Mother Earth Living

What About Natural Sweeteners?

Used in moderation, natural sweeteners can make eating sweets a little bit healthier. But remember, natural sweeteners are still sweet.
By Tabitha Alterman
November/December 2013
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Used in moderation, natural sweeteners can make eating sweets a little bit healthier.
Photo By Thomas Gibson

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Don’t believe you can completely eliminate sugar from your diet? You are probably right! It would be extremely difficult and maybe not too much fun, either. Cooking is the surest way to take control of what we eat. Used in moderation, these natural options can make eating sweets a little bit healthier. Remember, natural sweeteners are still sweet. Eaten in excess, they can wreak as much havoc on our bodies as plain table sugar. Most do come with additional nutrition, however.  Barley malt syrup is made by sprouting barley and then processing it into a syrup that contains glucose and maltose, but very little of the especially problematic fructose. Other grains can be malted and made into syrup, as well. For more on sugar and how it affects our body, read the original article, All About Sugar.

Coconut palm sugar is unrefined and so contains all of its vitamins and minerals. Plus, it appears not to affect blood sugar levels the way refined sugar does.

Date sugar is made from dates, which are nutritious, but it does not dissolve easily. Its best application is for toppings, such as on oatmeal.

Evaporated (or dehydrated) cane juice is mineral-rich and acts chemically like sugar in recipes, so it is ideal for substitutions in baked goods.

Honey does not aggravate blood sugar levels as intensely as sugar. In raw form, it contains enzymes that digest carbohydrates, which makes it ideal for use with grains.

Maple syrup tapped from maple trees is rich in the minerals brought up the tree by its deep roots.

Molasses is a byproduct of sugar refining with a strong flavor. It contains trace minerals from the soils in which it was grown, especially iron, calcium, chromium, copper and zinc.

Sorghum syrup is made by boiling the sap of sorghum grain stalks. It contains B vitamins and some minerals from the soil in which it was grown.

Stevia is an herb far sweeter than sugar with no apparent effect on blood sugar. It takes so little stevia to sweeten something that it doesn’t add enough bulk to be used in many recipes, but it’s ideal for sweetening liquids. (Learn how to grow stevia.)

Beware of Other Natural-Sounding Sweeteners

Fruit juices are sometimes concentrated to be used as sweeteners, in which case they contain almost exclusively fructose.

Raw (or Sucanat, Turbinado or “Natural”) sugar is what is left after sugarcane has been processed. In the United States, this sugar is usually purified, removing much of what is thought to be nutritious in true raw sugar. Sometimes a little bit of molasses is added back to add color.

What About Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are, in every case, worse for us than real sugar. Studies have found artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin to increase risk of cancer, obesity and other health concerns. Read more in 5 Most Toxic Food Additives to Avoid

Post a comment below.


11/12/2013 3:59:57 PM
I was wondering why raw agave syrup is not mentioned here as a good sugar substitute?

11/12/2013 7:52:11 AM
I agree with every statement here with one exception and a qualification on another. Sucanat, which is simply DEHYDRATED SUGAR CANE JUICE branded as Sucanat (an abbreviation for sugar-cane-natural). It has a stronger molasses flavor than refined white sugar and retains all of the nutrients found in natural sugar cane juice, including iron, calcium, vitamin B6 and potassium. Stevia is great but it should be noted that most of what we see in stores is not true stevia but processed so as not to compete with the likes of equal etc. Look on the ingredient list and you will see the erythritol is the first ingredient. The bottom line on it is that if is spoonable it is processed and not pure. "In 2008, the FDA approved the use of rebaudioside compounds that were derived from the stevia plant by Coca-Cola (Cargill) and PepsiCo. Not until a major food company got involved did stevia become legal, and only after it had been highly processed using a patentable chemical-laden process…so processed that Truvia (Coca-Cola’s branded product) goes through about 40 steps to process the extract from the leaf, relying on chemicals like acetone, methanol." Quote source:

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