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.
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.
These cinnamon rolls get their sweetness from coconut sugar.
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.
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.
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.
Top your breakfast with maple syrup. Here's a quick french toast recipe to start your day with something sweet!