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A few years ago I made the decision to cut all white processed table sugar out of my diet after learning about all of the negative consequences associated with high sugar consumption such as an increased risk of cancer (studies have shown that cancer cells feed off of sugar), inflammation (which creates a plethora of other health problems in and of itself) and an increased risk of diabetes and obesity... just to name a few.
I decided to not only stop using white table sugar altogether but also eliminate all products that had added processed sugars in their ingredient list, specifically high-fructose corn syrup, which has shown to be extremely detrimental to one's health.
Of course, I still love my sweets... so I'm not completely “sugar” free but through lots of research of my own I have found several alternatives to white processed table sugar that are healthier, way less processed, and much more natural than the traditional white stuff we are all accustomed to.
And the best part of all – these still satisfy all of my sweet tooth cravings!
Below are my top six healthy alternatives to white sugar that I use in my kitchen:
#6. Agave syrup - Agave syrup comes from the agave plant. The plant is crushed to remove the sweet sap which is then heated to form what we know of as agave syrup. Agave syrup works really well in a variety of baked (and raw) desserts and as a natural pancake syrup alternative. It blends really well when used in sauces and drinks. I use it all the time to sweeten my coffee and hot chocolate (so delicious!).
It is very sweet (sweeter than table sugar!) so you do not need to use too much of it at one time – usually, a few tablespoons will do the trick, especially if your diet is low in sugar, to begin with. When choosing an agave syrup at the store – always opt for the darker color. Dark-colored agave is less filtered and retains more of the natural minerals found in the nectar, while the lighter variety is more filtered and loses all of that natural content. Plus, I find that the darker-colored agave tastes better anyway!
In recent years there has been some controversy in regards to “how healthy” agave syrup truly is because of it's high fructose levels. However, based on my personal experience, I find that agave is still a healthier alternative for me than white table sugar or high fructose corn syrup and if I had to choose between the three I'd go for agave all of the time. Of course, like all things in life, moderation is key – maybe don't swallow down a whole jug of agave in one sitting.
#5. Dates (and date sugar) – A sweetener can't get any less processed than this! Fresh dates, specifically the Medjool variety, are a great way to sweeten up your food. Dates work great in baked and raw sweet dishes and can also be used in a variety of sauces, dips, and drinks if you are using a blender. Dates blend really well and all you are left with is their sweet sweet taste (check out this amazingggg cashew coffee creamer I make with dates).
I choose dates over other sweeteners whenever possible because it is literally the least processed choice (it's not processed at all!!!) – plus when you use dates to sweeten your food you are also getting the benefits of consuming the dates themselves which are loaded with antioxidants AND fiber which will help control your blood sugar while you're at it.
Nowadays you can also find “date sugar”, which is simply dates that have been ground down into a powder or “date syrup”, which is made by boiling and pureeing dates and then squeezing out their liquid. If you do buy these at the store, just make sure that the only ingredient listed is: dates and that nothing else has been added to enhance the flavor. While date sugar is great for baked goods (like these cookies) it does not work very well for mixed drinks like coffee because the powder does not dissolve very well.
Probably one of the healthiest on the list, they are rather expensive and have their limitations which is why I rank them #4.
#4. Raw Honey – Another great sweetener that is all-natural and unprocessed is raw honey. Raw honey works great in baked goods and is loaded with health benefits such as live enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. There is a wide variety of honey types offered in stores nowadays, but I suggest sticking with raw if possible.
Other types of honey are treated with high heat (pasteurization) and are filtrated to increase shelf-life, to obtain a smoother consistency and to make the liquid more clear (which consumers find more aesthetically pleasing) – but the downside to all of that is that due to it being more processed, it loses a lot of those natural enzymes, minerals, and vitamins that are usually found in the raw variety. FYI, honey is not considered vegan so if that is something that matters to you you'll want to skip this one and stick to another alternative.
#3. Coconut Nectar - Coconut nectar is made by extracting the sweet sap from the flowers of the coconut tree. It is heated just enough to thicken the sap to form a sweet nectar but not enough to create high levels of fructose, which is a good thing. It is also considered 'raw' and keeps most of its nutritious properties after processing.
Coconut nectar works great in baked goods, sauces, and drinks. It is a little thicker than agave and maple syrup and that may take some getting used to, but it still works. Coconut sugar is actually coconut nectar that has been heated even further, crystallized, and then turned into granules.
#2. Maple Syrup and Maple Sugar – One of my favorite sweeteners of the whole bunch. Maple syrup is derived from sugar maple trees by drilling a hole, extracting the sap, and then boiling that until the water evaporates and you are left with just the thick, gooey ooey delicious syrup. I love the fact that it is very natural and minimally processed. Maple syrup reminds me a lot of agave syrup and can be used interchangeably in many recipes.
Maple sugar, on the other hand, is maple syrup that has been heated a bit more until crystals form. Sometimes recipes, like cakes, call for dry granular sugar (vs syrup) so I love having maple sugar on hand for those instances. It doesn't blend nearly as well as syrup in cold liquids but does dissolve well in hot ones like coffee and hot chocolate.
When buying maple syrup always check the ingredients and make sure you are buying pure maple syrup and NOT maple-flavored syrup which is usually processed sugar or high fructose corn syrup with maple flavor (not what you want!).
#1. Stevia Leaf Powder – Stevia gets the number one spot on my list because I believe it is the purest sweetener out there and has zero sugars which works for those who are seeking a completely sugar-free sweetener. I'm also a little biased because for some time I had my very own stash of stevia plants in my backyard and I enjoyed munching on the leaves, which are so sweet and delicious!
If you ever get your hands on your own stevia plant – making stevia at home is easy and so worth it. All you have to do is dehydrate the leaves and then blend them up in a coffee grinder until you have a smooth powder that you can then use in desserts and drinks. Of course, the homemade powder will be green but we definitely don't mind that in our household.
Be aware that green pure stevia powder is different than the white stevia extracts usually found in stores – the white extract kind goes through an extra process to remove the green color and infamous after-taste. Some people don't mind the extra processing at all because the taste is much better and the color is more aesthetically pleasing while others rather just stick to the green stuff which is literally just ground up stevia leaves in its most natural form.
One of the biggest drawbacks of stevia is that it can have a strong after-taste.. but after using it a few times many people become accustomed to the taste. Remember stevia is much much sweeter than sugar so you'll definitely need much less stevia than what you usually use of sugar. It's always best to add a little bit at a time because you can always add more but not remove.
Another sweetener that is slowly becoming very popular is Monk Fruit Extract. I personally have no experience using this in our household yet, but I may experiment with it in the near future.
Remember that sugar is still sugar and moderation is key with any of the above-mentioned sweeteners.
It's also important to note that once you cut out white sugar from your diet, you should give your taste buds some time to adapt as you get used to these new alternatives. When you begin to use less sugar, your taste buds eventually adapt to that change and you won't need as much to sweeten your desserts/drinks.
So throw out that toxic white table sugar and start using some of these healthier swaps today!
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What sweeteners do you use most in your recipes? Which one from this list is your favorite? Let me know below.
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with love + gratitude,
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