Consumption of white sugar has been blamed for everything from obesity to cavities to depression. Some studies even point fingers at refined sugar as a contributor to premature aging and cancer.
The chemically processed sweetener not only adds calories to foods and crowds out the more nutritious ingredients, it also can spike your blood sugar, which then rapidly falls leaving you feeling tired, irritable and craving more sugar. This can ultimately lead to weight gain and poor health.
With all the evidence of refined sugar’s harmful effects, it is no wonder that health-conscious individuals are looking for alternatives and switching to more “natural” sweeteners. But overuse of any type of sweetening product, whether natural or not can still cause weight gain and health problems. And artificial sweeteners, such as Nutrasweet and Splenda, have been linked to serious health issues as well.
So what if you have a sweet tooth that is stronger than your will power? Or you prefer your coffee or tea with a little pick-me-up? There are better choices out there. Just be sure to: choose carefully and use wisely.
By using natural sweeteners moderately, we can have our “cake” and eat it too. Consider these healthier alternatives to chemically processed sugars and sugar substitutes:
Of all the sweeteners, honey needs the least amount of refining. In its raw and unfiltered form, it is considered a whole unprocessed food. It is great for baking and cooking because it dissolves easily, is mild tasting and since it is twice as sweet as sugar, you need only half as much. Has been popular in tea for years, and works well in coffee too.
Made from whole sugar cane, molasses is the thick, dark liquid that remains after the white sugar crystals have been removed. It contains healthful minerals, including iron. Look for molasses that doesn’t use sulfur as a preservative. It retains its distinct flavor when used in foods and drinks.
PURE MAPLE SYRUP
A very sweet whole food made from boiling maple tree sap. Used as a topping on pancakes, waffles or oatmeal. Though it is three times as sweet as sugar it contains less calories. Can be used in place of sugar or honey in many recipes. Contains trace minerals including zinc and manganese, which help support the immune system.
This sweetener, made from juice of the agave plant grown in Mexico, is similar to the taste and texture of honey, but sweeter. It boasts a low glycemic index (though this has been challenged), dissolves easily even in cold drinks and has a long shelf life. It contains iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. When used in cooking, substitute 1/3 cup for every 1 cup of sugar.
WHOLE CANE SUGAR
Usually made from organically grown sugar cane. It is minimally refined and retains its natural complex sugars and molasses. It can be purchased in liquid or a coarse dehydrated form. It is comparable to white sugar in sweetness and use, but contains natural vitamins and minerals.
Made from a plant grown in South America, this herbal sweetener (or “dietary supplement” as it is called in the United States and Canada) has been used in some parts of the world for centuries. Available in liquid or dry form, it is 300 times sweeter than sugar and contains no calories. Best for sweetening drinks. May be an acquired taste for some.
Sometimes referred to as “raw” sugar, turbinado is only slightly less processed than white sugar. Rather than using chemicals to bleach the sugar, it is steam-cleaned. It can be used the same as regular sugar. It contains the same calories and has the same sugar side effects, but still retains some nutrients.
While it is always best to use any sweetener in moderation, there are some that provide more nutrients and benefits than others. It is important to find the one that is right for you and your family.