Natural Sweeteners

That aside, natural sweeteners still differ in subtle ways. Some have a higher glycemic index than others, meaning they can spike your blood sugar more quickly, while others don’t spike blood sugar at all, because they have no carbs or calories. What’s more, some sweeteners have added health benefits, too, such as more antioxidants and minerals, than plain old table sugar, while others carry more hype than health advantages.Here, we break down nine popular table-sugar alternatives with the help of Hyde as well as Claudia Shwide-Slavin, RD, co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Sugars & Sweeteners.

TOP CHOICE: Maple syrup
How it’s made: Pure maple syrup—not dressed-up, maple-flavored high-fructose corn syrup—is made from the boiled sap of maple trees.
Taste: Maple syrup tastes, well, maple-y. Its flavor and color will vary slightly based on the time of season it was harvested and geographic region.
Pros: Contains small amounts of potassium, calcium, zinc, and magnesium. It also contains antioxidants—up to 54 different types, some of which may have anti-cancer properties, per one study. Maple syrup’s GI (54) is slightly lower than table sugar, or sucrose (65), so it may be less likely to cause quick blood sugar spikes and drops.
Cons: It’s still loaded with sugar (and easy to over-drizzle), so try measuring out a portion before pouring.
Calories: 14 per tspTOP CHOICE: Raw Honey


How it’s made: Honeybees essentially chew on nectar from flowers, breaking down complex sugars into simple sugars, then deposit it into honeycombs where water evaporates, turning it into honey.
Taste: Sweet, floral, and somewhat creamier and than pasteurized and filtered honeys.
Pros: Unheated and unfiltered honey retains its natural enzymes, antioxidants, minerals, and some vitamins. Research also shows it has antimicrobial properties and may be effective for fighting cold symptoms, just like Grandma said. Just be sure to pick raw wildflower honeys, which have a lower GI than table sugar (around 35 to 53). Conventional honeys can have a GI up to 87.
Cons: Like maple syrup and pretty much all sweeteners, honey still contains lots of sugar, so use sparingly.
Calories: 22 per tsp

TOP CHOICE: Blackstrap Molasses


How it’s made: Blackstrap molasses is the thick liquid produced during cane sugar processing after the maximum amount of sugar crystals are removed.
Taste: Rich, subtly smoky, and bittersweet. It contains less sugar than “regular” molasses.
Pros: It’s higher in vitamins and minerals than most sweeteners, and depending on the brand, may contain up to 20% of your daily value of iron, 10% of your daily value of vitamin B6, and a range of other nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and calcium. It also has a lower GI (55-60) than table sugar and regular molasses.
Cons: Some people find it slightly bitter, so it may be more difficult to substitute for sugar in some cases.
Calories: 16 per tsp

SECOND CHOICE: Date sugar 
How it’s made: Date sugar is simply powdered dried dates.
Taste: Tastes like dried dates, and is a bit less sweet than other natural sweeteners.
Pros: Date sugar retains some nutrients from whole dates such as small amounts of fiber, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. It contains fewer calories than table sugar, and while its GI is unknown, it’s likely close to that of whole dates and lower than table sugar (39 to 45).
Cons: It doesn’t dissolve in drinks, so it’s best sprinkled on foods. Some products contain a “flowing agent” such as oat flour to prevent clumping, so if you’re trying to avoid grains, read your labels carefully.
Calories: 15 per tsp

SECOND CHOICE: Coconut sugar


How it’s made: Coconut sugar is made from the boiled, dehydrated sap of the coconut palm.

Taste: It has a similar color, flavor, and taste to brown sugar.
Pros: Contains small amounts of iron, zinc, antioxidants, and inulin—a type of fiber that acts as a prebiotic. It has a lower GI (54) than table sugar.
Cons: Like these other sweeteners, it still contains lots of sugar, so use sparingly.
Calories: 16 per tsp

How it’s made: Consider this a brown, less processed version of table sugar. It’s made by extracting the juice from freshly cut sugar cane, heating it, and drying it. This is not the same as turbinado sugar (a.k.a. Sugar in the Raw), which is what’s leftover after cane juice has been stripped of much of its molasses and other trace nutrients.
Taste: It’s just as sweet as table sugar, but has a stronger molasses flavor.
Pros: As opposed to processed table sugar, and even turbinado sugar, it retains the nutrients found in sugar cane juice, including small amounts of iron, vitamin B6, and potassium.
Cons: The GI for sucanat has not been tested, but it’s believed to fall in the moderate range, similar to table sugar.
Calories: 16 per tsp

SECOND CHOICE: Stevia Extract
How it’s made: Stevia extract is a natural but highly-purified zero-calorie sweetener derived from sweet-tasting compounds (e.g. Reb A) present in the leaves of the South American stevia plant. Liquid stevia products often consist of Reb A, water, and alcohol; while powder varieties contain Reb-A and dextrose or erythritol (a sugar alcohol).
Taste: Sweet—about 200 times sweeter than sugar—with a bitter aftertaste.
Pros: Because stevia is not metabolized (it’s simply excreted), it has no impact on blood sugar—meaning, no spikes and crashes.
Cons: Some find that stevia has a bitter aftertaste. Studies suggest that zero-calorie sweeteners, even natural ones like stevia, can increase hunger and lead to weight gain, so moderation is key.
Calories: 0

THINK TWICE: Brown rice syrup
How it’s made: Brown rice syrup is made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down starch and turn it into sugar, which is then processed to filter out impurities.
Taste: Sweet with a hint of butterscotch.
Pros: It’s a fructose-free sweetener, so it’s become a popular option among people with IBS who experience intestinal distress when they consume fructose.
Cons: It has a higher GI (98) than table sugar, which could lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes if not paired with blood-sugar stabilizing foods (e.g. drizzled on oatmeal with milk). And in 2012, Consumer Reports came out with a report that found levels of inorganic arsenic—the kind considered a carcinogen—surpassing the EPA’s safe drinking water limit in some products containing rice or brown rice syrup (no federal limits have been set on the amount of arsenic permitted in most foods yet). These levels are too low to cause immediate adverse health effects, says the FDA, but the effect of long-term exposure of this kind is unknown. If you need a fructose-free sugar, have a balanced diet, and don’t overdo it on rice products, and you should be okay.
Calories: 16 per tsp

How it’s made: Agave nectar is made from the filtered, heated sap of the blue agave plant.
Taste: A sweet, somewhat neutral flavor.
Pros: Agave has a super low GI (20), so it has less of an effect on blood sugar as table sugar and other sweeteners.
Cons: Health experts are now backpedaling on agave being a good option due to its extremely high fructose content—even higher than the much-reviled high-fructose corn syrup. Why’s fructose a problem? Too much fructose may contribute to unhealthy changes in liver function, triglyceride levels, and insulin sensitivity. Fructose is also harder to digest—especially for people with IBS—than other sugars.
Calories: 21 per tsp

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