We’ve now explored cravings, and strategies to deal with sugar cravings. The average American consumes well over 20 teaspoons of added sugar on a daily basis, which adds up to an average of 142 pounds of sugar per person, per year! That’s more than two times what the USDA recommends.
Below you will find information on natural sweeteners, all of which are less processed than refined white sugar, and create fewer fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Although these sweeteners are generally safer alternatives to white sugar, they should only be used in moderation!
This leafy herb also known as honey leaf has been used for centuries by native South Americans. The extract from stevia is approximately 100 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar. It can be used in cooking, baking and as a sugar substitute in most beverages. Stevia has been shown to have a positive effect on blood sugar levels by increasing insulin production, and decreasing insulin resistance. Stevia is available in a powder or liquid form, but be sure to get the green or brown liquids or powders, as the white and clear versions are highly refined.
One of the oldest natural sweeteners; honey is sweeter than sugar. Depending on the plant source, honey can have a range of flavors, from dark and strongly flavored, to light and mildly flavored. Raw honey contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals and vitamins. It’s also said that consuming local honey can help build up your immunity to common allergens in your area – by introducing your body to the bee pollen.
Maple syrup is made from boiled-down maple tree sap and is a great source of manganese and zinc. Approximately 40 gallons of sap are needed to make one gallon of maple syrup. It adds a pleasant flavor to foods and is great for baking. Be sure to buy 100% pure maple syrup and not maple-flavored corn syrup. Grade B is stronger in flavor and said to have more minerals than Grade A.
Maple sugar is created when the sap of the sugar maple is boiled for longer than is needed to create maple syrup. Once most of the water has evaporated, all that is left is the solid sugar. Maple sugar is about twice as sweet as standard granulated sugar, but much less refined.
Organic molasses is probably the most nutritious sweetener derived from sugar cane or sugar beet, and is made by a process of clarifying and blending the extracted juices. The longer the juice is boiled, the less sweet, more nutritious and darker the product is. Molasses imparts a very distinct flavor to food. Blackstrap molasses, the most nutritious variety, is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
Brown Rice Syrup
This product consists of brown rice that has been ground and cooked, converting the starches to maltose. Brown rice syrup tastes like moderately sweet butterscotch and is quite delicious. In recipes, replace each cup of white sugar with ¼ cup brown rice syrup, and reduce the amount of other liquids. Brown rice syrup is made of 50% complex carbohydrates, 45% maltose, and 3% glucose. The small amount of glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream immediately, but the complex carbohydrates and maltose are much more slowly absorbed, providing a steady supply of energy.
Agave nectar, or agave syrup, is a natural liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave cactus. Many diabetics use agave nectar as an alternative to refined sugars and artificial sweeteners because of its relatively low effect on blood glucose levels. However, agave is high in fructose and has been under much scrutiny due to possible manufacturing processes which are similar to that of high fructose corn syrup. Some research suggests that fructose affects the hormone lepitin, which controls your appetite and satiety. Too much fructose may result in overeating and weight gain, so it’s important to consume agave nectar in reasonable moderation.
Coconut sugar is the boiled and dehydrated sap of the coconut palm. Pure coconut palm sugar reportedly has a naturally low glycemic index, which has led some people to claim that it is a valuable sugar substitute for people with diabetes or those looking to control blood sugar (the low-carb camp). Indeed, a lower GI may be a good indication that a food is safer for diabetics, though it is not a guarantee. Pure certified organic coconut palm sugar is recommended type.
Personally, when I do choose to use a natural sweetener, I stick to raw honey, maple syrup, molasses, and organic coconut sugar.
Using Natural Sweeteners
Natural sweeteners can be used to replace sugar in any recipe. Here is a guide to substituting these products for sugar. The amount indicated is equivalent to 1 cup of sugar, and the third column details what it is best to use for.
Healthy homework: Treat yourself! Try making this delicious sweet treat with maple syrup or your favorite natural sweetener.
Chocolate Avocado Mousse
1 ripe avocado
1-2 TBSP raw cacao powder
1 TBSP maple syrup
1 TBSP almond butter (optional)
Almond milk – about 1 TBSP – enough to get a mousse-like consistency
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of vanilla powder
Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and blend. Add almond milk as needed toget a pudding-like consistency. Enjoy!