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5 Natural Sugar Substitutes to Add to Your Pantry

21 Dec 2020

@jessromero profile image

child and mother adding sugar on cake

Sugar seems to have become a bit of a dirty word these days—and for the most part, rightly so. Processed sugar is in so much of what we eat that our average intake has gone up to around 3 pounds per week (it used to be around 2 pounds a year!). This increase is staggering, and it’s largely due to the world switching to convenience food and manufacturers using sugar to preserve it.

While having some sugar in your diet is necessary for your body to function properly, this much sugar is extreme. The worst part is, it’s processed, refined sugar that can cause all kinds of problems like obesity, heart disease, hypertension, and other potentially serious health issues.

The good news is, you don’t have to deny your sweet tooth a sugary fix if you want to eat healthily and look after your body. It’s all about finding natural alternatives that're not only sweet, but are also much healthier.

orange cake

If you're looking for natural sugar substitutes, consider these 5 options:

1. Coconut Sugar

Coconuts seems to be slowly taking over the world. They’re full of goodness as they’re a great source of iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and your B vitamins. When you substitute coconut sugar for normal cane sugar, you get the same amount of sweetness without the sugar rush. It’s low on the glycemic index too, so it won’t spike your blood sugar levels.

On the downside, coconut sugar is not very soluble. It works well for baking desserts and cakes, or even sauces, but it isn’t ideal for tea and coffee. If you use this sugar in your beverages, you'll end up with a pile of grains at the bottom of the cup.

When buying coconut sugar, be sure to read the label carefully to ensure that you’re getting coconut sugar (sometimes called coconut palm sugar) and not palm sugar. Palm sugar comes from palm trees and is a different type of sweetener altogether.

cinnamon rolls made with coconut sugar These cinnamon rolls get their sweetness from coconut sugar.

2. Dates

If you want that natural sugary taste of fruit in your food without it being all too overbearing, try using dates. You'll get a dose of healthy fructose rather than the processed sucrose, and the added goodness of the dates themselves. They're perfect for sweetening vegan baked goods, putting into smoothies, adding to your oatmeal in the morning, and a range of other recipes. However, you will need to look for recipes that include dates because it won’t be a straight substitution for the cane sugar.

Prepping the dates for baking can also be a bit of a process. Dried and pitted dates work best for cooking and turning into a sweetener or syrup. For the syrup, it’s best to soak the dates for a few hours and then blend them (with the water) into a smooth liquid. You can then store the liquid for quite a while and use as needed.

When buying dates always make sure they aren’t too dry. They should have a nice shine, minimal tears and rips, and shouldn't be mashed into a clump.

vegan raisin-ettes using dates Check out this 5-minute raisin-ette recipe to cater to your sweet tooth!

3. Monk Fruit Sweetener

This sweetener packs a far more powerful punch than cane sugar, and comes with no calories. The fruit contains all the good fructose and some glucose. An antioxidant called mogroside actually gives the extract its sweetness.

The extract has been shown to have incredible anti-inflammatory properties. Some early studies have also shown that it could inhibit cancer growth, but this is still being tested. The sweetener also has very little impact on blood glucose or insulin levels.

When buying monk fruit sweetener, it’s important to read the label carefully. The extract is quite expensive because not much comes from one fruit. So, many manufacturers mix the extract with other sweeteners to bulk up their offering.

vegan peppermint barks made using monk fruit These chocolate peppermint barks' cocoa nibs get their sweetness from monk fruit sweetener!

4. Maple Syrup

Often seen as the kinder alternative to honey, maple syrup's made by boiling down the sap that naturally oozes out of maple trees. It contains far more nutrients than regular cane sugar and honey. Maple syrup has over 24 different antioxidants and several minerals, including potassium, manganese, zinc, iron, and calcium.

You can use maple syrup as an easy replacement for sugar or honey in meals, and when baking. Just be sure to decrease your liquid quantities if you’re baking and substituting this for sugar. Maple syrup can also be used in tea and coffee, but might take a bit of getting used to as it has a distinct taste of its own.

Out of all of these natural alternatives to cane sugar, maple syrup rates the highest on the glycemic index. However, it’s still far lower than processed cane sugar and will not raise your blood sugar levels as quickly. It also contains sugar, so it will count towards your calorie intake for the day.

maple syrup Top your breakfast with maple syrup. Here's a quick french toast recipe to start your day with something sweet!

5. Stevia

We started consuming stevia because of the plant’s medicinal properties. In South America, the Stevia rebaudiana plant has been used for centuries. Today, it’s used all over the world as a sweetener. This is because it's far sweeter than sugar, meaning you use a lot less, and it has virtually no calories. Besides not being fattening, stevia has been shown to lower blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as blood pressure.

The sweet compound is extracted from the leaves of the plant, making it ideal for those embracing a plant-based diet. The success of this extraction depends on the process used. This means that stevia won’t always taste the same, and some bottles may be stronger than others. For some people, this can be a problem because it makes balancing recipes difficult. The liquid can also have a strong aftertaste that can be quite bitter, which puts people off. You may just need to shop around and try a few brands to get one that suits your taste buds.

Reducing your refined sugar intake is far easier when you know of these alternatives. Sweeteners have come a long way from being synthetically produced, and there are now an abundance of natural and healthy options that you can try in your cooking and baking.

So, what's your favorite sugar substitute?

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@herbimetal profile image
herbimetal2 YEARS AGO
Nice. You can buy readymade date syrup, I've reviewed it on the app before. I find it not so nice though, date taste quite strong. I like maple syrup. It's delicious and healthier than agave. Glad you didn't put agave in this as apparently it's quite unhealthy.
@marconicoli profile image
marconicoli1 YEAR AGO
Recently discovered erythritol - natural, zero calories, some antioxidants even. I understand stevia may not be safe.
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