From your kid’s favorite fruity breakfast cereal to canned fruits and even ketchup, sugar is lurking in some surprising places. Thankfully, there are a number of healthy, natural sugar substitutes that pack the same sweet punch, without contributing to the host of health problems.
Why Is the White Stuff So Bad?
Sweet treats are very calorically dense, serving up hundreds to thousands of calories with little or no nutrition. As America’s fondness for sugar-laden foods grows, so do our waistlines. Since the 1970s, our total number of daily calories consumed has risen significantly, as well as the percentage of calories coming from sugar carbohydrates – hard to consider a coincidence. Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and many other health problems.
1. Raw Cane Sugar
Although raw cane sugar and refined white sugar both come from natural sources (the sugarcane plant and the sugar beet), raw cane sugar does not undergo the chemical processing that white sugar does. Because of this, raw cane sugar is natural, and thus is much more easily digested in your body. As an added benefit, raw cane sugar is also better for the environment. Raw cane sugar is great because it can be used as a direct substitute for sugar, from sweetening your morning java to baking a healthier version of your favorite oatmeal cookie recipe.
Honey is an excellent alternative to sugar. With a lower glycemic index, substituting honey prevents blood sugar levels from spiking and falling the way they do when refined sugar is consumed. Also, although it has more calories teaspoon for teaspoon, honey is sweeter than sugar, so you will need less to achieve the same level of sweetness. As mentioned above, sugar delivers virtually no nutritional benefit; honey, however, is full of antioxidants and has antimicrobial properties that contribute to good health. Try it in your tea or yogurt.
Long known as a healthy alternative to sugar in the health and fitness community, agave is quickly gaining recognition amongst health experts and the general public. Agave is also a natural alternative to sugar, and is also roughly 40% sweeter than refined sugar. With a significantly lower glycemic index than sugar, agave can be used by diabetic patients in moderation, as well as by those watching their weight. Agave can be substituted for honey in many instances. Try it in syrup form atop healthy versions of french toast and pancakes, or to sweeten your oatmeal.
4. Date Sugar
Date sugar is made from dehydrated, finely chopped dates. This healthy alternative to sugar is all-natural, undergoing no chemical processing. While it is an impractical substitute for granulated sugar in your morning coffee, as it does not melt and can clump up, date sugar can be substituted in recipes not requiring sugar to melt. As with many of the aforementioned natural sweeteners, date sugar is sweeter than white sugar, so you only need about two-thirds the amount of sugar called for in any given baked goods recipe.
While refined sugar is the bane of a dieter’s existence, those with a serious sweet tooth need not white knuckle it through their sugar addiction. Simply substituting a healthier alternative will allow you to indulge without the guilt, or the extra belt loop.