Refined sugar and artificial sweeteners have become staples of the American diet. The United States has the highest average levels of sugar consumption in the world. In fact, Americans consume 126.4 grams of sugar each and every day (1). That’s equivalent to 8.5 tablespoons of sugar per day. The addictive ingredient can be found in everything from sandwich bread and salad dressings to breakfast cereals and has been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity. That’s why there’s been an increase in people’s desire for natural sugar substitutes.
Most Americans are consuming artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame, saccharin, and high fructose corn syrup — made from GMO grains — which have an exponentially higher impact on human health compared to natural sugar alternatives. These artificial sugars have been linked to migraines, decreased liver function, and mood disruptions. In addition, consumption of refined sugars and artificial sweeteners may lead to tooth decay, spikes in blood sugar levels, and digestive problems.
So how do you sweeten your favorite meals and drinks? Luckily, there are many natural sugar alternatives that can be used in place of refined and artificial sugars without as many side effects. Here, we’ve put together a list of the best natural sugar substitutes so you can address your sugar intake and make sure you’re eating the healthiest sweeteners possible.
The 8 Best Natural Sugar Substitutes
1. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a popular sweetener that contains around 50 calories in every tablespoon. If you live in an area with maple trees, you can harvest your own syrup by tapping the trees and boiling the sap. For everyone else, maple syrup is readily available in grocery stores and health food stores across the country. The syrup contains healthy compounds like antioxidants and zinc that can help support overall health. Look for Grade B varieties, which tend to have a richer concentration of antioxidants.
2. Raw Honey
Raw honey is an excellent natural sweetener as it is packed with healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A spoonful of honey contains b vitamins, niacin, potassium, and enzymes that can help to streamline digestion and sweeten dishes. Honey has a low glycemic index and contains fewer calories than a banana and other fruits. Raw honey also offers benefits when it comes to allergies and helps to boost immunity.
3. Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is a fermented sugar alternative that is packed with enzymes and is perfect for people who like to add a touch of sugar to baked goods or beverages. Brown rice undergoes a fermentation process that removes starch and creates a rich, thick syrup. If you need gluten-free sugar substitutes, make sure ton check out the fermentation process of the brown rice. Some syrups are created with the use of grain enzymes that mean the resulting brown rice syrup is not gluten-friendly.
4. Coconut Sugar
Coconut is popular in the alternative health world. The oil, milk, and flesh of coconuts are used for everything from shinier hair and better skin to teeth whitening and toothpaste. That’s because coconuts contain high amounts of iron, calcium, and nutrients that help cellular processes.
Coconut sugar is a great alternative to regular sugar thanks to its nutrient-rich profile. The sugar is derived from the blooms of the coconut palm tree. The sugar tends to be coarser than white sugar, but is the perfect ingredient to add to cakes and cookies.
5. Monk Fruit
Monk fruit extract is hundreds of times sweeter than regular sugar. In addition, it has zero calories and while it doesn’t contain fructose or glucose, it derives its sweet flavor from the presence of antioxidants known as mogrosides. This sugar was approved for use as a sweetener by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010.
Stevia has zero calories and is a natural sugar substitute made from the stevia plant, which can be found in South America. The plant is native to Brazil and Paraguay and contains compounds known as steviol glycosides, which are up to 150 times sweeter than sugar. That means you can use less sugar without sacrificing flavor. Stevia, along with erythritol, is also approved for use in combination with the keto diet. Since it’s calorie-free, it won’t affect weight gain or ruin your weight loss plan.
Molasses is a great sugar alternative for people who enjoy baking. This thick syrup contains manganese and b vitamins that are beneficial for hair and health. This sugar substitute also contains high concentrations of phenols — naturally occurring antioxidants.
Molasses is made from cane sugar, which is boiled into a syrup. Blackstrap molasses is a special type of sugar substitute that undergoes additional processing and has a higher concentration of antioxidants compared to regular molasses.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that does not contain any fructose. It is typically made from corn when used as a sugar substitute, but can also be found naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables. This sugar substitute contains almost half the amount of calories as found in regular sugar and may also offer health benefits for teeth and bones (2). Add it to your favorite fruit smoothies or use it in the place of sugar cane when baking.
Sweeten Life With Natural Sugar Substitutes
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your sugar intake, even when you’re eating healthy sugars. That’s because eating too much sugar can affect blood pressure levels and increase your risk for heart disease and other health problems. Make healthy choices by using natural flavors such as cinnamon and allspice to flavor teas and other beverages. Make your own dressings at home using natural sugar substitutes to help limit the amount of sweeteners and artificial additives (3)
With natural sugar substitutes, you can satisfy a sweet tooth without wreaking havoc on your health. Just make sure to keep added sugars to a minimum. Instead of using Sweet ‘N Low, Truvia, or Splenda, try using plant-based sweeteners like coconut sugar or stevia instead. You can also use tasty foods like applesauce in place of added sugars when baking the healthiest treats. Use brown sugar instead of table sugar whenever possible.