Best NATURAL sweeteners

Raw-honey

You are SWEET enough already ;)

SUGAR — seems to be a hot nutrition topic these days. You know it is awful and toxic for you, yet you crave it almost daily. Sugar consumption is an epidemic in our culture that contributes to weight gain, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and inflammation (the cause of disease!). When you are consuming sugar, neither your body nor mind are functioning optimally.

 

Why do you crave sugar? Your sweet tooth exists for a valid reason. You are preconditioned to like sweet things because mother’s breast milk is naturally sweet and is something that the baby should gravitate towards naturally. Your body actually needs sugar (in the form of glucose) to function, which is why you should be consuming sugar, or more precisely, foods that convert into sugar. I am referring to the natural sugars like those found in fruits and veggies —  they feed beneficial microflora in your gut for a healthy immune system. The glucose is also important as fuel for your brain, red blood cells, your nervous system and even your muscles. That’s why nature put a little sugar in fruits and vegetables, to keep the ecosystem alive in you. 

While fruits and vegetables provide a perfect sugar fix (watermelon, anyone?), sometimes you are in a need of a sweetener to add to tea, baked goods, or anything else. Given all the marketing hype behind different “natural” sweeteners, it is difficult to choose which ones are really the best. I frequently receive questions how to choose a healthy sweetener and so today I wanted to address this question with all my readers as you too may find this information useful. 

When looking for a sweetener, choose those closest to their pure state, as they still contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and your body reads sugar differently when sugar is balanced with these vital nutrients.  

 

Here are my picks that actually boost your vitamin and mineral intake while satisfying your sweet tooth.

 

1) RAW honey. The healing powers of honey have been around for centuries. Raw honey contains loads of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and enzymes so it is important to look for the RAW label as the pasteurization process destroys most of the healthy stuff in it. If you can find LOCAL even better, especially if you are susceptible to allergies as it is known that consuming local honey can help boost your immunity to common allergens in your area by introducing your body to the bee pollen from local bees.

Honey has been a staple in my house ever since I was little. My parents taught us (me and my sisters) that to maintain a strong immune system, we should be eating a spoonful of raw honey every day upon rising. We developed that as a daily routine, and I must say we rarely got sick. At times when we would randomly catch a cold, my mom would mix in a jar, raw honey with whole seed tahini (in 1:1 ratio) to relieve congestion, and it worked like magic!

2) Stevia. “We need to be off sugar but we need good alternatives, and stevia is the safest sweetener there is, period,” says Donna Gates, who led the movement to bring stevia to the US more than a decade ago.

Stevia is extracted from the stevia plant and is considered low glycemic, so it does not have a significant effect on our blood sugar levels. Stevia is available in liquid and powder form; I prefer the liquid and my favorite brand is Sweetleaf — it is whole leaf stevia with no refined additives. Just bear in mind that stevia is a LOT sweeter than white sugar so a drop or two will go a long way. And if you choose the powdered form, go for the brown or green powders as the white and clear versions are highly refined (due to marketing hype, again!).   

 

3) Coconut sugar. Why is it healthier than refined sugar? Made from the sap of blossoms of the coconut palm, coconut sugar is unrefined and contains minerals (potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron) and vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6, that stay intact through the extraction process, while refined white sugar is stripped of all nutrients. Although it provides the same amount of calories as white sugar, coconut sugar has a low glycemic index (GI) providing a more stable release of glucose into the blood. Also due to its glycemic index low (half the GI of regular, white, brown or cane, sugar), switching to this kind of sugar can lower your risk of developing diabetes.

 

4) Dates. I love using dates in desserts, smoothies, or homemade energy bars, especially Medjool dates. They are plump, sweet and oh so delicious! I call them nature’s power fruit because they are packed with potassium which helps regulate our nervous system, and are a good source of iron, calcium and dietary fiber. This combination is metabolized by our body slowly, resulting in lasting, natural energy. That makes them the perfect snack for long endurance fitness activities and for HIIT. Given that dates are primarily glucose, an easily digested form of carbohydrate, they provide immediate energy and are ideal for athletes.

*** Notice AGAVE did not make the cut. Although it is touted as a natural liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave cactus, the process to extract agave from the plant makes it extremely processed, similar to the process of how white sugar is made. That leaves the end product with no nutrients whatsoever. In my opinion, agave is just a fancier version of refined cane sugar.

 

p.s. Take what resonates and leave the rest. And if you liked this post, share it with friends. They’ll thank you for it!