I recently watched the documentary Fed Up and realize now how important it is to decrease the amount of sugar I eat. However, I have a sweet tooth so I am wondering what some healthier alternatives to refined sugar are?
Congratulations on deciding to take one of the best steps to improving your health! Cutting out refined sugars and flours is essential for optimal health throughout our life span.
We are programmed to enjoy and crave sweet tastes, and glucose is the only fuel our brain runs on, however, when our physiology was developing the only source of sugar was from whole, unprocessed fruits.
In our modern world, the food manufacturers have taken advantage of our innate preference for sweets and have essentially hijacked our brains by using large amounts of refined sugar in so many products - creating a society that is addicted to sugar!
The problem is that these refined sweets satisfy our craving for sugar but do not contain any other nutrients. Our bodies evolved to metabolize sweet foods that also contain an abundance of minerals, vitamins, fibre, and antioxidants. Filling up on empty calories is essentially leaving us over-fed and under-nourished.
The good news is that there are many healthier alternatives:
This is my favourite sweetener since you are eating the whole fruit and therefore also getting all the fibre and nutrients.
Looking for a liquid option? Just soak pitted dates in water for at least 30mins and then blend with the soak water. Adjust the amount of water to get the consistency you prefer.
Made from a starchy tuber, this low-glycemic syrup contains the prebiotic inulin.
A nutrient-dense sweetener as it also contains many minerals, these minerals are essential for your body to properly metabolize the sugar.
Sweeter than yacon syrup, and since it does not also contain the inulin it is higher glycemic as well. However, since it is sweeter you may not use as much.
Contains many vitamins and minerals, including: B vitamins, Vitamin A, Manganese, Zinc, and Calcium, as well as a group of antioxidants called phenolics. The darker varieties contain more vitamins and minerals (No. 2 & No. 3).
Raw, Unpasteurized Honey:
A very nutrient-dense and healing sweetener, however, given the current state of our bee populations I would want to know specifics about the practices of the bee farm:
Do they use pesticides? Do they leave some honey for the bees to eat or just take it all and replace with sugar-water?
If they are responsible bee farmers that are actually helping improve the health of bee colonies then maybe using honey once and awhile is okay, however, with so many other great sweetener options available I have decided to put my honey consumption on hold for now.
* Please note: if you are planting more flowers in your garden to help improve the bee populations please make sure they have not been sprayed with pesticides before you purchased them.
Coconut Sugar and Syrup:
Considered to be lower glycemic than cane sugar, coconut palm sugar is also rich in minerals. However, it is not going to contain the fibre that dates and yacon syrup contain.
There also may be issues with the sustainability of how it is harvested. Before purchasing I would want to call the company to find out more. If too much sap is taken, or at the wrong time, the tree may not be able to produce coconuts after!
Read more about the details of coconut sap production...
The leaves of the stevia plant do not contain any sugar at all, instead they just have an intense sweet flavour with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
The best choice for diabetics since it is sugar-free.
There are numerous stevia products on the market now and most of them are highly-processed white powders. The stevia leaf is green so your stevia powder should also be green!
Please keep in mind that when the body tastes something sweet it is expecting to metabolize sugar molecules, since stevia does not contain sugar it may confuse your body and end up taxing the adrenals.
I like to use stevia in combination with fruit or the other sweeteners mentioned above in order to decrease the total amount of sugar in a recipe, however, since the recipe will also contain actual sugar molecules it won't be confusing for the body.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist, college instructor, and raw food educator.