in antioxidants and supports the digestive tract, respiratory system, immune system, and glands.
What’s more, monk-fruit-sweetened drinks have minimal effect on blood glucose levels, insulin levels, and daily calorie intake as compared to sucrose-sweetened beverages like juices and concentrates. However, monk fruit extract is sometimes mixed with other sugar & sweeteners and assorted syrups, so make sure to read the label.
Plus, Monk fruit can be used in various recipes like cheesecakes, healthy mocktails, and biscuits and cookies.
Learn how to make vegan cheesecake at home: Paleo, Gluten-Free, Vegan Layered Blueberry Cheesecake | No-Bake Vegan Cheesecakes
Grown in countries like Paraguay and Brazil, Stevia comes from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana. It is a very popular natural substitute of sugar with no calories, no carbohydrates, and a zero glycaemic index. Also, stevia sugar is 200 times sweeter than normal sugar.
Several sweet compounds like Stevioside and Rebaudioside A are found in the leaves of stevia. So, if you need to sweeten something up, stevia sugar may be the healthiest pick for you. Stevia has many benefits, such as lowering high blood pressure in individuals with hypertension and lowering blood sugar levels in diabetic people.
What to Consider When Selecting a Low-Calorie Sweetener?
Intended use: Many sugar substitutes can’t bear high temperatures, so they would not be a good fit for baking and cooking purposes.
Cost: Some healthy sugar alternatives can be quite expensive, whereas some cost almost the same as table sugar.
Availability: Some natural sugar substitutes are easier to buy at stores while some are not easily accessible.
Taste: Some people find the bitter aftertaste of substitutes, like stevia, unpleasant. So, always read the label to see whether the product has any added chemicals or sweeteners that affect the nutritional benefits.
Natural Versus Artificial: Some people prefer using artificial sweeteners while some like natural ones. However, natural substitutes do not always have lower-calorie content or are more healthful.
Use Fruit in Place of Sweetener: Whenever possible, incorporate sweet fruits to your meals rather than sugar or other artificial sweeteners. Some good options are blueberry, mango, and strawberry.
It pays to be a smart customer when selecting sugar substitutes. They offer a lot of health benefits and make it easy to switch to a sugar-free lifestyle. Moreover, sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners may lend you a helping hand for weight loss. But natural sugar alternatives are not a magic bullet, and they must be used in moderation.
Food sold as sugar-free is not always calorie-free, so weight gain can still continue to happen. Bear in mind that refined foods, often containing replacements for sugar, do not necessarily provide the same health benefits as whole foods, like veggies and fruits.