If you use sugar but are worried about its negative effects on health, you’re in luck with a few healthy alternatives!
Recently I wrote an article on the dangers of some of the most common sugar substitutes, but I only mentioned one of several good natural sugar substitutes. Honestly, I’m not that against real sugar when it is used sparingly. In our house we use organic evaporated cane sugar or sucanat as a safer alternative. I insist on organic for our sugar because a lot of sugar otherwise is made with a genetically modified beet rather than sugar cane.
But what if you want to avoid cane sugar altogether?
Natural Sugar Substitutes Examined
We use a local maple syrup for baking. It can take a higher amount of heat without altering its health benefits. You may choose an organic maple syrup or you can simply ask your local producer some questions. Where are their trees? Are they in a heavily polluted area? Do they use chemicals in their syrup production process? If the answers are no, you may happily buy local syrup and save!
Of course we use our raw, local honey in our house, but only for those foods that we don’t heat. Raw honey has a long list of health benefits, but I explained why it’s not good to heat raw honey a while back.
We don’t eat anything that contains this product. Agave nectar has a low glycemic index and therefore is believed to help keep blood sugar levels in check and thusly prevent fluctuations in hormones. Worrying solely about the glycemic index of a food is not a good indicator of health. Unfortunately, agave syrup contains the highest fructose amount of any commercial sweetener, even worse than high fructose corn syrup. High levels of fructose create insulin resistance, an even bigger problem than a temporary spike due to sugar intake. Further, agave nectar is mostly produced from Agave americana which is a known emmenagogue and abortifacient, so should not be used during pregnancy.
I’ve had several members of my community trying to talk me into using xylitol. I’ve always been skeptical. This sugar substitute starts out innocently enough. It is advertised to be isolated from birch sap. I’m all for maple or birch syrup in cooking! Unfortunately, xylitol takes that syrup and hydrogenates it. This is a process that introduces dangerous metals into our food and I avoid it. The other consideration here is that birch sap gets pricey, so a good deal of xylitol is likely isolated from corn instead. More specifically, the cheapest corn, which is heavily polluted and genetically modified. I have seen the studies that claim that xylitol in gum can relieve ear congestion and infection. I would argue that it is the chewing action, not the xylitol itself, that is relieving pressure in the ear. As far as the prevention of cavities, I’d much rather have a cup of homemade grass-fed bone broth!
There are a couple products out there right now that are really just dehydrated palm sap. There isn’t too much of a “benefit” with this sugar over cane sugar when it comes to calories. There is, of course, the fact that you are more assured of the source. Coconut sugar is very low in fructose content which makes it one of the healthier sugar alternatives. If you are avoiding cane sugar, be sure that your coconut sugar is pure and doesn’t contain cane sugar as an additive.
Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is only acceptable in my kitchen if it is organic. It is very simply made as part of a fermentation of brown rice. If the syrup is organic, the fermentation is accomplished using non-gmo enzymes. The resulting liquid from this process is boiled down to a syrup consistency and can be used in cooking or baking.
In the end, we must all make our own decisions about what we feed our families. Be sure you are satisfied with your own research, rather than listening to the opinion of anyone else–even me!
Don’t see one of your favorite sugar substitutes? Let me know and I can address it in another post!