7 Natural Sugar Alternatives for a Healthier Diet

natural sugar alternatives

We’re all guilty of sneaking a few sweet treats every now and then. Sometimes it just seems impossible to turn away from that doughnut, that piece of candy, or that chocolate bar. While the occasional indulgence is perfectly fine, eating sweets regularly is a recipe for health problems.

What’s so bad about sugar?

When we talk about sugar, we really mean added sugar. There are plenty of foods that contain natural sugars and are perfectly healthy to eat. For example, most healthy people can certainly include a couple of pieces of fruit in their everyday diet.

In terms of nutrition, there’s no real reason to eat added sugar – on its own, it contains no protein, essential fats, vitamins or minerals. Really the only reason to eat it is to experience its sweet taste. Sugar can also mess with our hormones and send mixed messages to our brain, not telling us when we’re full. This leads to overeating, often in the form of more sugar-laden foods.

Sugar can also mess with our metabolism, resulting in increased levels of insulin and more fat stored on our bodies. Over consumption of sugar can lead to a whole host of other health conditions, including increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. What makes sugar truly problematic is that it can be highly addictive – it sets off dopamine release in the brain, which is the same sensation caused by many addictive drugs.

Cutting out sugar from your diet

Now that we’re more aware of the problems that can be caused by too much sugar in the diet, many health professionals have started to recommend that we cut way back on sugar consumption. However, it’s not quite as simple as having fewer desserts and sweet treats throughout the week. Sugar is added to most processed and packaged foods, even in places you would never expect to find it! (Yes, there is probably a form of sugar in that jar of pasta sauce, hidden in your fruity cup of yoghurt, and even in things like broth!)

The first step in cutting out sugar from your diet is to learn to read labels. Sugar goes by many names and is often hidden in ingredient lists: look for names like high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose and maltose. Also look at the nutrition information to see how many grams of sugar are contained in each serving. If the number seems high, you might want to skip it.

Of course, the easiest way to cut out sugar from your diet is to reach for natural foods. Choose a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies, and try to find other ways to add sweetness to your favourite foods.

Healthy Natural Sugar Alternatives

1. Fruit

Fruit purees are perfect for when you want to add some natural sweetness to baked goods. Applesauce, bananas, and dates are all commonly used to create healthier versions of cookies, muffins, pancakes, bars, and more. Keep in mind that it’s often easier to look for recipes that already include these, as the difference in texture can make it hard to do a straight swap for table sugar. (You may need to adjust the dry ingredients.) Also remember that you can also reach for fruit on its own whenever you crave something sweet!

2. Stevia

Stevia is a no-calorie sweetener that comes from the stevia plant. It doesn’t raise blood-sugar levels or cause tooth decay, which makes it very appealing as a sugar substitute. It comes in a variety of forms, including liquid drops (ideal for coffee, tea, and other beverages), dissolvable tablets (also great for liquids), and powdered form (perfect for baking and cooking).

3. Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is found in many fruits and vegetables. It has a similar sweetness to sugar, but does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels. Even better, it is said to improve your body’s absorption of calcium, which is good for the bones and teeth. However, too much of it can sometimes cause mild digestive issues, so it’s good to use it in smaller amounts.

4. Erythritol

Erythritol is also a sugar alcohol that is naturally found in melons and pears. The cool thing about erythritol is that it only contains 0.24 calories per gram – that’s 6% of the calories in regular sugar. It also does not raise blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

5. Coconut sugar

Coconut sugar is made from the extracted from the sap of the coconut palm. It does have some nutrients, such as iron, zinc, calcium and potassium, as well as antioxidants. While it does have a better nutritional profile and a lower glycemic index than regular sugar, it does have a similar calorie content. It’s better than using regular sugar for baking and cooking, but shouldn’t be used all the time.

6. Honey

Honey is a great natural sweetener that is produced by bees. Honey has trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, and is very high in antioxidants. It’s great to add to tea, oatmeal, plain yogurt, on toast, or in baking. Just make sure that you only buy raw, organic, local honey to ensure that you get all the health benefits.

7. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is comes from the sap of maple trees. This natural sweetener is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. It’s also a good source of zinc (said to boost the immune system) and manganese (needed to process cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein in the body). It’s ideal for use in baking, cooking (sauces, dressings, and more) and also tastes great in coffee. Just make sure to buy only 100% pure maple syrup, as anything else might be simply ‘maple-flavoured’ and might actually be filled with refined sugars.

At Bria Communities, we work with nutritionists to ensure our residents enjoy a diet that is healthy and balanced. Our regular menu incorporates the basics of the standard diabetes diet into all our daily meals, which means added sugar is always a consideration. We also work with our residents individually to create menu items that work for them. If a resident is following a sugar-free diet, we can create specialized versions of their favourite dishes for them to enjoy.