Sugars in your diet can be either naturally occurring or added. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit or milk. Added sugars are sugars put in your food during food processing or preparation. Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in today’s diet. It can have harmful effects on metabolism, resulting in obesity, and it contributes to all sorts of diseases, including heart diseases, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer. Luckily, there quite a few healthy sugar substitutes to make your diet a little bit healthier.
Added Sugar is Bad for You
Sugar contains quite a high amount of calories, but it is low in essential nutrients. Refined sugar has a high effect on hormones and the brain by dramatically increasing the risk of becoming overweight or obese, especially for people who are not very physically active with unhealthy eating habits (high-carb, high-calorie diet). You can watch this explainer video on how sugar might get you fat:
There is also a considerable amount of evidence proving that sugar can increase the risk of getting cancer, because of its downside effects on metabolism. One study of 3,100 people found that consuming foods with a high glycemic index, such as sugar-sweetened soft drinks, fruit juices, and processed foods like pizza, was associated with an 88 percent greater risk for prostate cancer.
Sugar can be addictive for a lot of people, because it causes a large release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain, just like abusive drugs. However, solving this addiction problem is more complicated than solving drug addiction, because it requires the reduction of unhealthy foods in the diet without affecting the desire to eat healthy foods when hungry.
There are a number of alternatives to sugar out there, but they are not all created equal. Major artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, acesulfame potassium, aspartame and saccharin, should be avoided due to evidence linking these sweeteners to a possible increased risk of cancer.
How Much Sugar is Too Much?
It is very important to be aware of how much sugar you consume because our bodies naturally don’t need sugar to function properly. The problem is that many people consume more sugar than they realize.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars for most women to no more than 100 calories per day, or about 6 teaspoons of sugar. For men, it’s 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons. It recommends us to focus on all added sugars without crossing out any specific types of sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup.
Brown Sugar is the Same as White Sugar
We all know that brown rice is a healthier option than white rice, and full grain bread is healthier than white bread. Following the same pattern, you might think that raw brown sugar is a healthier option for your family when comparing it to refined sugar.
Unfortunately, brown sugar, whether raw or refined, has little to recommend it over white sugar. Brown sugar’s main benefits are its appearance, a molasses flavor and slightly more minerals.
Healthy Sugar Substitutes
When choosing natural sweeteners, there are a few important points to consider. Healthiest sweeteners are naturally derived, minimally processed, not contaminated and contain some nutrients and antioxidants.
Here is the list of the healthiest natural sweeteners.
1. Raw Honey
Honey is not only all natural, but it contains antibacterial properties. It is a source of antioxidants derived from the pollen collected by bees. Darker honeys have a higher antioxidant value. As with all sweeteners, it is best to use raw or unprocessed honey for higher nutrient value and antioxidant content. Studies have also shown that people who consumed honey instead of sugar showed a reduction in both their body weight and fat.
You can use honey in tea, yogurt or with any desserts.
2. Natural Organic Maple Syrup
Organic natural maple syrup is another great option for sweetener. Just make sure you use a natural maple syrup, not the kind mixed with corn syrup. All natural maple syrup contains over 50 antioxidant compounds and comes directly from a plant’s sap.
Maple syrup can actually contribute against cancer due to the high amount of antioxidants it contains, which can protect cells from DNA damage and mutation. Adding maple syrup to your diet alone won’t likely result in a reduced risk for cancer. However, replacing refined sugar or artificial sweeteners in your diet with maple syrup will certainly be a much safer option.
You can use it with waffles, oatmeal or even substitute processed sugar in the coffee.
3. Coconut Sugar
Coconut sugar is made from sap of coconut flowers with looks and tastes similar to brown sugar. It is a source of natural sugar, which comes in a block, past or granulated form. Coconut sugar contains a variety of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that processed sugar lacks. It also has a lower glycemic index than white table sugar, which keeps the blood sugar and insulin levels more stable.
If you would like to try coconut sugar, choose the brand carefully and read the labels before buying. Some brands may be mixed with cane sugar and other ingredients.
Stevia is a no-calorie, all-natural sweetener that comes from the leaf of a flowering plant found in Peru and Brazil. This substitute has no effect on your blood sugar, and it can actually improve insulin sensitivity, which helps your body effectively use glucose for energy. The best part about stevia is that there is no sugar involved at all, making it one of the best natural sugar substitutes.
There are, however, many brands on the market that you should avoid because they’re so highly processed, and they also add in other chemicals. Additionally, they come from genetically modified (GMO) corn or contain GMO corn derivatives. As we all know, we strictly would like to avoid any products containing genetically modified organisms.
Dates are the best option to use instead of processed sugar in your baking projects, because they naturally taste very sweet. Dates contain vitamin B6, vitamin A, potassium and calcium. Dates have displayed the ability to decrease cholesterol, relieve constipation and boost energy.
With a low glycemic index and some subtle sweetness, it may be perfect for cakes, the base of homemade granola bars and puddings. You can use two-thirds cup of dates instead of one cup of regular white sugar.