The intake of sugar is at an all-time high in the United States. Medical professionals and consumers are beginning to search out other sweetener alternatives. Artificial sweeteners are not a healthier alternative to processed sugar because they are made up of chemicals that have their own set of negative side effects. Unfortunately, the large amounts of sugar that we have been consuming are contributing to some major diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. So, where are we getting most of our sugar from, and what types of sugar should you be avoiding?
Common Sources of Sugar
The number one place that Americans are getting their sugar from is through sodas and sweetened beverages. You’ll also find added sugars in cereals, desserts, pastries, flavored syrups, coffee creamer, sauces, yogurts, fruit juices, protein bars, and salad dressings—just to name a few food sources.
There are many names for hidden sugars that you will want to look out for, including: Corn sweetener, Corn syrup, Cane juice, Dextrose, Fructose, Glucose, High-fructose corn syrup, Lactose, Malt syrup, Maltose, Molasses, Raw sugar, and Sucrose.
It’s safe to say that it’s time for us to start using healthier sugar alternatives. Here are six natural sweetener alternatives for you to explore:
Whole Leaf Stevia – This is extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Most stevia that you will find on the shelf at your grocery store is a highly refined version of stevia extract.
Coconut Palm Sugar – This natural sweetener is made from the sap of the coconut palm. It has half the amount of fructose contained in white sugar and is low on the glycemic index. This is a great sweetener to add to your coffee, oatmeal, or baked goods.
Raw Honey – Raw honey is known for its antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. It is one of the few sweeteners that contains vitamins (e.g., thiamin and niacin), minerals (e.g., zinc and calcium), and enzymes (e.g., diastase [amylase] and invertase). Make sure to purchase honey that is labeled “raw” as most honey on the market is processed and therefore has fewer beneficial health benefits. Honey is not a safe sweetener for diabetics due to its high natural sugar content.
Monk Fruit – Monk fruit is traditionally grown in the Southern China region. It is named after Buddhist monks who were the first to use the fruit. Monk fruit sweetener is being used as a natural sugar replacement to sweeten foods and beverages. Even though it has a very sweet flavor, it does not raise blood sugar levels. This is a diabetic-friendly sweetener that has been used around the world for centuries.
Xylitol – While its name may not sound like a natural sweetener, xylitol comes directly from the birch tree. You’ll find it in products like gum, protein bars, and toothpaste. Since it is a sugar alcohol, if you are a diabetic, this is a sweetener to avoid, as it raises blood sugar.
Maple Syrup – Grade A and Grade B maple syrup are single-ingredient pure extracts from the maple tree. Similar to honey, maple syrup is not suitable for anyone who has diabetes due to the sugar content and high glycemic ranking.
When buying any of these products, make sure to look at the ingredient label, says nutritionist Amy Krasner. Very often companies will add processed sugars to their ingredients. While these natural sweeteners are healthy upgrades for processed and artificial sweeteners, it is still important to keep your added sugar intake to a minimum. Instead, focus on incorporating sweet vegetables into your diet (sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.) and small amounts of fruit. Without a conscious effort to keep your sugar intake low, you’ll be surprised how quickly your total daily sugar intake can add up.