By Amanda Box, N.D.
Having been in the natural health industry for over 12 years, I have seen the rise and fall of different “healthy” sweeteners. Certain sweeteners fly of the shelves, then another takes its place as the latest fad.
There is much controversy and debate surrounding what sweeteners are safe and truly healthy. For example, one health guru may swear agave nectar is the nectar of the gods, while another says it’s a cursed food choice. It is honestly hard to sort through it the controversy over natural sweeteners and can be overwhelming for many people to choose what is a healthy alternative to white sugar.
My goal in this article is to give you a description, and my option, on the most popular sweeteners on the market today.
Not everything on the shelves of a health food store is truly healthy—especially when it comes to sweeteners. You see, white sugar isn’t the only bad guy. Alternative forms of sugar, although safer than white sugar, still affect your blood glucose levels. It’s really can be too easy to overdo it when it comes to sugars and sweeteners.
The key to every sweetener is moderation. Eating a bunch of honey, for example, can do just as much damage as eating a lot of white sugar. As natural as honey is, it can still spike your blood sugar. If eaten too often, excessive amounts of honey can set you up for hypoglycemia or diabetes! The rule of thumb is take caution with anything sweet. Treating yourself once in awhile is not going to kill you. But don’t let any kind of sweet get the best of you, or your health!
The 4 Top Sugar Alternatives
Below are what I believe to be the four safest and healthiest sweeteners on the market today. Like I mentioned above, they still need to be used in moderation. However, these alternative natural sweeteners are leaps and bound above white sugar and some even offer other medicinal benefits.
This sweetener is classified as a sugar alcohol and is made from sugar cane. Although it tastes like sugar, it doesn’t affect your blood glucose levels. Believe it or not, but xylitol already exists naturally inside the human body. Our bodies make xylitol from different food sources.
Xylitol is actually medicinal, helping to prevent tooth decay. Many toothpastes and gums now include xylitol for both sweetness and cavity prevention. It can prevent ear infections as well, by inhibiting bacteria inside the ear.
This sweetener measures just like sugar when baking so it is a great alternative for those who want a sweet tasting dessert without the blood sugar spike. The only downside to xylitol is that it can cause gas, bloating, and even diarrhea if consumed in excess because it absorbs water in the colon.
3. Raw Honey
Having been consumed for centuries, honey is probably the oldest and most natural sweetener of all. In it’s raw form, honey is packed full of nutrients including amino acids, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes.
The medicinal properties in honey can prevent and treat allergies. Honey is also one of the best topical treatments for burns.
Honey in its raw form is best because heat can destroy the nutrients. I do caution the overuse of honey though, as it can raise your blood sugar. A couple teaspoons of honey a day is adequate.
2. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is one of the newest sweeteners on the market. In fact, coconuts are probably the “hottest” health food trend to date. From coconut oil, to coconut butter and coconut sugar, coconut’s nutrient rich composition has skyrocketed its popularity.
- Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut blossoms.
- It has a lower glycemic index, so it doesn’t affect your blood sugar like honey or refined sweeteners.
- It contains anti-oxidants and nutrients.
- Coconut sugar measures 1:1 for baking. It is extremely versatile and really should be a staple in every healthy kitchen to sweeten your favorite desserts and drinks.
There is one sweetener that is not only 100% safe, but it also has zero effect on your blood sugar levels. This sweetener is called stevia. Stevia is an herb that grows in nature. It is very sweet and is now popular enough that you can get it at nearly every grocery store. It too is medicinal as it can naturally reduce high blood pressure!
Stevia is my favorite choice for sweetening many food items. However if I bake, I use one of the sweeteners above, as stevia tends to have an aftertaste in baked goods. I have been an avid stevia user for close to 12 years. My favorite brand to use is Nu Naturals because I have found it to be closest to the taste of real sugar.
Artificial Sweetener Dangers
Many of you may think you are being healthy by substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar or drinking “diet” soda. Unfortunately, this isn’t a healthy trade off. Artificial sweeteners can cause health problems even worse than refined sugar! Some of those include:
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