Natural alternatives to white sugar…

White Sugar (Image: Wikipedia)
White Sugar (Image: Wikipedia)

Every once in a while, a girl needs something sweet. I prefer to use natural sweeteners, all of which are less processed than refined white sugar, and create fewer fluctuations in blood sugar levels.  Although these alternatives are generally safer alternatives to white sugar, they should only be used in moderation.

  • Agave nectar: Agave nectar, or agave syrup, is a natural liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave cactus. It is used 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. Too much fructose can lead to overeating and weight gain, so it should be used in moderation.
  • Barley malt: Barley malt syrup is a thick, sticky, brown sweetener and is about half as sweet as refined white sugar. It is made from the soaking, sprouting, mashing, cooking and roasting of barley. Some enjoy this alternative because it  moves through the digestive system slower than other refined sugars.
  • Birch sugar/Xylitol: This natural sugar substitute is derived from birch tree fiber, and occurs naturally in many fruits and vegetables. There have been many reported benefits of xylitol. Research suggests that this natural sweetener prevents tooth decay, improves bone density, increases white blood cell activity, and prevents streptococcus infections. It is also deemed as safe for diabetics because it is not easily converted to fat.
  • Birch syrup: Birch syrup is very low on the glycemic index and is high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, manganese, thiamine and calcium. This syrup is composed of fructose, a monosaccharide, which is easier to digest because they are simpler sugar units, making birch syrup a gentler choice.
  • Brown rice syrup: This sweetener is made of brown rice that has been ground and cooked, which converts the starches to maltose. The taste kind of reminds me of butterscoth – YUM!
  • Date sugar: Date sugar consists of finely ground, dehydrated dates. Date sugar can be used as a replacement for sugar and comes in a granulated form; however, it can clump, and doesn’t melt, so it’s not a great choice for baking.
  • Erythritol: A sugar alcohol available in a powdered form, which is formed from the breaking down, fermenting, and filtering of sugar cane or corn starch. Erythritol doesn’t affect your blood sugar or cause tooth decay, but it can cause digestive upset if you overdo it.
  • Raw honey: One of my absolute favorite sweeteners! Raw honey contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals and vitamins.  Many people eat raw honey because it’s believed that consuming local honey can help build up your immunity to common allergens in your area – by introducing your body to the bee pollen. Who doesn’t love a good excuse to eat honey?
  • Maple syrup: Maple syrup is made from boiled-down maple tree sap and is a great source of manganese and zinc. I personally love to use it in baking as an alternative to sugar. 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: Maple sugar is created when the sap of the sugar maple is boiled. After the water has evaporated, all that is left is the solid sugar. Maple sugar is  very sweet – about twice as sweet as standard granulated sugar, but much less refined.
  • Molasses: Organic molasses is made by a process of clarifying and blending the extracted juices of sugar cane or sugar beet. Blackstrap molasses is the most nutritious variety, and is a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium.
  • Stevia: Stevia comes from a leafy herb, known as the honey leaf by native South Americans. Stevia extract is actually much sweeter than white sugar. It 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.  Make sure you get the green or brown liquids or powders, as the white and clear versions are highly refined.
  • Sucanat: Sucanat is evaporated organic cane juice made through a mechanical rather than a chemical process. It is less refined and retains many of sugarcane’s original vitamins and minerals. It has a grainy texture just like white  sugar, so it can be used in its place.
  • Turbinado: Turbinado sugar is crystallized sugar made from sugar cane extract. It is often sold in the United States as Sugar in the Raw. It is slightly less processed than white sugar, but still has the same negative health effects as white sugar, so it’s not really a healthier alternative.