This post has been a long time coming. Ever since we started eating better I’ve been on a quest to curb my sweet tooth with the best nutritive options out there. If I’m going to indulge, I at least want my body to benefit in some way. I’d rather bump up my iron, calcium, and magnesium and avoid a sugar rush all together if I can help it.
I can’t stand the racing heart rate, pounding headache, and sugar crash that often accompanies a treat… not to mention the incredible excess of empty calories that always comes with the territory.
And although sugar is sugar and should have limited consumption in your diet, there are better choices you can make when indulging!
These sweeteners usually have a syrup-like consistency which makes them particularly good for sweetening things like oatmeal, smoothies, coffee or tea, granola bars, and desserts. You can pour them on top of pancakes or waffles, drizzle them on ice cream, and in some cases you can even use them in baked goods.
Why It’s Good For You: Coconut is the latest superfood craze and it’s nectar certainly lives up to the hype. It is low on the glycemic index which makes it ideal for those with blood sugar conditions such as diabetes. It’s nearly neutral pH helps maintain the body’s alkaline state. But most impressively Coconut Nectar contains 17 amino acids, minerals, vitamin C, and some B vitamins.
How to Use It: This sweetener has a very thick, syrupy texture. It’s best to substitute it for other sweeteners of like consistency such as corn syrup and brown rice syrup (1:1 ratio). On its own it makes for a great alternative to maple syrup on pancakes/waffles and as a sweetener for beverages. It’s sticky consistency makes it great for using to bind homemade granola bars. I find it to be sweeter than brown rice syrup with a more caramel-like flavor.
Average Price: $7.19 for 12 fl. oz. Available online. (I buy mine HERE.)
Why It’s Good For You: Or in this case, slightly better for you? This one is a little controversial. It’s better than granulated sugar, but should NOT be your top choice for a liquid sweetener. Agave Nectar is very highly concentrated in fructose. Too much fructose has a detrimental effect on the liver. The liver can’t handle the work load and ends up converting the fructose into fats and sending them off into the bloodstream as triglycerides. Despite this, it is still on the lower side of the glycemix index simply because of how the body digests it- there is no sharp rise in glucose levels (only in triglycerides…).
How To Use It: When used in baking, Agave Nectar produces very light cakey products. Can be swapped in equal parts in recipes calling for maple syrup or honey. Use it to sweeten beverages.
Average Price: $3.50 for 11.75 fl. oz. Can easily be found at most grocery stores. Also online.
Why It’s Good For You: A University of Rhode Island study found that Maple Syrup may help prevent inflammatory diseases like cancer, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s. It contains polyphenols that work as antioxidants in the body (help work against cancer and aging). Maple Syrup may help boost immune system too because it contains essential nutrients like zinc and manganese.
How to Use It: Everybody knows that Maple Syrup can go on pancakes and waffles, but what else can you do with it?? Lots! Sweeten your oatmeal, beverages, and desserts too. In baking, replace the granulated sugar with the same amount of Maple Syrup, and reduce the amount of liquid the recipe calls for by about a half-cup.
Average Price: Usually available at your local grocer’s, REAL Maple Syrup can be expensive at about $25 for 32 fl. oz. Can also be found online.
Why It Is Good For You: Contains many of the same health benefits as dates. Good source of potassium, iron, and magnesium.
How to Use It: Date Syrup has a consistency similar to that of molasses or brown rice syrup. It should be used in the same way too. Use it to lightly sweeten oatmeal or yogurt, for a pancake syrup, in smoothies, dressings, or desserts. To substitute in baking with date syrup, use it in equal parts to honey, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, agave nectar, or molasses. It will result in a different flavor, of course. For more uses check out this link.
Average Price: $7.09 for 12 fl. oz. Can be found online or at some specialty stores.
Why It Is Good For You: Yacon syrup actually promotes weight loss. A sweetener that helps you lose weight…. CRAZY, right!? Check out Dr. Oz’s yacon syrup experiment HERE to see for yourself. It has also been found to naturally support good digestion and regulate blood sugar. Yacon syrup contains prebiotics called fructooligosaccharides (plant sugars) that can not be broken down by the body, making it very low in calories. The prebiotics act as soluble fiber which help with colon cleansing and help feed the beneficial bacteria in the colon. Yacon syrup has also been shown to help with lowering cholesterol, food cravings, metabolic syndromes, and diabetes.
How to Use It: This is a syrup, so its consistency is thick and sticky, similar to that of molasses. The flavor is similar to raisins or figs. You can use it to sweeten oatmeal, smoothies, coffee or tea. Since heating it above 70°C can destroy some of the beneficial properties, it is best to be consumed raw. But if you want to use it as a substitute for other syrup sweeteners in baking, you would use a 1:1 ratio. For weight loss, you can try 1 teaspoon Yacon Syrup before or with each meal.
Average Price: Yacon syrup is pretty expensive at a whopping $19.29 for 11.5 fl. oz. It can be found online.
Why It Is Good For You: As the by-product of the sugar cane refining process, molasses contains all the minerals and nutrients that are stripped from sugar cane. Molasses is very high in copper, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Trace levels of manganese, potassium, vitamin B6 and selenium can also be found. It’s glycemic index rating is moderate, making it a better alternative than sugar cane for diabetics. Blackstrap molasses contains the highest nutrient content.
How to Use It: Molasses imparts a VERY strong flavor on anything that it is added too (think gingerbread or molasses cookies). That’s why it is best to use it in moderation until you get used to its’ flavor. It works well to sweeten oatmeal and baked goods. When substituting molasses for sugar, use 1 1/3 cups molasses per 1 cup sugar, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 5 tablespoons. Molasses is also more acidic than sugar; add ½ teaspoon baking soda for each cup of molasses used. Replace no more than half the sugar called for in a recipe with molasses- the flavor WILL change.
Average Price: Can be found in your local super market or online. $4.89 for 15 fl. oz.
Why It Is Good For You: There are many different varieties of honey now available to consumers. The most widely available honey is pasteurized honey (like that sold at the supermarket in a bear shaped squeeze bottle…). The most nutritious however, is RAW honey. It has been used for a long time as an all-natural sweetener and health supplement. Honey naturally contains 18 amino acids, as well as trace amounts of probiotics, vitamins and minerals- some of these flavonoids and antioxidants. Other benefits include better athletic performance, allergy relief, better sleep, antibacterial properties (faster healing), relief from cough and throat irritation.
How to Use It: Honey is a great sweetener alternative because of its pleasant flavor. Aside from being used in oatmeal or as a beverage sweetener, it also works well in recipes for granola bars and baked goods. To substitute for white sugar, use ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon honey in place of 1 cup sugar, and reduce the other liquid ingredients by 2 tablespoons. Unless the recipe includes sour cream or buttermilk, add a pinch of baking soda to neutralize the acidity. For other liquid sweeteners use a 1:1 ratio for substitution.
Average Price: Can be found in your local super market or online. $6.22 for 22 fl. oz.
Why It Is Good For You: Brown Rice Syrup is a complex carb so it is lower on the glycemic index (is more slow releasing of sugars into the blood stream than other sweeteners). And although it also contains a few trace minerals, including magnesium, manganese, and zinc, brown rice syrup is not my first choice for a liquid sweetener. Still, it is a better alternative than corn syrup any day.
How to Use It: Brown Rice Syrup makes a great alternative choice for corn syrup. Substitute with a 1:1 ratio. Personally I use coconut nectar in place of brown rice syrup wherever I can (even though brown rice syrup has a more neutral flavor). But with the price of coconut nectar versus brown rice syrup… that doesn’t always happen.
Average Price: Can sometimes be found at your local grocer’s, but always available online. $5.59 for 21 fl. oz.
These sweeteners are great nutritious options when substituting for plain WHITE, chemically bleached and processed sugar. Particularly in baked goods since they tend to result in similar textured final products.
Why It Is Good For You: Sucanant is an abbreviation for Sugar Cane Natural. Made from whole cane sugar, sucanant contains iron, calcium, potassium, B vitamins, and chromium. It’s almost like granulated molasses.
How to Use It: Usually sucanat has very big sugar granules. I like to process the granules in my Vitamix blender until a finer consistency is reached. I use it to substitute on a 1:1 ratio with white sugar in my baked goods. It will impart a slight molasses flavor to your baked goods though (and the final product will be slightly less sweet- taste test and add stevia to sweeten to your liking, if desired).
Average Price: Can sometimes be found at your local grocer’s, but always available online. $6.89 for 2 lbs.
Why It Is Good For You: Made from the sap of the coconut plant, coconut sugar contains Iron, Zinc, Calcium and Potassium, along with some short chain fatty acids, polyphenols, antioxidants, and 16 amino acids. It also contains Inulin which has been shown to slow glucose absorption, making coconut sugar lower on the glycemic index than white sugar.
How to Use It: Coconut sugar has a caramel-like flavor with a note of molasses. You can use it as you would any other granulated sweetener and substitute in a perfect 1:1 ratio. It will be less sweet and impart a different flavor than white sugar though. It works wonderfully in baked goods (TIP: the final product will be slightly less sweet- taste test and add stevia to sweeten to your liking, if desired).
Average Price: Available online and at specialty stores. $5.29 for 1 lb.
Why It Is Good For You: Simply dates that have been dehydrated and ground, date sugar is a very pure, all-natural sweetener. It contains many of the same health benefits as dates. That may not sound all that impressive, but a study by University of Virginia, ranking 12 of the most popular sweeteners according to their antioxidant content, ranked date sugar as the #1 healthiest choice. It contains trace amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, and selenium. Since it is not refined, date sugar actually retains it’s fiber too.
How to Use It: This sugar is a great alternative for brown sugar. It is mildly moist with the caramel-like note that dates are infamous for. You can use it to sweeten oatmeal or for baking. To substitute with date sugar, use it in a 1:1 ratio as the granulated sugar called for. You can use it to substitute white sugar, but it will impart a different flavor. And it is also worth mentioning that it is VERY sweet so you may even want to use just 2/3 the amount called for in a substitution.
Average Price: $8.69 for 11 oz. Can be found online or at some specialty stores.
Why It Is Good For You: Jaggery is a byproduct of sugar cane processing. Similar to molasses, it retains many of the nutrients sugarcane is stripped of during refining. It has 5 times more minerals than brown sugar and up to 50 times more than white sugar. Jaggery is well known for its medicinal benefits too. It helps to aid with anemia, asthma, joint pains, menstrual cramps, acne, and digestion.
How to Use It: It can be found in both granulated and crystal form. The granules work great as an alternative to anything you would use white sugar in (1:1 substitution ratio). The crystals can be dissolved into hot beverages or melted and mixed with nuts and/or plain puffed/crispy cereal for a nutritious treat.
Average Price: Can be found online. $11.99 for 1 lb.
Why It Is Good For You: Made from the Stevia plant, Stevia is unique in that it offers NO nutritional value… and that is exactly what makes it good for you. ZERO calories, ZERO sugar spike, and one POWERFUL sweetener. It would seem like the obvious choice except that it’s ‘sweet‘ taste is some-what acquired. It is sweet, yet bitter at the same time. So if you can learn to get past that and embrace its’ odd flavor, your body will thank you! Also it is important to pay attention to the type of stevia you purchase. Lots of powdered stevia’s found on market shelves are not 100% natural- they contain fillers and preservative agents. For more information on choosing the right Stevia click HERE. I use the NuNaturals brand liquid Stevia shown above.
How to Use It: Stevia comes in liquid and powder form. Each can be used to help sweeten oatmeal, beverages, and desserts. I LOVE to use stevia in my smoothies. Also, when I make up a dessert with another natural sweetener (usually coconut sugar or sucanat), I taste it and then add a few drops of Stevia if needed.
Average Price: $9.39 for 2 fl. oz. Sometimes available in store, but always online.
Why It Is Good For You: Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is made from plants. Although it does not contain any vitamins and minerals, it is a great sugar substitute for diabetics. It is a sugar alcohol, which means that it has to be broken down differently in the body than regular sugars- so NO blood sugar spike. It also has 40% less calories than sugar. Xylitol is well known as a dietary supplement for preventing cavities and ear infections, slowing the growth of candida, and improving bone density. Be careful though! Xylitol is often made from corn (surprise, surprise)- the worlds largest GMO crop.
How to Use It: Xylitol is a nice alternative to stevia if you are looking to sweeten with less calories and avoid a spike in sugar. Unlike Stevia, Xylitol is not bitter- it’s just sweet. It works best if you can find a brand that has smaller sugar granules (a lot of brands have very large granules). It can be used to sweeten oatmeal, beverages, and desserts. NOTE: Xylitol is very harmful to dogs.
Average Price: $6.36 for 1 lb. Sometimes available in stores, but always online.
My Favorite Sweetener Choices
- Stevia is a life-saver in smoothies.
- I try to use Coconut Nectar in place of Brown Rice Syrup.
- Yacon Syrup as a dietary supplement.
- I ALWAYS substitute maple syrup for agave nectar.
- My go-to granulated swap is coconut sugar or date sugar.
Nowwwwww every once in a while it is okay to indulge. We all do it. It’s okay! It’s all about how you eat the majority of the time, not ALL the time. And let’s admit it… there is nothing like a cake made with good ol’ granulated sugar.
But! When you do, just try to at least use organic pure cane sugar or organic brown sugar- let’s avoid those GMO’s people!
What are your favorite HEALTHY sweetener choices?????