Best Natural Sweeteners To Provide Relief From Sugar
If you grew up any time between the 1960s to 1990s, you no doubt remember the low-fat revolution.
The science was clear: Fat was our #1 enemy – but was it true?
Many people don’t realize that in the 60s, the sugar industry paid researchers to fund studies blaming fat for all of society’s health problems while downplaying the risks of added sugar in the American diet.
It’s no coincidence that many low-fat foods contain – you guessed it – high levels of sugar.
In reality, a high-sugar diet leads to a plethora of serious health problems like inflammation, liver disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain which comes with its own complications. (1, 2, 3)
Eating too much sugar can even speed up signs of aging and lead to depression. (4, 5)
High-fructose corn syrup and white sugar are the worst offenders, too.
Since sugar manufacturers enjoy massive government subsidies, production is relatively cheap, while taking up valuable farm space for other (healthier) foods. (6)
Take a look at everything from ketchup to bread and you’ll probably find high-fructose corn syrup.
However, you don’t have to deprive yourself of that sweet taste.
Check out these natural sweeteners that can help satisfy your cravings without elevating blood sugar and triggering other dangerous side effects.
5 Healthy Natural Sweeteners
These healthy natural sweeteners can help you kick white sugar and high-fructose corn syrup for good—while still enjoying that sweet taste.
Most of the choices here won’t elevate your blood sugar levels in any significant way. Plus, several of these natural sweeteners include added health benefits like antioxidants or prebiotic functions.
Feel free to indulge a bit without the dangerous consequences.
Stevia is a no-calorie sweetener made from a plant that belongs to the ragweed family.
Although you can grow stevia plants and grind the leaves to use as a sweetener, this isn’t what you’ll find inside most store-bought stevia products. Most brands use a highly-refined extract from stevia such as rebaudioside A (Reb-A).
You’ll usually find that store-bought stevia products also contain other ingredients like maltodextrin, dextrose, or erythritol. Make sure to read ingredients if you want pure stevia.
Stevia is great for coffee and other beverages.
While erythritol is a sugar alcohol, it contains fewer calories than other sugar alcohol varieties.
Not only that, but erythritol doesn’t typically induce any painful digestive issues like other sugar alcohols. Most sugar alcohols become fermented in the large intestine which can cause gas, diarrhea, or bloating – especially in high quantities. Erythritol doesn’t.
This sugar substitute won’t raise your blood sugar and it may even reduce your risk for heart disease because it acts as an antioxidant. (7)
Xylitol is another sugar alcohol with fewer calories than sugar. It also doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels and has a low glycemic index which makes xylitol a favorite substitute among diabetics. (8)
You can find xylitol in many sugar-free chewing gums because it helps prevent tooth decay and reduces your risk of bacterial infections in the mouth and ears.
4. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup is a lesser-known sugar alternative made from plants that grow in South America’s Andes Mountains. This syrup contains about one-third of the calories of table sugar per serving and is made up of about 50% fructooligosaccharides (FOS)—a fiber known as fructans that doesn’t raise blood sugar.
These fructans act as prebiotics in the digestive tract, which means they provide fuel for healthy bacteria. However, yacon syrup does contain some fructose—a digestible sugar.
Some research suggests that yacon syrup may support weight loss because fructans regulate the hormone responsible for feeling hungry—ghrelin. (9)
5. Monk Fruit
Monk fruit is a very common sweetener found in protein powders and smoothies. Native to China, monk fruit is a staple in traditional Chinese medicine and known today as a low-calorie alternative to sugar.
Not only is monk fruit free of calories, sugar, and carbs, but it’s three-times sweeter than table sugar so you can use less. This sweetener won’t raise blood sugar levels and comes with no unpleasant side effects like diarrhea or bloating.
According to the FDA, monk fruit is safe for pregnant women and studies show it may have anti-inflammatory properties. (10)
What About Natural Sugars?
Some types of sugar might seem like they’re a little healthier because they come from natural sources. In reality, however, they aren’t much different from refined sugar or typical white table sugar.
Like table sugar, they still contain high levels of carbohydrates and glucose which raises blood sugar (unlike the natural sweeteners mentioned above).
Of course, everything is okay in moderation. The sugar substitutes listed below are perfect for indulging in sweet flavor without refined sugar or dangerous high-fructose corn syrup. Plus, many of them include functional benefits.
Raw honey has a lot of carbohydrates, but it also provides useful antioxidants and phytonutrients to support the immune system. Not only that, but raw honey is also one of the best prebiotics to balance gut health.
Maple syrup is extracted from the beloved maple tree. Indigenous populations throughout modern-day North America have reaped the benefits of maple syrup for centuries.
While pure maple syrup adds great flavor, it also contains high levels of sugar and comes with a steep price tag. Still, this natural sugar contains powerful antioxidants along with large amounts of manganese and zinc.
Yes, the lovely coconut is good for more than just oil. Coconut sugar, otherwise known as coconut palm sugar, has a lower glycemic index than regular sugar so it won’t spike your blood sugar levels in the same fashion.
In terms of texture and flavor, coconut sugar is similar to brown sugar so it’s perfect for baking sweet treats.
On one hand, agave nectar is very low in glucose so it won’t spike blood sugar levels like table sugar.
However, it does contain dangerously high levels of fructose, which can lead to liver issues in the same vein as high-fructose corn syrup. Agave isn’t the healthiest sugar replacement available.
While dates and date sugar are high in carbohydrates, they’re also jam-packed with powerful nutrients and antioxidants.
Besides potassium, manganese, and magnesium, date sugar also contains flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic acid. Together, these antioxidants reduce your risk of inflammation, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and macular degeneration. (11, 12)
Blackstrap molasses is derived from sugar cane—or cane sugar. Unlike standard cane sugar, however, blackstrap molasses is a more diabetic-friendly option because it digests slower.
Plus, blackstrap molasses contains iron, magnesium, calcium, and other vital nutrients to support bones and blood health.
Artificial Sweeteners Vs. Natural Sweeteners
While artificial sweeteners like aspartame and acesulfame-k are low in calories, they aren’t exactly innocent. The FDA considers no-calorie sweeteners like aspartame safe, however, most studies have only tested the safety of very small amounts and not a 24oz glass of diet soda, for example. (13)
Experts aren’t sure about the long-term effects of daily consumption. However, they do know that consuming artificial sweeteners daily raises your risk of diabetes by 67% and metabolic syndrome by 36%.
Best Natural Sweeteners for Keto Diets
On keto, you generally want to stay under 50 or 20 grams of carbohydrates per day depending on your body and goals. Since sugar is an empty carb, try to keep sugar consumption as low as possible.
Xylitol and erythritol contain only 4 grams of sugar per serving while natural sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit contain zero. They’re all perfect for keto lovers who want to satisfy their sweet tooth.
Best Natural Sweeteners for Diabetics
Naturally, diabetics will want to choose natural sweeteners that don’t raise blood sugar levels and trigger the need for insulin.
Monk fruit, xylitol, erythritol, and stevia are all excellent options. Keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid consuming high levels of sugar alcohols because this can cause diarrhea, bloating, and digestive pain.
Diabetics should opt for natural sweeteners like stevia over artificial sweeteners like aspartame to avoid the risk of metabolic syndrome and cancer. Although aspartame is generally recognized as safe, scientists just aren’t sure about the long-term effects, especially in large quantities.
Best Natural Sweeteners for Coffee
When you choose natural sweeteners for your coffee, you want to pick something that won’t impact the taste too much. Unfortunately, lots of sugar substitutes come with unpleasant or bitter after tastes so they aren’t ideal for sweetening your coffee.
Stevia provided it’s natural stevia and not mixed with maltodextrin, won’t change the flavor much so it’s a perfect sugar substitute for coffee and tea.
The Bottom Line
Refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup may be difficult to avoid, but you don’t have to surrender to them. The natural sweeteners above are excellent for satisfying your sweet tooth without the dangerous effects of table sugar or artificial sweeteners like aspartame or saccharine. Try a few out to see which ones work best for your baking recipes and coffee.