Did you know that our bodies are wired to desire sweets? We were born with a predilection for sweets to stimulate our sucking reflex–how amazing is that design?
We also know that too many sweets can cause all sorts of damage to our health. Diabetes, Cancer, Suppressing the immune system, it ages us faster, causes weight gain, creates fatigue….apart from taste, there is no upside to eating sugar.
Now, I can honestly say that I rarely eat any kind of sugar (apart from fruit). My life is longer controlled by sugar cravings and I don’t ever feel like I am missing out on anything. I only say that to encourage you that if this once sugar addict can get to this point, you can as well.
But, there are those rare times when I want want to indulge in a cookie or a cinnamon bun (seriously, have you tried the cinnamon buns in my book Smart Sexy Sweets: Decadent Desserts That Happen To Be Free Of Gluten, Dairy, Eggs, Soy, Corn, Nuts & Refined Sugar?–they are unbelievable) I generally only use coconut sugar. But when I was transitioning from being a certified sugar-addict to living a life that is naturally sweet there were a few others that helped me through.
Here are the recommended sweeteners I recommend when you “have” to to use a sweetener. Play around with them to see what ones you & your body respond to the best.
(I’ve included links to where you can get the harder to find sweeteners on Amazon in case you don’t live close to a Whole Foods or a Natural Foods store.)
Coconut Nectar (liquid)
Coconut nectar comes from the coconut blossoms of a coconut tree. It is a naturally sweet, nutrient rich sap that is low-glycemic (generally a 35) and contains 17 amino acids, minerals, Vitamin C and Vitamin B.
Coconut nectar is typically raw, which means that it is full of enzymes, which are good for our digestion. It is considered to be one of the most sustainable sweeteners in the world and, unlike agave, it’s doesn’t contain fructose. Since it doesn’t have a coco-nutty flavor even people who don’t like coconut will like coconut nectar.
Coconut Sugar (granular)
My absolute favorite sweetener is Coconut Sugar for many reasons. The first reason is that it replaces white sugar in recipes one-to-one, making recipe converting easy.
The second reason is because it is a great low-glycemic sweetener with a glycemic level of 35, which is equivalent to an apple.
Coconut Sugar is produced from the juices of the coconut palm flowers. The nectar is dried, caramelized then pulverized into a powder that looks like brown sugar. Unlike brown sugar, coconut sugar contains fiber, vitamins and mineral. It’s especially high in Potassium, Magnesium, Zinc and Iron and is a natural source of the vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and C.
Brown Rice Syrup (liquid)
As far as glycemic levels, Brown Rice Syrup has one of the lowest at 25 (out of 100). It is made from ground, cooked brown rice that is mixed with enzymes that change the starch into maltose. Some Brown Rice Syrups can contain gluten so you want to be careful that the brand you are purchasing does not (Suzanne’s Specialties does not contain gluten).
Brown Rice Syrup is similar in taste to butterscotch. It is not as sweet as other sweeteners so you may need to use up to 50 percent more brown rice syrup than sugar while reducing the amounts of other liquids, which can make recipe converting slightly confusing (this is why I love coconut sugar).
Stevia (powder or liquid)
Stevia is derived from the stevia rebaudiana plant and is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar yet has zero calories. Stevia is the sweetener of choice for most health care professionals because it measures “0” on the glycemic index.
You can find Stevia in either a powder or liquid form. While some say it taste similar to licorice and detect a slight bitter aftertaste it is a wonderful way to sweeten your desserts and beverages. A little goes a long way; start with a little bit to taste and add a tiny bit more as you go.
Barley Malt is an unrefined sweetener that is produced from sprouted or malted barley. It’s strong, distinctive flavor (think molasses) and is half as sweet as sugar yet it contains gluten (if you are trying to avoid gluten, it’s not a good sweetener for you)
Date Sugar (granular)
Date sugar is similar to coconut sugar in that it is a granular sweetener. Many people like it because it contains folic acid (which helps the body make new cells). Substitute 1:1 for refined sugar and make sure to purchase made from un-sulphured, organically grown dates.
Dates are a natural fruit that is packed with fiber antioxidants and minerals. Dates can be soaked and blended to be used as a natural sweetener in baked goods and desserts.
Honey is extracted from the flower nectar by bees and is 20-60% sweeter than white sugar so use less. I like to use honey when I am making a dressing and it calls for sugar. It has been said that the balance of fructose and glucose in honey helps to balance blood sugar levels but just like with any sweetener, use sparingly and see how your body responds
Maple Syrup (liquid/syrup)
Maple Syrup comes from the sap of sugar maple trees, which is boiled down to produce the syrup. The different grades of Syrup are determined by when the sap is harvested. If it’s harvested in early winter it will be lighter and milder (Grade A) and if it’s harvested in late winter it’s darker and stronger (Grade B).
**As for its impact on blood sugar levels, Maple Syrup has a 65 % sucrose content (compared to white sugars 99%) so it’s easier on the body yet still something you only want in in small quantitates.
When choosing Maple Syrup be sure to choose organic as formaldehyde pellets can be used in the processing of non-organic maple syrup.
My preference would be Grade B Organic.
Blackstrap molasses is rich in calcium, iron, and potassium. Generally not a sweetener people consume too often because of its richness but it’s great for gingersnaps & gingerbread.
There are some sweeteners that some would consider “designer” because they are less known and because they cost a bit more than other options. While they may be a bit pricier, I believe that in the long run, the $ saved from not having to go to the doctors or being on diabetes medicine far outweighs that up-front cost of a designer sweetener.
What the heck is Lucuma you ask? Great question! It’s a Peruvian fruit that, when cut opened, looks like an orange avocado.
The Lucuma fruit is rather sweet, which makes it great to dehydrate and mill into a fine golden powder that has a unique, maple-like taste.
As a low-glycemic, high fiber sweetener, it contains calcium, protein and beta-carotene.
Yacon Syrup (liquid)
Another low-glycemic sweetener (so low that some sources list it as “0” on the glycemic index), Yacon Syrup tastes somewhat like what you’d taste if you combined molasses, caramel & a slightly fermented flavor. Some say it takes some getting used to, others like it right away.
One of my favorite things about Yacon Syrup is that it contains inulin, which helps to feed “good” bacteria in the gut.
Hope this was helpful for you. I’d love to hear what some of your favorite natural sweeteners are in the comments below–you never know who you can help!
Eat Smart, Feel Sexy!