One of the major issues with sugar is that it is a nutrient ZERO. It offers nothing nourishing, only fleeting pleasure. How shallow! Without addressing the adverse effects (not the least of which is the addictive qualities), I encourage you to try sweeteners that nourish your body! Below, I’ve listed healthy sugar alternatives and a few substitutes that are marketed as healthy but that may not be so. I try to stock as many healthy sweeteners as I can. When the sweet tooth demands attention, it is good to have options! Try them out and find your favorites. I would love to hear what they are!
Stevia Rebaudiana is an herb in the Chrysanthemum family which grows wild as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. It is 30 times sweeter than sugar. I have been trying to grow it at home and it does well as a house plant, but I always kill it when I move it outside. Try it, you put one of the little green leaves in your mouth and chew and suddenly it goes from a green flavor to an explosion of sweet on your tongue!
Processed Stevia can be 70-400 times sweeter than sugar, and yet Stevia contains no calories or actual sugars. It will not spike your blood sugar. It boasts a spectrum of micronutrients and is even thought to help with blood pressure and digestion. Stevia is helpful in weightless because it cuts cravings and sends signals to the brain that you are satiated (sugar, on the other hand, tells your brain you want more and more!)
Most of you are familiar with granular stevia, like Truvia. I am suspicious because they are mostly fillers and who knows what they are filled with! You can buy liquid stevia at health food stores that are less processed, but beware. Some have bitter aftertastes and some are okay when added to things. I like the Sweet Leaf brand. They are expensive, but take heart, a little goes a long way so it is a better value than it seems.
I have not baked with stevia, although I have read it is more heat stable than most herbs, retaining its nutrient properties even when cooked. I have used it in liquids, like drinks, salad dressings or whole fruit slushes. As far as I am aware, Stevia is the more highly recommended in the whole food world.
the original sweetener! Honey is so much better than sugar! From a diabetic standpoint, sugar and honey aren’t too much different; honey still impacts your blood sugar, causing spikes and drops just as sugar, so it should still be used in moderation. But from a nutritional standpoint, honey has a variety of benefits including trace minerals, vitamins, live enzymes, antibacterial properties, and it boosts immunity and builds resistance to local allergies. Studies show that bee keepers live longer because honey (and other bee products) fosters longevity. The more you read about honey, the more amazed you will be, it is liquid gold and one of Mother Nature’s miracles. I hope one day to get my own hive! Buy local raw honey if at all possible.
Read more about honey benefits.
If you can handle the strong flavor of it, black strap has a myriad of health benefits to offer. Chief among them is its high iron content, making it ideal for anemics, pregnant and nursing mommies, and anyone experiencing fatigue associated with iron deficiency. It can also be helpful during your period. It is a highly absorbable iron that won’t plug you up. In addition to iron, it is an excellent source of calcium (more than dairy!), magnesium, manganese, chromium and other trace minerals, a range of B vitamins, and vitamin E. It is inexpensive and a little goes a long way. I like to add black strap molasses to a quart jar of fresh milk and shake to blend. Then I have a caramelly tasting healthy drink that is great before a workout! And by the way, caramelly is now a word.
Coconut Sugar or coconut palm sugar:
I know people bake with this because it substitutes 1 to 1 for white sugar. It has a light taste, more complex than sugar but with no aftertaste, just the sweet you expect. It looks like brown sugar but has a texture more like white, as it doesn’t clump or compact like brown sugar does. Coconut sugar has a low glycemic index and has lots of trace minerals in it. It also includes 16 of 20 amino acids and 12 B vitamins. Besides being nutrient dense, coconut sugar is good for the environment as it is highly sustainable, easier and faster to grow than sugar cane. Coconut sugar is relatively expensive, but can be purchased at reasonable prices if you keep your eyes open for sales and specials. Hopefully the price will go down as demands go up!Note: not all Palm sugar is coconut sugar, make sure the ingredients list 100% coconut palm or coconut sap!
Agave is sweeter than sugar, mild tasting, and easy to use in recipes. It comes as a syrup and can be used as such. Here at the purple barn, we put it straight on pancakes and oatmeal, or we might mix a little real maple syrup in it for flavor. I have used it in preserves and baking. Agave has a bad rap lately because it has caught on commercially and gone the way of corn syrup….becoming highly processed. Once cooked and refined, it has none of the health benefits originally credited to the cactus. BUT I still firmly stand by it! Do your homework, I found a brand independently tested to show it has no effect on blood glucose and processes the whole cactus at less than 118 degrees so it still retains trace nutrients and enzymes. Try it yourself. I haven’t noticed any detrimental effects. Some people may disagree, but I think it is good stuff!!
You can’t beat the full flavor of maple syrup. Keep in mind I mean the real deal, not the nasty artificially flavored High Fructose Corn Syrup you find at the store! Like honey and sugar, it has a high GI but has nutrients in it, like zinc, manganese, iron, calcium and potassium. Maple contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It has a settling effect on the stomach. Real maple syrup is even thought to support reproductive health in men. In addition, it doesn’t have the allergen concerns that some people encounter with honey. Buy it the least refined you can and use it sparingly. Look for 100% real maple syrup and remember to refrigerate after opening. As an alternative, you can buy maple sugar, simply a crystallized form of the syrup. It is usually higher priced, but really tasty…especially on oatmeal!
The jury is still out on this one for me. I like the taste of xylitol a lot, but I have read about as many reports for it as against it, with credible experts on both sides. For example, Robyn Openshaw the “Green Smoothie Girl” pans it because it is a highly refined corn product, but the dental community hails it as the best thing on the planet! If you look on Mike Adam’s website, naturalnews.com, and search xylitol, you can find articles about its medicinal value and articles condemning it as toxic. Confusing! In my own home, I use a toothpaste that contains xylitol, but stopped buying it to cook with.
This is a name for dehydrated cane juice. A lot of organic food companies are using it in products they call all natural. It really is sugar, just less refined. There are traces of nutrients, but nothing compared to coconut sugar or honey.
aka raw sugar. Similar to sucanat, it is made from sugar cane, but from the first pressing so it is less refined. It tastes and feels similar to brown sugar, and is low on the list of healthy options.
Did you know brown sugar is just processed white sugar that had molasses added back into it? It isn’t any healthier than white and has slightly more calories!
Does it strike you as funny that now when you buy dried fruit or canned fruit they have sweeteners in them? Once upon a time fruit was considered sweet by itself! Start thinking of fruit as a sweetener. Use it on pancakes or toast; you don’t need jam if you slice fruit thin or mash some berries. Use berries to cut the tart in your smoothies. I blend raisins or dates into batters, breads, or smoothies to sweeten them up. I shred apples or mash bananas into my oatmeal. Eat a slice of fruit when a sweet craving hits. At the grocery store, when the kids hit me up for candy, I often times will go to the produce aisle and let them pick a fruit instead. There are ways to get nutritious sweets…they’re called fruit!A note on fruit juice: while they can be used sparingly as sweeteners, refrain from drinking them straight wherever possible. Fructose in concentrated doses is harmful to the body. Fiber negates the effects, but is completely removed in the form of juices.
Life is sweet. Play with these sweeteners, and you will find you don’t have to live without your favorite desserts. What do you crave when your sweet tooth calls?