Sugar is not that sweet when it comes to making healthy food choices with all its damaging effects on health. Unfortunately, it has become an inseparable part of our food. With artificial sugar proclaimed to be the biggest villain in the health food industry, you might be looking for natural sugar substitutes to sweeten beverages, bakes, and foods. When it comes to picking sugar alternatives, you ought to understand how each ingredient affects your health.
Stevia: A Diabetic-Friendly Natural Sugar Substitute
Stevia is touted to be a diabetes-friendly sugar alternative. What is it that makes it diabetic friendly? Researchers at the University of Leuven, Belgium claim that stevia induces the production of a protein that influences your perception of taste and stimulates the release of insulin post meal. Additionally, stevia has zero calories and zero glycemic index, which means the absorption of this natural sugar substitute does not cause a spike in blood glucose. Energy is released slowly that prevents sudden increase in blood sugar.
If you have diabetes, the plant-based sweetener should be your first choice, for it is a no-calorie, no-carb sugar alternative. It should be your go-to sweetener of choice if you are on a diet.
What is so good about stevia?
Well, stevioside and steviol are two stevia extract compounds that stimulate the production of TRPM5 –the ion channel responsible for many processes in the body. TRPM5 is essential for taste perception on your tongue. More importantly, TRPM5 also plays a role in stimulating the insulin production in the pancreas, thus helping prevent blood glucose spike and the development of type 2 diabetes.
Raw Honey: A Healthy, Natural Sugar Alternative
Another natural sweetener is unfiltered and unpasteurized raw honey. When it comes to picking honey, you should look for pure honey made from the nectar of flowers, not its processed alternative. While raw honey has incredible nutritional value, processed honey is robbed of its health benefits. When compared to processed sugar that adds empty calories, raw honey can help your weight loss efforts. Research reveals that honey can offer obesity protective effects. Raw honey can activate appetite-suppressing hormones.
Comprising natural sugar, raw honey is the perfect running fuel. With its overload of minerals, amino acids, electrolytes, and nutrients, the antioxidant-rich honey provides constant a supply of energy, making it a healthier alternative to refined sugar.
Dates: A Natural Sugar Substitute
Compared to refined sugar, date sugar is a natural sweetener that differs in terms of nutrient content. It is rich in dietary fiber. Dates also have high potassium, vitamins, micronutrients, and minerals. Date extracts have strong antioxidant effects. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, dates are rich in antioxidants compared to other natural sweeteners and thus protect you against several chronic diseases and promote longevity.
Since dates have a glycemic index of 48 and are calorie dense, these are not the best choice for diabetics. Nevertheless, date sugar makes a healthier natural sugar substitute for their dietary fiber, mineral, and antioxidant content, especially if you plan to cut down artificial sugar.
Derived from cooking down maple sap, maple syrup has many benefits for those looking for natural sugar substitutes. Thanks to its overload of antioxidants, maple syrup can help reduce damage from free radicals that can cause inflammation and chronic diseases, such as cancer. Compared to refined sugar, maple syrup has a decent amount of minerals and is a good source of iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, and zinc.
You should try to get your hands on pure maple syrup, which, according to Pharmaceutical Biology, comprises 24 antioxidants.
However, despite the word natural attached to maple syrup, it is still high in sugar with a slightly lower glycemic index compared to white sugar. This means indulgence in maple syrup is bound to raise blood glucose.
When you are looking for natural sugar alternatives, you may want to choose this thick, dark syrup sourced from the processing of sugarcane. Blackstrap molasses is the liquid left after the crystallization of sugar. Now you might be wondering how molasses is a healthier alternative to sugar.
Well, molasses contains some of the nutrients in sugarcane, including manganese, potassium, copper, magnesium, selenium, and vitamin B6.
Coconut sugar: A Mineral-Rich Sugar Alternative
With traces of minerals, polyphenols, short chain fatty acids, and antioxidants, coconut sugar is sourced from coconut palm tree. Packed with nutrients, it has a slightly lower glycemic index than refined sugar.
Additionally, what makes palm sugar better than white sugar is its fiber content. Coconut sugar too contains fiber, which gives it an upper hand over refined sugar that supplies only empty calories. Its fiber content may help slow down the absorption of glucose.
However, coconut palm sugar is calorie dense, just like white sugar. You need to indulge in palm sugar in order to derive its nutritional benefits. Guilty indulgence could cause an overload of sugar in your body.
What is the Takeaway: Are Natural Sugar Substitutes Good
Well, natural sugars are best consumed in moderation, as most of them are rich in fructose – one of the key reasons white sugar is touted to be a villain. Although these natural sugar substitutes are mineral rich compared to table sugar, they are slightly healthier than the latter. These are healthier alternatives and less bad than white sugar, but not better than “no sugar” at all.
Alternatively, you should avoid these artificial sweeteners at any cost that are high in fructose and risk causing more harm than good. Agave nectar, corn syrup are some of the examples of fructose-rich artificial sweeteners that you should avoid at any cost.
Added sugar is the worst ingredient to have in your food, which can affect your metabolism and cause all sorts of health issues, from obesity to type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart and liver problems, tooth decay, and cancer, among others. Not only this, it can be addictive, as it stimulates the brain to produce more dopamine. Indulgence in sugar-rich foods can cause nutritional deficiency and related health problems.
So it is a good idea to eat everything in moderation, including natural sugar substitutes.