You've heard the rhetoric that sugar is poison. Maybe you've even heard that sugar is an epidemic. You've decided to set aside sugar, but now what? Do we never enjoy sweetness again? Absolutely not, there are many natural sweeteners out there that can be enjoyed and used to the fullest.
The sweet stuff is not the problem, the problem is the ultra-processed white sugar that permeates our foods and pantry shelves. So what are the best natural sweeteners out there? Let's take a look.
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Artificial Alternatives versus Natural
It's time to put the final nail into the coffin on the debate of natural versus artificial sweetener alternatives. Natural alternatives get such a bad rap because we don't necessarily know what is natural and artificial. Let's break it down.
Artificial sweeteners are those that are ultra-refined and processed. Think 'artificial' as something created in a lab for the sole purpose of mimicking something sweet. Most of the time this means that the product is going to have chemicals and fillers.
Often an artificial sweetener is paired with a natural sweetener and the company markets it as a 'natural sweetener option.' I was in the grocery store the other day looking for monk fruit and I saw this firsthand. A company was selling 'Monk Fruit' but added dextrose and maltodextrin. Both of these are very artificial and are spiking blood sugar and adding artificial ingredients to something pure.
It is important to note that the Food and Drug Administration has declared that artificial sweeteners are safe for consumption. The previous and following views are based on my own research and are not necessarily scientific.
The Natural Sugars of Glucose and Fructose
But isn't 'normal sugar' a natural sweetener? Yep! You nailed it. Technically sugar is natural. It is derived from a natural state, however, the problem lies in the ultra-processed use and high glycemic index which spikes blood sugar.
We need to talk about two forms of sugar: glucose and fructose. Glucose is basically produced in every living thing, including our own bodies. We actually need sugar to survive! Yep, you read that right. Carbohydrates break down into our blood sugar as glucose. It is what fuels us when we eat healthy carbohydrates.
Fructose is naturally found in many plants like fruits. Most of the sugars found in processed food contain a combination of fructose and glucose which is primarily found in sucrose which usually comes from highly processed corn syrup. So while our sweet foods are originally derived from a natural source it is manipulated to a form our body cannot process well. Subsequently, our body gains weight, has health problems, and deals with uncontrollable blood sugar issues.
You can read more about this from the NF Sports, they offer a great and simple explanation.
What is the Healthiest Alternative to Sugar?
The debate is still out on the healthiest or best natural sweeteners. Everyone has an opinion, research, and personal experience to back up their 'healthiest' alternative to sugar.
It is important that you decide for yourself which sweetener you would like to integrate into your lifestyle. Here are some alternatives that I have come to consider my own 'best natural sweeteners', for you to consider.
- Monk Fruit
- Chicory Root
- Sugar Alcohols
Which is the Healthiest Artificial sweetener?
I'm going to blow this one right out of the park. Are you ready? There is no healthy artificial sweetener. Period.
Yes, the FDA has declared that most artificial sweeteners are safe in limited quantities, but I plead with you to take a look at research articles, like this one that looks at the effects of diet soda. I do not think it takes longer to find that artificial sweeteners are just not worth the risk.
Why Give up Sugar?
It might be a wee bit difficult at first, but cutting sugar is not a radical choice. Our bodies were not made to process the amounts of processed sugar that our modern society has conditioned us to intake. It's not radical to wean ourselves off processed sugar, it's radical to continue to abuse our bodies with processed sugar that is causing so much harm.
Sugar has been linked to many major and minor health problems including inflammation, acne, reduction of quality sleep, swelling, pain, infections, hormonal imbalances, addiction, diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer.
Giving up processed sugar and switching over to some of the best natural sweeteners might just be the BEST decision you will ever make.
Are you ready to make that commitment? You can join my 5-day sugar challenge completely free and get the Sugar Challenge Booklet, workbook, and course emails. I will walk you through why sugar is so toxic for our lifestyles, how to ditch the sugar, and alternative products and recipes to try.
The Best Natural Sweeteners
Let's get down to the nitty-gritty stuff now! This is when it gets fun because we get to explore some of the greatest sweeteners that God gave us in nature. There are a plethora of natural sweeteners in this world. Just because you have decided to live a sugar-free lifestyle does not mean that you need to be deprived of sweetness! It is quite the contrary, you can now enjoy the healing power of sweetness instead of the toxicity of high-glycemic processed sugars. Let's explore sugar alternatives and the best natural sweeteners available to us.
What is a Natural Sweetener?
Natural sweeteners are those that grow in nature (plant-based) and can be extracted and processed in a safe manner. Some people think that if a plant is processed at all, it is not 'natural'. Some of the most natural things on this earth are processed.
Now don't hear that I'm suddenly condoning processed foods, that's not what I am saying at all. I am simply trying to bring balance to this conflicting topic. Most natural plants have to go through some sort of process in order for us to consume or use it.
Even honey is processed in order for us to use it safely. Essential oils are another example of processing that is very powerful, but not harmful if done correctly. Every natural sweetener that I know of has to go through some sort of process to get into our kitchen. It might be minimum like straining honey, or a bit more complex like extracting the sweetness of stevia from the veins of the plant.
There are other natural sweeteners out there, but I am choosing to list these as the best natural sweeteners because they are lower on the glycemic index, and for weight loss, health, and weight maintenance. These are often the best to start with. Occasionally integrating sweetness from honey and maple syrup can be beneficial, but not on a regular basis because of the high glycemic index these both have.
Stevia is by far my favorite replacement for sugar. Although I use packaged stevia, I also grow it in my garden. A stevia blend is best used for baking, but pure stevia and leaves can be used successfully in drink and smoothie recipes.
The most common complaint I hear about stevia is its bitter taste. Interestingly enough the bitter aftertaste is from the leaves of the plant, and the sweetness is from the veins. You can find a great article about stevia and the extraction process here.
Is Stevia Really Healthy?
Stevia often gets a bad reputation because of some articles 'exposing' it as artificial or unsafe for pregnancy. You will have to do your own research on this. However, I used stevia in both my pregnancies and have never had issues. Trim Healthy Mama has an excellent article about the best natural sweeteners which includes the debunking of stevia. Stevia is 200 times sweeter than table sugar. I grow it in my own garden and I'm always amazed at the powerful sweet flavor!
Monk fruit is 150-200 times sweeter than table sugar and has a glycemic index of zero! It is extracted from a small round fruit native to China. People tend to like Monk Fruit as an alternative to stevia if there are allergies or sensitivity to stevia.
Xylitol can seem a little scary at first because the name looks so foreign. It is a natural sugar alcohol that is found in most fruits and plants. It is often extracted from birch!
Erythritol is another word that just seems a little off, but it is another sugar alcohol that can safely be used in a sugar-free lifestyle.
My Top Recommended Sweeteners
Finding the best natural sweeteners is certainly a personal journey. You may love something and I may not like it at all. Your best natural sweeteners could be different than mine, but we do learn from each other! Here are the ones that I have enjoyed and found success using.
Gentle Sweet by THM
This is my top sugar replacement resource. I use it in nearly all my sweet recipes. It does not have the bitter aftertaste that some stevia blends have and it is extremely pure.
Pure Stevia by THM
This pure stevia from THM is excellent in drinks and smoothies. It is completely pure and very sweet!
Powdered Monk Fruit by Lakanto
Lakanto brings a stellar product for a powdered sweetener, which is great for making icings!
Brown Sugar Alternative by Swerve
Swerve is a bit more widely available in grocery stores. Their brown sugar alternative is my personal favorite.
Another option for sweetening is liquid stevia. I tend to use this in liquids. My favorite brand is NOW.
Your 5-Day Sugar Challenge
Don't forget about your opportunity for the 5-day sugar challenge. This is a great chance to try out the sugar-free lifestyle with a certified Trim Healthy Mama coach! Test out the process and enjoy the freedom that comes from breaking the bonds of sugar.