Sugar vs natural sweeteners – What are the ten best alternatives to sugar?

Sugar vs natural sweeteners – What are the ten best alternatives to sugar?

Refined sugar isn’t healthy either. Side effects of refined sugars include diabetes, tooth decayobesity and heart disease. Also, certain types of cancer and even poor cognitive functioning. (1) (2) (3)

Over the last few years, corn growers and affiliated associations have promoted high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a natural sweetener. This is simply not true. The vast majority of HFCS is produced from genetically modified corn.

Fructose is a simple sugar that is rapidly metabolised by the liver causing a “sugar high”.  This quick acting sugar is believed to lead to increased storage of fat in the liver. Resulting in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, digestive upset and atherosclerosis. (4)

Fortunately, there are natural sweeteners

That are healthy and tasty alternatives to refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners.

In the journal of the American Dietetic Association, substituting healthy sweeteners; including blackstrap molasses, maple syrup and honey can increase the antioxidant intake. (5)

This study shows that replacing 130 grams a day of refined sugars (the average intake). With healthy alternative natural sweeteners can increase the number of antioxidants you consume each day. Very much the same amounts similar to that of berries and nuts.

Living healthy doesn’t mean you have to give up sweets entirely;

It just means you need to replace unhealthy refined sugars and artificial sweeteners with these natural sweeteners. Each of these has the best use, and some recipe modification will be necessary. Explore and see what natural sweetener you like best.

Ten best alternatives to sugar

No.1 Raw Honey (1 tablespoon = 64 calories)

sugarRaw honey, getting honey from beekeepers means that you can ask what exactly is in that honey. Packed with; Enzymes, Antioxidants, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, Calcium, Phosphorous, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin and Niacin.

Real raw honey comes straight from the beehive. A superfood sweetener gathered by one of the most profound creatures the honeybee.

Most of the times honey you can buy at the store is heavily processed in the process of pasteurisation. Once honey has been pasteurised, it loses a lot of the health benefits that raw honey has to offer. Pasteurisation destroys many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes in the honey, therefore decreases its nutritional value.

It’s important to note that these are the benefits of raw honey. Look for local raw honey at farmers markets and directly from local beekeepers. The darker the honey, the richer the flavour and the greater the health benefits.

Essential nutrients help to neutralise 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 glycemic load than a single banana.

First, don’t cook with raw honey. Best on breakfast cereals, on yoghurt, over grain toast and even use in salad dressings. You want to maintain as many of the nutrients in honey as possible, so keep it away from the heat. If you enjoy honey in your tea or coffee? Wait until the drink is just tepid enough to sip comfortably and then add honey to taste.

No. 2 Stevia (zero calories)

sugarStevia is native to South America and has been used for hundreds of years. To support healthy blood sugar levels and prompt weight loss. Naturally very sweet, the element in the leaves that makes it more than 200 times as sweet as sugar. But it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels like sugar and other artificial sweeteners do.

It’s available in liquid drops, packets, dissoluble tablets and baking blends. Ideal natural sweetener, it has zero calories, zero carbohydrates and none of the nasty side effects of artificial sweeteners.

Stevia is related to the sunflower, and some people experience a slight metallic aftertaste. If that has been your experience with stevia in the past? Try a brand that is higher in the steviosides. Many find it to be sweeter, without a residual aftertaste.

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.

For baking, this can present a problem, as refined sugar gives bulk to recipes. However, this can be easily rectified. To make up for the lost bulk when using stevia. Use 1/3 to 1/2 cup of one of the following bulking agents; fresh fruit puree, yoghurt, roasted winter squash and two whipped egg whites. Or you can use 1 to 2 tablespoons of coconut flour. Be mindful to add coconut flour slowly, as it absorbs a ton of moisture. If you are using a recipe you’ve used in the past, make adjustments to get to the consistency you expect.

No. 3 Medjool Dates (1 date = 66 calories)

sugarDates are loaded with potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and vitamin B6. Also, niacin, pantothenic acid, and riboflavin are also present in dates

Dates are easily digested and help your body metabolise carbohydrates, protein, and fats. They also provide their own unique preventive and healing functions.

Evidence shows that dates may help to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood. It may also reduce the risk of stroke.

The iron content, a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, determines the balance of oxygen in the blood.

Potassium, an electrolyte, helps control your heart rate and blood pressure.

B-vitamins contained in dates, such as the carotenes lutein and zeaxanthin.  When absorbed into the retina to maintain optimal light-filtering functions and protect against macular degeneration.

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 to baking.

Soak Medjool dates in hot water until soft. If the water reaches room temperature and the dates aren’t soft enough, soak in hot water again. Reserve the soaking liquid, as it’s integral to making a good paste! Add the soaked dates to your food processor, along with one tablespoon of the soaking liquid. Blend until smooth. Add more water as needed to create a thick rich paste. You are wanting the same consistency as peanut butter.

Use in your favourite cookie or cake recipe

To cut out refined sugar and boost the nutrients. You can also use date paste to sweeten your favourite muffins and pies.

For fruit pies, mix 1 to 1 1/2 cups of puree with four cups of fruit, and bake as normal. Depending on the water content of the fruit, you may need to add a thickener, like tapioca.

No. 4 Coconut Sugar (1 tablespoon = 45 calories)

sugarMost people have heard about the benefits of coconut water, coconut milk, coconut flour and fresh coconut.

More and more people are using coconut sugar as their natural sweetener of choice. Because of its low glycemic load and rich mineral content. Packed with polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients.

Also, coconut sugar is versatile and now readily available. Coconut sugar is the crystallised nectar of the coconut palm tree blossom. Made by boiling through evaporation of the flower’s sap until it thickens and solidifies. It is mainly composed of sucrose (around 70%) followed by glucose and fructose.

How to use coconut sugar:

Use coconut sugar in your favourite recipes, for it measures just like sugar. It’s a bit more coarse than refined sugar.

Add the amount of sugar that is needed to your food processor and blend until you get the desired texture. Or you can dissolve the coconut sugar in the liquids called for in the recipe.

However, dissolving the sugar is not recommended when making a recipe. That calls for “creaming” ingredients together like for cakes or cookies. You can even make a confectioner’s sugar substitute quite quickly.

For every cup of coconut sugar, add one tablespoon of arrowroot powder and blend until smooth in food processor. While this process will never result in as white or silky sugar as commercially produced powdered sugar. Therefore it’s a much more healthful solution.

No. 5 Maple Syrup (1 tablespoon = 52 calories)

sugarNative to North America, maple syrup is either classified as grade A or grade B.

Grade A is further categorised into 3 groups: Light Amber, Medium Amber and Dark Amber. While grade B is the darkest of them all as they contain more beneficial antioxidants than the lighter group syrups. (6)

While it’s time-consuming, maple syrup processing requires only four steps. By drilling the hole in the tree, hanging bucket to catch the sap. Then boiling to evaporate out the water, and then filtering of any sediment.

The health benefits of maple syrup include a healthy heart and a healthier immune system. It also has antioxidant properties that protect our body from free radicals.

Maple syrup is an outstanding source of manganese and contains calcium, potassium, and zinc. (7) Rich with antioxidants, this all-natural sweetener helps to neutralise free radicals and reduce oxidative damage.

There are people who prefer using honey instead of any other natural products of the same type. However, maple syrup is considered to be a better option given its lower-calorie count, as compared to honey.

How to use maple syrup:

Maple syrup is heat stable, so you can use it in virtually any application. Add it to marinades, glazes, 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 to cool to room temperature and then drizzle away! Also, try maple glazed rosemary carrots as a delicious side dish to accompany your favourite grilled meats or poultry.

No. 6 Blackstrap Molasses (1 tablespoon = 47 calories)

sugarOrganic 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 it’s a rich sweet syrup. Blackstrap molasses comes from the third boiling, concentrating its nutrients and providing for its deep rich flavour.

Sugar cane and beet molasses have the highest phenolic content and antioxidant activity. When compared with refined sugar, beet sugar, rape honey, corn syrup, and dates. (8)

Blackstrap molasses is a nourishing sweetener which contains a considerable amount of nutrients that are essential for the body.

Molasses is also very effective for menstruating women who are iron deficiency due to blood loss.

How to use blackstrap molasses:

Molasses has a unique, rich flavour. It may not be appealing for some to use for topping toast, porridge or other concentrated applications. However, it’s a perfect sweetener for marinades and to use in baking.

You can even make a brown sugar alternative. By adding two tablespoons of molasses for each ½ cup coconut sugar a recipe calls for. Put the coconut sugar and the molasses in a food processor. Then pulse until the consistency of commercial brown sugar is reached.

No. 7 Balsamic Glaze (1 tablespoon = 20 to 40 calories depending on thickness)

sugarBalsamic vinegar is rich in antioxidants that destroy free radicals, the same type found in red wine.

It also contains polyphenols which stimulate the pepsin enzyme activity in your body and helps to promote healthy digestion. Pepsin is a digestive enzyme that helps break down proteins into amino acids.

Since balsamic vinegar contains low cholesterol and saturated fat. Therefore, it is not harmful to your health more so to the heart. It could also decrease the oxidation of (bad) cholesterol and help prevent plaque formation in arteries

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.

So, simply simmer two cups of balsamic vinegar over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it’s reduced to one-half cup. This process can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. It will thicken further upon cooling. Glaze over grilled wild-caught salmon. Also, over raw cheese or even fresh berries to bring a natural sweetness and a bit of a tang.

No. 8 Banana Puree (1 cup = 200 calories)

sugarBananas are rich in fibre and potassium is vital to control your blood pressure, which in turn protects your heart. They are also a good source of vitamins B6 and C also helps you to sleep well. Also, rich in magnesium that might prevent type 2 diabetes

They are also naturally sweet with a subtle flavour, making them a perfect natural sweetener.

How to use banana puree:

First, 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. To make the puree, add bananas to a food processor with a tablespoon of water and blend. Add more water if necessary to reach the consistency of thick applesauce. 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.

No. 9 Brown Rice Syrup (1 tablespoon = 55 calories)

sugarBrown 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. The result? A thick amber-coloured, sweet syrup perfect for recipes calling for corn syrup and other unhealthy sweeteners.

The fermented process helps to break down the sugars into ones that are easily digestible. The fermenting process is key; some brown rice syrups are fermented with barley enzymes, meaning it contains gluten. Purchase brown rice syrups that are labelled gluten-free.

How to use brown rice syrup:

As mentioned above, brown rice syrup is the perfect replacement in recipes that call for corn syrup. Use a one-to-one 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. Also, use brown rice syrup to make healthy Granola bars, nut clusters, also, to sweeten nut and fruit pies.

No. 10 Fruit Jam (calories varies depending on fruit)

sugarThe key here is real fruit jam. So berries, stone fruit, apples, pears and grapes are great replacements for sugar in recipes. You can also use commercially available fruit jam; just be sure there is no added sugar or pectin. It’s better to make your own sugar-free jam with organic fresh or frozen fruit. It’s easy and economical.

How to use real fruit jam:

Replace sugar in recipes at a one-to-one ratio, decreasing the liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup. Also, for recipes that don’t have added liquids, you can add a tablespoon of coconut flour to thicken the recipe.

To make fresh jam, combine four cups of your favourite fruit or berry in a saucepan with ½ 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. For a tasty apple pie, simmer 1/2 cup of peeled diced apples, with one cup of green grapes until soft. Puree in the food processor until smooth. Also, toss with sliced apples, a touch of cinnamon and bake as directed. The grapes will add a subtle sweetness while the natural pectin in the apples will help to thicken the pie.

Previously; Fibre intake: Is it really necessary for a healthy body?

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