Every day we hear about new miracle sweeteners. They are more natural, have fewer calories and have less of a blood sugar impact. It can be difficult to decipher the hype from reality. There is something so satisfying about eating something sweet. So the question remains. What kind of sweeteners can we choose that will support health, weight loss and the rest of our health goals?
Stevia – Stevia is all the rage right now. And if you are going to choose a zero calorie sweetener, stevia is the one to buy. Stevia extract comes from the stevia plant and it is naturally sweet. You could even conceivably grow your own stevia plant in your own backyard. Stevia comes in both powder and liquid form so it can be used in a wide variety of recipes. However, please be very aware when choosing a stevia product. Many commercial stevia products are processed with ingredients that aren’t so natural. You may see ingredients like maltodextrin or natural flavor listed on the ingredients label. Whole leaf stevia is what you are looking for on a label. That way you’re getting a product that is more of a whole food and has less potentially inflammatory ingredients. According to stevia.net, you can substitute sugar in recipes by replacing one cup of sugar for 1 teaspoon powdered extract or liquid stevia.
Raw Honey – Honey can be a great sweetener, but you need to choose your honey wisely. Just because something lists honey as an ingredient doesn’t mean it is a healthier option. Many commercial honey products are so processed that they barely resemble the real thing. The best option is raw honey which hasn’t been processed. Raw honey naturally contains many of the enzymes that we use for digestion. The catch is that once you heat honey, even if you purchase it raw, those enzymes are destroyed. The good news is that there is an array of raw desserts that can be enjoyed using honey.
Blackstrap Molasses – Molasses is a by-product of the refining of sugar. Blackstrap molasses is a form of molasses, created after the maximum extraction of sugar from raw sugar cane. It is the by-product of the third boiling of sugar when the majority of sugar crystals have been removed. It is very nutrients rich, being a good source of calcium, magnesium, B-6, manganese, potassium and iron. Since it is created through a heating process, further exposure to heat will not damage the nutrients. It is also has a lower sugar content and doesn’t spike blood sugar in the same way as table sugar.
Maple Syrup – Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees. It is important when purchasing maple syrup to make sure you are getting 100% syrup. Many commercial maple syrups are loaded with high fructose corn syrup and other heavily processed sweeteners. The most nutrients rich maple syrup is that which is darkest in color. These are a good source of antioxidants. They also contain nutrients like calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. There is even some research that shows that maple syrup contains a special compound that may help reduce the growth of cancer cells.
Dried fruit – Dried fruit like dates and raisins substitute as terrific sweeteners. They are real foods that happen to be very sweet. Dessert can be as simple as a Medjool date with an almond and a sprinkle of coconut. Dried fruit can also be used as sweeteners in recipes. They are a source of fiber, as well as vitamins like Vitamin A, vitamin B-6, riboflavin, magnesium, and copper. Dried foods do alter blood sugar much dramatically than the non-dried fruit variety. But they still can make a much better, less processed alternative to the many commercial sweeteners.
You may by now have noticed that a very trendy option did not make my list. Agave syrup is added to an array of healthy sounding treats these days. Agave gets its healthy label because its digestion only results in a small disruption to blood sugar. However, agave’s fructose content contributes to fat deposits on the liver leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease when consumed in excess. Since many health conscious people consume too many agave sweetened protein bars, cereals, and other treats, they are consuming a potentially harmful level of agave.
So when you need to pick sweeteners to make your next favorite treat, these are some of the options to consider. Please keep in mind, all sweeteners are still sugar. There isn’t a sweetener that is truly a health food. There are better options and there are worse options. A delicious dessert is one of the joys in life. My choices above represent the absolute best, most nutrient rich way you can enjoy some sweetness!