Health (MP) Everyone knows today sugar is bad for us, yet who doesn’t love sweet things. And quitting refined sugar is tough, but given how incredibly harmful sugar can be, it’s definitely worth it. The best approach is to replace refine sugar with healthy sweeteners.
Yet, given all the marketing hype behind different “natural” sweeteners, it’s hard to discern which are really the best. One study in the Journal Cancer Research revealed that fructose, a sugar found in high-fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, and, even in fruit, actually feeds some cancers. What are we to do?
Luckily, we’ve found a variety of natural sweeteners that are actually good for your health. These are low in calories, low in fructose and taste very sweet. Take a peek below…
Best Natural Healthy Sweeteners to Use
1. Coconut sugar
The benefits of coconut sugar has made it a hot commodity since Dr. Oz first recommended we stop eating refined sugars back in 2012. This form of sugar provides trace nutrients and lessens the dramatic impact on your blood sugar compared to other sweeteners. Extracted from the nectar of coconut palm blossoms, coconut sugar is rich in fatty acids and polyphenols that balance blood sugar. It has less fructose and has insulin, a unique fiber that feeds the growth of good gut bacteria to promote slimming.
USE: With a caramel-like flavor just like brown sugar, it functions well in baked foods containing chocolate or warm spices (like pumpkin bread). Swap in a 1:1 ratio.
TRY: Wholesome Coconut Palm Sugar, ($5.49 for 16 oz., Amazon.com).
2. Monk fruit
Monk fruit is among the healthy sweeteners packed with antioxidants and vitamins. But what makes this fruit really special is its great-tasting, all-natural sweetness. Monk fruit or lo han guo is grown in the valleys and foothills of sub-tropical Asia. The fruit grows on vines and is about the size of an orange or large lemon. The fruit extract is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. It’s also a natural zero-calorie sweetener and has no aftertaste. Monk fruit is so rich in phyto-nutrients (they stabilize blood sugar) that it’s said Chinese physicians use it to treat diabetes and obesity.
USE: Monk fruit dissolves well in coffee, tea and other beverages, and is heat stable, so it can be used in recipes.
TRY: In The Raw lo han sweetener ($7 for 40 packets).
3. Maple syrup
Maple syrup is rich in immunity boosting magnesium, potassium and zinc, plus 24 heart-protecting antioxidants. And there’s good news about pure maple syrup from the University of Rhode Island (URI). Researchers there have now identified 54 compounds in maple syrup from Canada. That’s double the value previously reported, and many with antioxidant activity and potential health benefits. In laboratory studies, they acted as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents. Initial studies also suggest that maple compounds may inhibit enzymes relevant in Type 2 diabetes management.
USE: Since maple syrup has roughly the same calorie count as sugar, it’s best consumed in small amounts. Try it in glazes and frostings, It’s sweeter than sugar, sub 3/4 cup of syrup for each cup of sugar. Also, cut the recipe’s other liquids by 1/4 cup and drop the oven temperature by 25 degrees F.
TRY: Hidden Springs Maple Syrup ($13 Organic Vermont).
A natural sugar alcohol, Erythritol is made from corn and has 94 percent fewer calories than sugar and almost no aftertaste. It has perhaps one of the lowest calories compared to other sweeteners and table sugar. So it’s safe for diabetes because it doesn’t spike blood sugar or conflict with insulin production. Plus, its one of the healthy sweeteners that delivers a dose of antioxidants that fight the aging process.
USE: Erythritol works well with baked goods since it performs the same as regular sugar but has a comparable taste. It’s 70 percent as sweet as sugar, so sub 1 1/4 cups of erythritol for each cup of sugar called for in a recipe.
TRY: Now Foods Erythritol ($9.20 Natural Sweetener 1 lb.).
Stevia comes from the Asteraceae plant family and is considered a natural sweetener. Health experts overwhelmingly favor Stevia because it tastes up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar yet has almost no calories and doesn’t raise blood-glucose levels or promote tooth decay.
USE: Stevia has a slightly bitter aftertaste that’s magnified when heated, so it’s recommended in cold liquids (like iced tea and lemonade), as well as in marinades, dressings and sauces that are ready and served cold.
TRY: Stevia in raw and liquid forms ( Various prices at Amazon.com).