Today, it is rather common knowledge that sugar is bad for our health. It consists of 50% glucose, which increases blood sugar levels, and 50% fructose, which is bad for the liver. Unfortunately, sugar is in almost everything, including breads and most processed foods. The amount of sugar we consume (on average about 7 tablespoons per day) is one of the main culprits behind obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other health problems.
Artificial sweeteners, with some of them having little to no calories, at first seem like a better alternative to sugar. But it is now understood that many artificial sweeteners are not much better than sugar, if at all. Aside from the health risks that some artificial sweeteners have, they are also believed to promote long-term weight gain. Here is our list of the top healthy sweeteners and sugar alternatives that’ll satisfy your sweet tooth, without all the drawbacks.
Raw honey is one of the top natural sugar alternatives. Used in ancient times as a natural remedy for many ailments, raw honey contains minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and other valuable nutrients. Honey promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. It also has the ability to fight free radicals, which in turn helps to slow and prevent cell damage and the signs of aging.
Another benefit of raw honey is that, per tablespoon, it has a lower glycaemic index (35-48) as compared to regular sugar (58-65). Know that while most types of honey are a better alternative to sugar, only raw honey offers the full spectrum of benefits proposed by this sweetener.
Stevia, the natural sweetener made from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, has been used over hundreds of years in South America for weight loss and to keep blood sugar levels in check. It is only recently that stevia got widely popular in the West.
Stevia has zero calories and no carbohydrates, yet its extract is up to 350 times sweeter than sugar. Likewise, stevia doesn’t have any negative side effects like artificial sweeteners. This makes stevia one of the healthiest, most natural sugar alternatives.
There is only one minor downside of stevia, which is that some products may have a slightly metallic aftertaste. However, if that’s the case, you can simply choose a different stevia brand with a higher amount of steviosides (stevia’s sweet active compound), and the aftertaste should vanish or be greatly reduced.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is about as sweet as sugar, but with only ⅔ of sugar’s calories. It has a very low glycaemic index of 7, which means that it has almost no effect on blood sugar and insulin.
But xylitol isn’t just a better alternative with no side effects, it also has various other health benefits. Xylitol promotes dental health and is said to inhibit the growth of “bad” bacteria. There is even evidence to suggest that xylitol can help prevent ear and sinus infections.
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Likewise, xylitol has also shown to improve bone density and bone mineral content to help prevent osteoporosis.
If you have a dog, be careful. Although xylitol has few negative implications on humans, it is very toxic for dogs.
Maple syrup is a syrup that’s made from the sap of the sugar maple, red maple, or black maple tree, which are native to North America. Compared to table sugar, maple syrup contains high levels of beneficial nutrients, minerals, and phytochemicals, which make it not only a tastier alternative, but a healthier one to boot.
Maple syrup also contains antioxidants and phenols, so it can neutralise free radicals and reduce oxidative cell damage. When you purchase maple syrup, make sure it is 100% real. The fake kinds are just as bad as eating regular sugar. Also, consider choosing grade B maple syrup because it contains more of the beneficial nutrients than lighter syrup types.
Coconut sugar is the boiled and dehydrated sap of the coconut palm. It has about the same amount of calories and carbohydrates as sugar, but a lower glycaemic index of about 35. Unlike table sugar, coconut sugar doesn’t just provide an “empty sweetness”, but contains valuable nutrients and vitamins. Coconut sugar contains vitamin C, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, as well as antioxidants and polyphenols, which can help prevent cell damage.
Health experts are still debating whether coconut sugar is really a healthier alternative to sugar. Some think that the benefits and nutritional value may be overhyped. More studies on the benefits of coconut sugar are still needed.