Divinely sweet flavors can be absolutely irresistible. But with sugar intake at its highest level ever and a slew of health consequences that comes with it, overdoing it on refined sugar can mean serious bad news for your body. Today we’re exploring the healthiest natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives so you can still enjoy that sweet flavor you crave without all the nasty side-effects.
It’s no secret that too much sugar can be bad for your health. It can lead to a range of problems including adding stress on your cardiovascular system, over-taxing the natural filtering functions of your liver, kidneys and pancreas, rotting teeth, causing achy joints, lowering your ability to concentrate and sleep, and slumping moods, to name a few. Even in those who exercise sugar can also be stored as fat and lead to weight gain and obesity, which causes many other potentially harmful issues.
Unfortunately, with sugar added to almost every food we consume these days, it’s hard to avoid it. From packaged goods and bakery delights, to restaurant selections and beverages, sugar is abounding. A little sugar is OK. Your body can naturally burn it off as energy without storing it as fat. But too much sugar spikes your glycemic index and that’s when the trouble starts.
Even the healthiest natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives should be consumed in moderation. Most of them do still have calories and impact your glycemic index somewhat. But overall, they are a better choice for your body because they do more good than harm and may even add a few key nutrients to your diet.
Check out the healthiest natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives to consider for cooking, baking and sweetening your drinks:
Pure Maple Syrup
The boiled sap of the maple tree is minimally processed and contains nutrients like zinc, potassium, calcium and up to 54 types of antioxidants. Maple syrup still contains natural sugar so be careful about overusing it. But do consider this natural choice for more than just a pancake topper.
Raw honey is packed with enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals collected from its plant-based origin. These life sustaining nutrients with antimicrobial value are a better choice than table sugar although honey still contains a good deal of natural sugar.
Ground up dried dates retain many of the excellent nutrients from dates like fiber, calcium and potassium. Dates support digestive health by populating the gut with healthy bacteria. Furthermore, it is lower in calories and has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar although it may be harder to find in stores.
Stevia is a zero calorie extract from the stevia plant native to South America. It is super sweet with a bitter aftertaste so baking with it may not be ideal. But this is a great sugar alternative for drinks like tea and coffee.
Used for centuries in Asian cultures, this natural sugar alternative comes from fermented monk fruit pulp. It is naturally sweet and chock full of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. However, consuming too much monk fruit may have a laxative effect, however.
This specific type of molasses is made as cane sugar is boiled and processed to remove the sucrose. It may be the most nutritious of the healthiest natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives with a significant daily value of iron and Vitamin B6. It tastes bitter, however, this substitution may have an adjustment period.
Coconut sugar comes from the blossoms of the coconut tree. It contains potassium, zinc and short-chain fatty acids, along with fiber that helps balance blood sugar levels.
These healthiest natural sweeteners and sugar alternatives can replace refined sugar and artificial sweeteners in your diet. Here’s a quick list of ingredients to look for and avoid:
- White Sugar (even ones called “raw” or “organic”)
- Brown Sugar
- Powdered Sugar
- High Fructose Corn Syrup or Corn Syrup
- Brown Rice Syrup
- Agave Nectar
Sources: WebMD, Mind Body Green, Prevention and Keeper of the Home
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