Sugar is one of the most controversial ingredients in our diets today, which is why I try to use natural sweeteners as much as possible.
It’s been associated with many chronic illnesses including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and more recently fatty liver disease.
The trouble is once we get a taste of these sugary treats, we just want more!
According to Healthline, excessive fructose intake (the simple sugars found in sodas, and juices) can cause resistance to leptin, which is an important hormone for hunger and tells you when to stop eating because you’re full. So too much sugar can prevent us from hitting that full feeling.
Luckily there are more natural ways to hit that sweet spot. Natural sugars contain vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, however, it’s worth remembering that sugar is still sugar, so natural sugars should still be eaten in moderation.
Are natural sweeteners bad?
If you had a packet of Krispy Kreme donuts and a pallet of strawberries which would you get more nutritional value from?
Natural sugars offer much more nutrients and nourishment to your body. Refined sugar offers nothing of nutritional value.
What is the healthiest alternative to sugar?
Even natural sugars need to be consumed in moderation, but they’re better than highly processed white sugar.
Fruit is one of the most wholefood ways to consume sugar, but even fruit can vary in sugar content. Berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries are some of the fruit with the lowest amount of sugar, along with apples and pears. Whereas bananas and most tropical fruit like melon, pineapple, and mangoes contain a lot more sugar. But all still have their own nutritional benefits. Just think of them in moderation.
Other than fruit these are my top three favourite natural sweeteners.
Maple syrup is collected from the bark of a maple tree, usually a sugar or black maple, and collects the sap that flows out. The sap is then concentrated which increases the sugar content from around 2% to 66% which gives it its golden colour.
Although there are not many vitamins in maple syrup it contains a number of minerals, including zinc, iron, magnesium, and more. Try to find a 100% maple syrup so you get it in its purest form.
Medjool dates are one of the sweetest of the date family and are lovely on their own, with a bit of nut butter on them or used in baking.
They’re thought to have energy-boosting benefits and are high in vitamins and nutrients.
Medjool dates are a good source of selenium, magnesium, copper, potassium, and calcium and a great source of phytonutrients. They also have a high fibre content so for a sweet snack they may help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
They have a perfect sticky consistency which makes them great for energy balls and also a great alternative for fudge, like this chocolate Medjool date recipe.
Coconut sugar comes from the sap of a coconut palm tree.
It’s collected by tapping into the coconut palm sap by cutting into the tree’s flower bud stem to access its nectar. The sap is mixed with water, boiled into a syrup, and then allowed to dry and crystallize. It’s then broken apart to create sugar granules.
As it’s plant-based and minimally processed it’s popular for vegan cooking and baking.
Although in nutrients coconut sugar is similar to cane sugar.
Coconut sugar can help raise blood glucose levels to prevent low blood sugar or hypoglycemia, however, coconut sugar offers a small amount of inulin, which is a soluble fiber that can help prevent post-meal blood sugar spikes.
According to WebMD, foods containing inulin can be a healthy choice for someone with diabetes.
I use this the least, but for any recipe that calls for sugar, I always substitute it with this and will often half the amount of sugar the recipe says to use.
Eating whole, natural foods that have been through the least amount of processing can help to cut out hidden sugars. And while sugar is still sugar – natural or not, you can nourish your body with extra vitamins, minerals, and nutrients while satisfying that sweet tooth. But remember….moderation is key!
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