Looking to curb that sweet tooth craving without having to give up sugar all together? Added, refined sugars are widely known to take a toll on our health, however that fact doesn’t always stop us from indulging in a sugary treat. If you are wanting to enhance your recipes without giving up some of your favorite sweets, then try these healthier alternatives!
Added sugars within our modern diet have been associated with certain conditions that can be harmful to your health. There is evidence to support that those who follow a diet high in sugar have a larger chance of becoming obese, as sugar throw your hunger hormones and blood sugar levels out of balance. Once this happens, you are more likely to then consume a higher amount of calories in order to satiate yourself (1).
The issue is that sugar hides out in everything these days, so even if you are not adding it into the foods you are preparing on your own, you may still be consuming a lot more than you think! Sugar causes dopamine to be released in the reward center of your brain, making it much easier for us to become addicted to it.
Natural Sugar Alternatives
Although we cannot always help what is being added to our pre-packed or pre-made foods without our knowledge, we are in control of what enters the drinks and foods we prepare on our own. The good news is that even if you are craving something sweet, there are always natural alternatives that are much better for you in moderation that you can swap out for conventional table sugar.
Coconut sugar is derived from the sac of the coconut palm. When consuming coconut sugar, you are also providing your body with added nutrients like antioxidants, calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc (2). It can also have a positive impact on the gut, as it is high in fiber and digests at a slower rate, allowing the good bacteria within your gut to feed on it and flourish.
However, it is still very high in calories and fructose, which are the main reasons why granulated sugar is so unhealthy in the first place. At the end of the day, coconut sugar can be used as a replacement for table sugar in certain recipes, but it is still best if used in moderation.
This fruit sweetener is a natural alternative to sugar. It is extracted from the small monk fruit plant found in Southeast Asia, and has zero calories. It contains fructose and glucose and gets its sweetness from the high amounts of antioxidants found within it. The antioxidants (called mogrosides) are separated from the fresh-pressed juice during the extraction process, thus removing the fructose and glucose. The mogrosides also provide the monk fruit juice the ability to help with inflammatory reactions (3). Research is also suggesting that monk fruit sweetened beverages have minimal influence on your blood glucose levels, daily caloric intake, and insulin levels compared to sucrose sweetened beverages (4).
This sweetener is packed with many health benefits and is considered a great alternative to refined, white sugar. When replacing your conventional sugar with monk fruit sweetener in a recipe, remember that this alternative is much sweeter, so add it into your recipes slowly and taste test often!
Organic Pure Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is another popular substitution for sugar in many different recipes. It is made by cooking down the thick sap found in maple trees. It, too, has health benefits when consumed including a wide range of minerals like calcium, manganese, potassium, iron, and zinc. It is also very high in antioxidants. Although there are health benefits delivered in this syrup, it is still high in sugar content. It may not cause an imbalance in your blood sugar levels as quickly as refined white sugar, however be mindful of the amount you are replacing it with.
Honey is another thick liquid that can be used to sweeten recipes. This alternative is produced by bees (so it is not a vegan option for those that follow a plant-based diet). It contains great vitamins and minerals within it, but is best known for its amazing boost of antioxidants. The flavonoids and phenolic acids in honey are the properties that are responsible for the high amounts of antioxidants and have been known to enhance our health to try and help avoid future ailments (5). There have also been studies over the past few years to show that honey has been linked to maintaining healthy glucose levels, reduced hyperglycemia, and weight loss (6).
It’s always best to find local honey produced in your area, as it is thought to help aid in seasonal environmental allergies since the pollen and allergens in your location are present in the honey. This will help build up your tolerance to these local allergens and can support your body in reacting to seasonal allergies in a healthier way. Just like maple syrup, honey is a better alternative to conventional sugar but still should be used sparingly. Although it has potential health benefits, it is important to remember that it is still high in sugar content.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that is extracted from the leaves of a shrub found in South America. This is a plant-based sweetener that contains zero calories and can be up to 350 times sweeter than sugar. It is also known to have a distinct taste, slightly different than that of the traditional taste of sugar. The leaves of the stevia plant are packed with nutrients and phytochemicals, linking it to a wide range of health benefits including maintaining healthy blood pressure, blood sugar, and insulin levels (7).
There is more research being done on this plant, as there have not been many findings as to the negative side effects of consuming it. If you are looking to add this alternative to your recipes, start slow and make sure the taste is to your liking.
If you are wanting to ditch the sugar and opt for a more natural and healthier sweetener, start with monk fruit or stevia as your substitutions, as both of these have amazing health benefits and are not linked to any high sugar content. If you are going to use coconut sugar, maple syrup, or raw honey, these can be great alternatives to conventional sugar as well, but remember to use sparingly! Taking the initiative to monitor your sugar intake can improve your overall health and provide your body with a lot more energy, so kudos to you in taking the first step in achieving this!
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