6 Healthy Sweeteners: All-Natural Sugar Substitutes
Nutrition Real Food Recipes
Can you indulge in your sweet tooth healthfully? These 6 healthy, all-natural sugar substitutes. Plus, learn which option didn’t make the list (spoiler: agave nectar!).
Ooh baby, do I have a sweet tooth.
Don’t we all?
But refined sugar is considered to be as addictive as a drug, and potentially as detrimental to your health.
And while there are a ton of sugar-free sweetener alternatives on the market — I’m talking about calorie-free, chemical “artificial sweeteners” here — they are even more unhealthy than just plain ol’ sugar! Many people turn to these artificial sweeteners thinking they will help them lose weight without sacrificing taste, but this is the one of the WORST food lies out there. If you have any of these around your home, please throw them away right now.
Did you do it?
I’m serious, I mean right now.
OK now that’s taken care of, let’s look at some healthy, natural sugar substitutes to turn to instead!
NOTE: Each of these healthier sweetener options — with the exception of stevia — is still high in natural sugars. So it’s important to consume them in moderation so as not to spike your blood sugar levels to unhealthy levels and set your body off that that “blood sugar roller coaster” that’s to blame for crazy sugar cravings, “hanger,” and that mid-afternoon energy slump.
6 Healthy Sweeteners: All-Natural Sugar Substitutes
Naturally I put raw honey first — it’s only one of my favorite things in the whole wide world! Not only do I use it frequently in the kitchen, but raw honey also makes for a really awesome, single-ingredient face mask since. But we’re not talking skin here…
Raw honey has so many wonderful health benefits. It’s a natural antibacterial, boosts the immune system, promotes digestive health, and is high in antioxidants.
Stevia is probably one of the most well-known and popular natural sweeteners. The sweet leaves have been used by humans for hundreds of years and by diabetic patients in Asia for decades.
While it is not a significant source of nutrition, the great thing about stevia is that it will not affect blood sugar levels at all, making it a great all-natural sugar alternative for diabetics. It is also calorie-free.
I’m a personal fan of this liquid stevia, which is a whole-leaf extract and does not contain any other ingredients. Powdered stevia, on the other hand, contains unnecessary fillers. Best yet, the liquid extract is super-duper sweet — just a drop will do ya!
Coconut sugar contains traces of iron, zinc, calcium, and potassium, we well as antioxidants. It also contains a fiber called inulin, which may slow glucose absorption.
Coconut sugar tastes like brown sugar more so than white sugar. I particularly like it for baking, since it does not affect the consistency of the final product, unlike maple syrup and molasses. However, I do not find it sweet enough for tea or coffee.
Pure Maple Syrup
Nope, not the kind with the bottle shaped like a jolly old woman. That’s not real maple syrup — check the ingredient list and you’ll see it’s mostly high fructose corn syrup with some artificial colorings, flavors, and sweeteners.
Pure maple syrup, on the other hand, contains only evaporated maple tree sap. It is high in manganese and zinc: 100 grams of syrup provides 22% and 3.7% of their RDVs respectively. Manganese is necessary for several enzymes that are needed for energy production and antioxidant defenses. Zinc is essential for optimal immune system function. Deficiencies of either may lower white blood cell counts and reduce immune system responses.
Dried Dates & Date Sugar
Dried dates are basically nature’s candy. (Fun fact: one of my favorite things in the world is a dried date with almond butter! SO GOOD.) They’re a great addition to certain recipes like homemade granola bars and smoothies to add some sweetness.
Date sugar is essentially just dried dates pulverized into a powder. Since it doesn’t melt, date sugar can’ be used as a direct substitute for sugar. So for example, you wouldn’t want to put it in your coffee. That being said, it’s GREAT for baking — use just 2/3 the amount of date sugar in place of brown or white sugar called for in your recipe. It may otherwise be too sweet!
Molasses is a thick syrup produced when the sugar cane plant is processed to make refined sugar. But unlike refined sugar, molasses carries some significant health benefits. One serving (2 tablespoons) of molasses has about 30% of the daily iron requirement for premenopausal women, as well as 14% of our RDV of copper, an important trace mineral whose peptides help rebuild the skin structure that supports healthy hair.It is also high in vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium, and antioxidants.
Be sure to select unsulfured, organic sugarcane molasses.
One natural sweetener that didn’t make the list: agave nectar.
This syrupy sweetener does have a low-glycemic index, but that’s just because it’s mostly fructose, the most damaging form of sugar. In fact, agave nectar has the highest fructose content of any commercial sweetener on the market — yes, even high fructose corn syrup!
According to Healthline:
“Agave nectar may just be the unhealthiest sweetener in the world. It makes regular sugar look healthy in comparison.”
Now that’s a very bold statement.
Hi expecting Sarah,
don’t forget to cut refined carbs while you look for a good natural sweetener. Depending on your usual sweet intake cutting back/out sugar may not be all that hard, but all refined carbs (breads, pasta) will increase your blood sugar level as well.
I think Stevia is a wonderful option, though personally I cannot hack it, it really is too sweet for me, even a little bit (I may try the leaves yet to see how they are). I would recommend to increase your protein intake and use fruit for the sweet cravings (sour apples, sour cherries etc rather than bananas and really sweet fruits)
all the best for you and the baby!
Hey, Sarah! Well 1) congrats on the new addition to your family! And 2) I’m sorry to hear that and am proud of you for looking into natural options. As far as I know, Stevia is unique in that it doesn’t have any effect on blood sugar levels. Have you given it a try? It is very sweet!
I was wondering, besides Stevia, if there was a diabetic-friendly alternative to sugar. I am recently diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, and of course, the baby wants nothing but sweet. The problem is that i am NOT going to eat artificial sweeteners because they are not natural. I have my whole diet figured out except the sugar part. Help please!
thanks Nadia, i had read her thoughts what, a year ago ? Crunchy Betty was really good!!!
Here’s a great article to answer your question! http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/xylitol-not-as-sweet-as-its-cracked-up-to-be/
Nadia, so xylitol is a no-no? yet is has beneficial properties on the dental health!
I would not bake with it, or use it as a 1;1 sugar substitute in larger amounts! However, i do add it to my home made toothpaste as well as make my salad dressing with it ( less than half a teaspoon , just to enhance the flavor – or to help my teeth, which ever case) It tends to work better than honey – which makes salad dressing too sweet for me. Like i say: every thing in moderation, i would not use it in baking!
going to check out Crunchy Betty now 🙂
Hi, Elizabeth. I have never heard of this before and could not find any articles online. Do you have any links to articles you could share with me? I’d appreciate it.
No, please don’t say that stevia does not affect your blood sugar… It drops it. This can be dangerous for hypoglycemics and diabetics… Please change this post to reflect this information.
Go to mercola.com to find the truth about Splenda and agave.
any thoughts on using agave as a sweetener?
Splenda is a chemical sh*t-storm.
What about Splenda? It’s not artificial, but I know it’s processed… I haven’t come across much about Splenda (for or against) on blogs like yours…
What would be the measurements of each when peplacing sugar in a recipe?
This list is great, Nadia! I love that you’ve shared so many subs that I can actually find in the grocery without having to dig through health food stores. thanks so much. Pinned, pinned, and pinning again.
What about fruit sugar
Thank you for your response. I’m not a fan of them, but know a lot of people who are. I’ve been hesitant to use it, but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why. That article confirmed my suspicions that it isn’t healthy.
Hi, Sharmista! This Crunchy Betty post about xylitol is really comprehensive: http://www.crunchybetty.com/xylitol-should-we-stop-calling-it-natural. In short: it is heavily processed with man-made chemicals and so not very healthy at all.
What are your thoughts on sugar alcohols (xylitol, erythritol)?
I feel good about it!
How do you feel about maple sugar…dried maple syrup?