7 Natural Sweeteners That Are Healthier Than Refined Sugar
In recent years, studies are revealing more about the negative consequences of a diet that’s high in sugar. This has spurred a health movement toward lower sugar and sugar-free diets. Our collective sweet tooth has been linked to increasing rates of many health maladies, including obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and more. (Source.)
Except sometimes you just need a little sweetness in your life.
And… sugar is sugar, right?
There are some amazing natural sweeteners that blow white cane sugar and (often genetically modified) beet sugar out of the water. These sweeteners are far less processed, more sustainably produced (no pesticides or GMOs!), and are healthier for you since they contain trace levels of minerals.
1 — Muscovado Sugar
Wilderness Family Naturals’ muscovado sugar is produced using a small native lime called Calamansi and fresh coconut milk. Heating the juice of the sugar cane with the lime and coconut milk prevents foaming over. The end product has about 0.2% coconut milk remaining.
After sun drying in coconut shells, the liquid crystallizes and is then pounded to form muscovado crystals.
While the color resembles brown sugar, it’s a completely different process. A touch of molasses is added to refined white sugar in order to produce brown sugar. Muscovado is pure, unrefined, non-centrifugal cane sugar that has a natural light brown color. This helps to retain the high mineral content found in the original sugar cane plant, similar to molasses.
Other names given to muscovado from around the world include rapadura, jaggery, piloncillo, gur and khandsari.
Use muscovado sugar in equal amounts in recipes calling for refined sugar. Muscovado sugar shines particularly when you wish to produce a delicious caramel flavor.
This brown-colored sugar is made by collecting the flowering stem of the coconut palm tree. By gently simmering the sap for a long period of time, crystallization occurs to concentrate the naturally occurring sugars. The large crystals are then ground to form the fine grains you find in packaged form.
There is some controversy over the sustainability of harvesting coconut sap sugar. Collecting coconut sap is NOT harmful to the coconut palm trees and does NOT affect coconut oil or coconut milk production. Once a coconut palm tree becomes a “sap tree”, coconuts for oil and milk are no longer collected from the tree. Coconut trees can be tapped 10 years (or more!) with no harm done to the trees (source).
At Wilderness Family Naturals, we love that our coconut products showcase how an entire tree can be used — with nothing to waste! We offer a wider range of coconut products than any other retailer — including coconut oil, spread, and milk, coconut vinegar, coconut syrup, and coconut sugar!
Coconut sugar makes a great brown sugar replacement. Try using it in place of brown sugar in your chocolate chip cookie recipe!
Use it to sweeten beverages, sauces, marinades or as a replacement for refined sugar and brown sugar in baking. You should also try adding it to your coffee!
Or try our Grain-Free Peanut Butter Brownie Bites that are sweetened entirely with our coconut sugar!
3 — Agave Nectar
Originating from Mexico, the agave plant has been harvested for many centuries to make the ever-popular alcoholic drink, tequila. But it’s utility has spread to become a popular and inexpensive natural sweetener.
The traditional method of producing agave nectar involved boiling down the sap from the agave plant to form a thick syrup. Unfortunately, the conventional method of processing agave has changed significantly. In these instances, the end product is more akin to high fructose corn syrup. This involves a thermal and enzymatic process that denatures the inulin naturally found in agave and turns it into fructose. Hence, the agave nectar you find in most supermarkets and health food stores has recently received bad reviews.
Wilderness Family Naturals has crafted a unique form of organic, non-GMO agave nectar. This product is different from other agave syrups available on the market. It is a truly raw product since no heat or chemicals are used in processing.
Natural inulin is allowed to ferment for 4 to 5 days. Next, it is filtered to produce the concentrated agave nectar. The excess moisture is removed through a vacuum to create a shelf-stable, concentrated nectar.
As agave is sweeter than sugar, less is needed to achieve the same levels of sweetness. You can use it in raw dishes or baking. No artificial aftertaste remains unlike artificial sweeteners. It is water soluble, but not oil soluble, so agave is not recommended for use where recipes are predominantly oil (such as chocolate-making).
4 — Inulin
Inulin is a form of prebiotic — a term which describes foods that feed probiotics. Prebiotics help to populate the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria that aid in maintaining a healthy digestive system. Species of gut flora, such as Lactobacillus, are able to break down inulin into a fatty acid for your body to more effectively utilize.
Diabetics may prefer to use inulin as an alternative sweetener since it is high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. Studies have also shown that inulin increases both the absorption and deposition of calcium into bones (source).
Inulin is commonly used alongside other sweeteners to bulk up recipes while keeping the calorie count low. It has less than one-third of the calories of sugar.
It’s not particularly sweet on its own, however, you may wish to incorporate it into recipes because of its potential nutritional benefits.
5 — Coconut Syrup/Coconut Nectar
By simmering the sap of the coconut palm tree flower (similar to the way maple syrup is produced), a thick and concentrated substance is produced.
Wilderness Family Naturals’ coconut syrup maintains the natural goodness and potential health benefits of coconut water. It’s high in enzymes and polysaccharide inulin which is a prebiotic fiber that may help maintain good digestion.
The consistency and color of coconut syrup is like molasses, yet the taste is deep, rich, and caramel-like.
Try drizzling coconut syrup over oatmeal, pancakes, waffles, and ice cream or adding it to smoothies and shakes.
Typically gathered from palm or coconut oil, vegetable glycerin is a colorless and odorless liquid. Wilderness Family Naturals’ Vegetable Glycerin is food-grade with a moderately sweet taste. It is completely water soluble, so you can use it to add moisture to recipes.
It is not a raw product — but it does have a long shelf life — is lower on the glycemic index than honey and sugar, and does not oxidize easily.
Vegetable glycerin can be used in place of corn syrup, like in this Naturally Sweetened Pecan Pie.
7 — Stevia
Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the native South American stevia plant. With a sweetness as much as 200 times that of sugar, it’s also been used by native cultures for its medicinal purposes. Studies suggest stevia may help to reduce blood glucose and insulin levels following a meal (source).
Many people associate stevia with the zero-calorie liquid drops which can have a strange aftertaste. These, however, are just the isolated and extracted components that give stevia its pungent sweetness. Often the liquid extract is mixed with alcohol or other additives. You will need to either grow it yourself or purchase it as a dried powder, if you wish to consume the whole plant.
Stevia is generally safe for diabetics, although you should check with your doctor before adding stevia to your diet. It is a zero on the glycemic index, therefore it causes no shifts in blood sugar whatsoever.
Being naturally very sweet — just 1 teaspoon of Stevia can equal a cup’s worth of sugar in terms of sweetness. You will probably need to adjust baking recipes to account for less liquid (if it normally calls for honey or syrup) or less dry ingredients (if a crystalline sugar is normally used).
Beverages are a wonderful way to use stevia, including: sweetening hot or cold tea, coffee, and herbal coffee, adding to smoothies, and sweetening lemonade
Have you substituted any of these natural sweeteners for refined sugar? Which ones have you tried?
- Emily Uebergang