If we honestly ask ourselves, just how many of us can truly resist anything that has sugar in it? Well, much like a drug addict cannot say no to heroin, most of us are unwitting fiends to the potent neurotoxin that is refined sugar, which is more addictive than cocaine, has no nutritional content and is destructive to health. We review the healthiest and tastiest natural sugar substitutes.
The truth of the matter is, these days, just about everything has sugar in it. Desserts, drinks and even savoury dishes contain at least a pinch of the toxic, but profitable, substance. The American diet has notoriously high amounts of sugar, which goes hand in hand with us being one of the most overweight countries in the world. High sugar consumption leads to health issues, affecting weight, heart health, metabolism, hormones and even the immune system.
Avoiding or minimizing sugar intake is becoming increasingly difficult unless you cook your own food. Learning about the varieties and disguises of sugar can be overwhelming, and confusing with the line between fact and fiction blurred by profit and influence. Here we present some of the not so sweet problems sugar causes and how to choose the best plant-based sweeteners that provide the same sweet stimulation without the health risks.
What Makes Processed Sugar So Nasty?
To start with we need to clear up why there is so much sugar added to food: it is to directly increase profit by making you eat more and increase addictive qualities; at the same time it increases shelf life; it also disguises the flavour of low quality ingredients; it makes things more moist in the mouth even if they have been stored for years. Yuck! It is not added in any way to benefit you, the consumer, the person paying for the product.
The common white table sugar that we are all familiar with comes from sugarcane. It is a refined and processed mix of glucose and fructose. The refining process strips it of all its nutrients. Sugar cane is also still cropped by hand in slave-like conditions, this excellent documentary, Big Sugar, will make you think twice before adding a teaspoon full.
High Fructose Corn Syrup is another common refined sugar which has also lost all of its nutrients. This liquid sweetener is added to an enormous range of drinks, sweet foods and savory foods. It is cheaper to produce than white table sugar and processed chemically to increase its sweetness by raising the fructose content. Some studies show this additional fructose hit is creating more of a health problem but there is still scientific divide (profit influences science too you know).
Sadly the US Government still provides subsidies to the sugar industry to produce this toxic drug and keep processed food cheap for the masses. US taxpayers have spent over $300 billion to date propping up the sugar industry and another $115 billion is planned. The schema implemented to prop-up sugar is detrimental to health and allows sugar producers to operate as a sanctioned cartel.
Since refined sweeteners are stripped of their nutritional, and ethical, values and only serve to make us binge and drive profits, why eat them? Fortunately, there is no need to lower your vibration with unhealthy choices when, yet again, Mother Nature provides an amazing array of alternatives. We are biologically programmed to enjoy sweet foods; processed food producers have learned how to deceive our natural drives to increase toxic profits. Let’s get back to basic with some of nature’s finest, and sweetest, confectionary.
Some Natural Sugar Substitutes
Raw honey is an amazing superfood and has been used for thousands as years for health and healing purposes. Rich in antioxidants, antibacterial and antifungal properties, B vitamins, enzymes, and phytonutrients, it also has lower GI when compared to our white sugar (helping you avoid the sugar rush/crash). The best thing about raw honey is it boosts your immune system and reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer. 
Sustainably farmed local honey is very different from industrially produced processed honey (which often has sugar added and is bad for the bees!). Bees are important for our eco-system and sustainable bee products can help to increase their numbers and strengthen their dwindling presence in our eco system.
Applying some simple sustainability principles to bees allows for their safety and continued presence in our environment:
- Do not put anything into the hive which did not come from the bees
- Do not take anything out of the hive which the bees cannot afford to lose
- Be guided by the bees (this is my favourite!)
Raw honey is sweeter than sugar, so use it sparingly in your drinks, salad dressings, and desserts. Raw honey can be taken in liquid or solid form, but must never be cooked as it this will destroy its good properties. It can, however, be lovingly dribbled and drizzled over a fresh out of the oven unsweetened cake – adding the sweetness after cooking to avoid damaging this fabulous food.
You may wish to avoid bee products if you are allergic to pollen, pregnant or breastfeeding. Infants under one year of age are also advised to refrain from consuming raw honey.
What’s the Date?
Despite its name, date sugar is really dried dates and you can also get dates in paste form. This exceptionally concentrated source of antioxidants contains iron, potassium, magnesium, copper, calcium, and an excellent source of vitamins and dietary fiber. You need to ensure you get a quality and trustworthy sauce or make your own. The ‘reformatted’ dates are easier to add to your meals than the whole ones, saving you time.
Adding dates into your smoothies, baked goods or salads gives you that extra bit of sweetness and an instant burst of energy. The taste varies between types but often it has toffee tones and an earthy vanilla sweetness. Bear in mind though that date sugar does not dissolve well in liquids unless you chuck it in a blender!
Whether you eat them whole or blitz them into juices and smoothies, fresh fruits are by far the most accessible natural sugar substitutes you can lay your hands on. Chock-full of nutrients, vitamins, fiber and water – fresh fruits are a wonderful way to add sweetness and color to your recipes. Put them in your desserts, fruit salads, or baked recipes. The natural rainbow of fruit colors provides you with a whole host of other delicious phytochemicals and beneficial nutrients.
Dried fruits are even sweeter and still contain loads of beneficial nutrients including antioxidants, just make sure they are dried naturally and not covered in vegetable oil or other sugary coating. Figs are an excellent source of minerals and antioxidants and when they are dried the health benefits increase! Eaten in a dessert, blended to make a cake-base, added to sweeten soups or sauces: dried fruits are a versatile, cheap and healthy way to find your sweet spot.
Wonderstruck by Coconut!
Coconut sugar is another alternative option becoming more popular. It has a low GI, is rich in iron, zinc, calcium and potassium and is less processed. Also known as coconut palm sugar, the taste is quite similar to white table sugar, with a slight tinge of caramel flavour.
When it comes to cooking, coconut sugar or evaporated palm syrup can be substituted for white table sugar especially for baked goods and chocolate. However, ensure you are choosing a brand you trust as when foods become popular profiteers tend to jump on it and find a way of producing the ‘same’ thing, cheaper, with a deceptively natural looking brand label!
Substitute with Stevia?
If you are watching your calories, then stevia could be your ideal table-top sugar substitute. Stevia comes from the leaves of the stevia plant: the plant secretes a substance to ward off insects which happens to taste VERY sweet on our tongues but does not actually contain any carbohydrate. The many benefits of stevia include dilating blood vessels, increasing sodium excretion and urine output as well as helping to lower blood pressure and sugar levels.
In contrast to the white table sugar, stevia is far sweeter and should be used in smaller micro-amounts.
Stevia is becoming more common in sugar-free products such as sauces, soft drinks, candy and baked goods but beware of it being paired with other less-natural sweeteners. Also try and avoid chemically processed stevia and get it from the leaves directly. Some people dislike the taste, so consider using it in combination with other alternatives to balance the flavours out.
Go mad for Monkfruit!
The latest entry to sugar substitutes is a fruit which is nutritionally dense, 200 times sweeter than sugar and no bitter aftertaste. The fruit goes rotten so quickly that you can only get it in powder form outside of its native home in China. Full of free radical fighting antioxidants and used traditionally for many therapeutic benefits this is possibly nature’s finest sweetener, but you probably won’t find it in your supermarkets for a long time to come. The fruit has cancer fighting properties and is currently undergoing extensive testing for its massive potential to fight disease and make things taste super yummy with no calories, making it an excellent choice for diabetes too.
Making the Switch
Switching entirely to natural sweeteners is the best option for your health in the long run. If you have been eating a lot of artificially sweet foods you will find it takes up to 21 days to reset your taste buds to natural levels. Cut out the refined rubbish for just a week and you will notice the difference. Your health will immediately benefit and you can rediscover the joy of a fresh sweet strawberry, ideally picked in the morning sun dripping with dew.
Whenever possible, try to look for organic sources, local produces and make sure your natural sweeteners are not mixed with other chemical ingredients. These natural plant-based sweeteners are more beneficial to your health and can support the planet with ethical sustainable practices. At the end of the day, you don’t need sugar, you’re sweet enough!
Thank You for Your Support
By reading this article you have already contributed to the increasing manifestation of the healthiest diet known to man, thank you. By eating plants you are saving yourself and the planet. Could we ask for one more thing? Please share this article on your favourite social media channels to help others be part of the change too. Your actions count towards our conscious co-creation, please share now.