Excessive sugar consumption leads to weight gain and conditions such as diabetes. Unfortunately many artificial sweeteners have also been linked to negative side effects.
So let’s take a look at what’s good (and less good) about natural sugar alternatives. I’ve also marked (*) my top three choices.
Erythritol, Maltitol, Xylitol: From plants or starches, they’re lower in calories than table sugar and have less impact on blood-sugar levels, but can cause digestive stress.
Evaporated Cane Juice: Fairly easy to find in stores under the brand name Sucanat, it’s not processed like white sugar, so it still contains nutrients and minerals found in the sugarcane, such as iron, calcium, vitamin B6
Molasses: It’s what’s left after crystals of sugar are removed from sugarcane or beet juice. Blackstrap molasses contains calcium, iron and minerals, which provides some nutritional value.
Barley Malt, Rice Amazake, Rice Syrup, Sorghum Syrup: Made by fermenting grains, they contain both simple and complex sugars, some complex carbohydrates (so they’re absorbed slowly into your bloodstream) and nutrients from the original grains.
Maltodextrin: Inexpensive and added to almost everything, it is made from corn or rice starch (sometimes also wheat or potato). It is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, which can cause a sweetness overload that triggers your body to convert it to fat. Avoid it.
Date Sugar: Made from pulverized dried dates, it has fiber and minerals from the fruit.
*Maple Syrup: This great tasting stuff is simply tree sap. There are lots of minerals, including potassium, zinc, manganese and calcium. Maple syrup is also high in antioxidants. Make sure you are choosing real 100% pure maple syrup, not corn syrup. Making sure it is organic is important because some companies use formaldehyde to prolong sap flow.
Honey: It’s just as sweet as refined sugar, and gets absorbed into the bloodstream quickly. If you want nutritional value (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, pollen) choose raw honey. Raw honey, particularly from local sources, may help with hay fever and allergies by building your natural immunity and is also antimicrobial.
Agave: Agave nectar is a liquid sweetener that comes from the agave plant. It’s sweeter than refined sugar and doesn’t spike your insulin levels as refined sugar does — but it does have nearly as many calories as sugar.
Stevia: A native of Paraguay, it has been used for many centuries and by many cultures. It’s 150 to 400 times sweeter than sugar, has no calories and is known to help regulate blood-sugar levels. Watch that it’s not chemically processed and mixed with sugar alcohol (which can cause diarrhea and indigestion).
*Monk Fruit: It’s relatively new on store shelves but has been used in China for centuries to treat illness. Monk fruit has no calories, and a little bit goes a long way (too much has a less-than-pleasing taste). Look for 100% monk fruit when shopping; it sometimes comes mixed with sugar alcohol or other sweeteners.
*Coconut Palm Crystals: Also called coconut sugar, it is made from the sap of the coconut palm tree buds, is not as processed as other sweeteners and is rich in minerals, amino acids, vitamin C and broad-spectrum B vitamins. It has a slight caramel taste, substitutes with white table sugar 1 to 1 for baking, has a low glycemic index and only contains 9% fructose. Look for organic, unbleached and unrefined.
Rick Dinihanian is a celebrity fitness trainer; learn more at burnandbuildbody.com.
Last modified: August 6, 2018