If you’re aimed at overcoming a sweet tooth, sugar addiction, or increasing overall health, it’s incredibly helpful to understand why sugar can have such a powerful pull on us and the natural alternatives to choose from.
As a species we’re literally hardwired to enjoy sweets. It’s what kept many of our ancient ancestors alive when food was scarce because not only did the natural sugars give them immediate energy, but the unused calories were stored as glycogen and fat. Over millions of years, as a way to survive, their brains learned to release serotonin and dopamine (feel-good chemicals) as a response to food that tasted and smelled rich. Our genes kept track of that valuable information throughout the ages and still functions that way today. In other words, resisting sweets (and/or fats) isn’t simply a matter of willpower. On a very primal level we’re drawn to them, which makes it critical for us to be strategic with our approach towards sweets. Whenever we decide to taste these alluring foods, messages typically begin firing off to the brain to seek out more of them. Given how physically active our ancient ancestors were (typically walking at least 10miles a day) and how many other plant-based foods they ate, their desire for sweets actually served their health well. However, as we all know, history took a dramatic turn once refined sugars were introduced to the masses, along with a surplus of food and relentless advertising.
So, there’s no point in guilt-tripping yourself if you feel tempted by sabotaging sweets. We’re inundated by visual and other sensory cues to notice things like cookies, cakes, candy, and sugary drinks (from marketing forces as well as social settings.) The key then is to focus on smarter sweets that are satiating rather than overwhelming for the body and the mind. That way you can support a healthy diet and lifestyle and reduce your risk for obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, various cancers, and a host of other unwanted health problems.
What Are Smarter Sweeteners?
Smarter sweeteners are from natural sources and contain more vitamins, minerals, and, ideally, fiber compared to refined or artificial sweeteners. Most of them are considered Paleo-friendly too. By prioritizing organic sources, you can avoid crops produced with pesticides and/or GMOs and support sustainable farming practices.
Here’s a list of natural alternatives to refined and artificial sweeteners:
- Organic, Whole Fruits (top choice for sweetening food)
- Organic, Fruit Juices
- Organic, Natural Stevia (top choice for sweetening beverages)
- Organic, Coconut Sugar
- Organic Date Syrup
- Organic Brown Rice Syrup
- Organic Barley Malt Syrup
- 100% Pure, Organic Maple Syrup
- 100% Pure, Organic, Raw Honey (strict vegans avoid honey and other bee-derived products)
Whether baking and prepping meals at home or buying store-bought foods and beverages, there are plenty of ways to integrate smarter sweeteners over refined sweeteners. There’s even an abundance of refined sugar or no sugar recipes to explore online. Also, shopping at natural health stores is generally a good way to narrow down the temptations of refined sweeteners found at grocery stores and increase the quality of ingredients.
Organic, Whole Fruits: This is the ideal way to sweeten foods. Due to their fiber, whole fruits slow down sugar absorption and don’t spike insulin levels in the dramatic way that so many other types of sweeteners can. Whole fruits are also naturally lower in calories than most caloric sweeteners. Not only that, fruits are abundant in antioxidants and other beneficial nutrients. Plus, whole fruits are generally more sustainable (if organic and local) because they aren’t shipped the long distances other sweeteners like refined sugar or even coconut sugar are.
Whole fruit can be chopped up or blended and then added to unsweetened cereal, oatmeal, chia puddings, and a plethora of other healthy recipes. You can even buy fruit seasonally and then freeze some for months when there isn’t as much variety to choose from at the market. Of course, dried fruits are also an option, but the fructose is more concentrated. If you’re using dried fruit, be sure it’s organic, unsulphured, and that you compensate for the water that’s missing by staying well hydrated.
Organic, Fruit Juices: If choosing between fruit juices or refined sugar in a store-bought item, fruit juices are the way to go. If you’re buying a sweetened cereal for example, look for the brands that are sweetened with organic fruit juices. An increasing amount of bakeries offer fruit juice sweetened desserts too. When at home, you can even play around with adding a splash of juice to hot or cold tea as an alternative to sugar or honey.
Organic, Natural Stevia: This natural, zero calorie sweetening herb is significantly sweeter than sugar. Some people will say they don’t like it, but much of the time they haven’t tasted unadulterated stevia yet. The most popularized so far is a white powder often found in little, paper packets. Those are the most convenient, but they’re also highly processed so I don’t use them. Truvia, developed jointly by Cargill and the Coca-Cola Company, is a “stevia-based sweetener” which mostly contains erythritol, a sugar alcohol derived from GMO corn! As a result, I recommend completely avoiding Truvia. In contrast, liquid, organic drops of stevia as well as canisters of the organic green powder are available and would be a more natural option.
Homegrown stevia is one of the most sustainable and healthiest choices when it comes to natural sweeteners. It can be grown in a large gardening pot or in a garden bed. The leaves can be used fresh or dried. I like to steep a small amount with herbal tea on occasion, especially for strong medicinal blends or for serving children’s herbal tea. Sometimes I even make my own stevia powder for the winter by putting a batch of dried leaves in a blender and storing the powder in a glass jar. As an herb, stevia has a number of health benefits and is known to:
- Improve digestion
- Reduce bacterial formation in the mouth which helps prevent cavities and gingivitis
- Improve bone health
- Improve skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis
- Help prevent cancer
- Help regulate blood pressure
Organic, Coconut Sugar: Produced from the sap of coconut palm trees, this natural sweetener retains more nutrients than refined sugar and comes granulated, in a paste, or as a hard solid. It’s touted as being much easier on insulin levels than refined sugar, however there is still some controversy over these claims. Many people really like the taste and baking results of coconut sugar. Even though it costs a lot more than white sugar, people intended on choosing a healthier lifestyle usually feel it’s worth it.
Organic, Date Syrup: This natural sweetener is rich in vitamins and minerals. It can be produced by cooking down the fruit from palm dates and it can also be made as a raw recipe in a high speed blender at home with simple ingredients like water and lemon juice. Date syrup has a dark color and taste that’s similar to molasses, but lighter.
Organic, Brown Rice Syrup: Produced by cooking brown rice flour (or brown rice starch) with enzymes, this concentrated sweetener is filtered and then has the excess water evaporated in order to thicken the mixture. It’s often found in store-bought products aimed at providing a healthier alternative to refined sugar.
Organic, Barley Malt Syrup: Produced from sprouted barley, this unrefined, dark brown sweetener has a distinctive “malty” flavor. It’s often found in store-bought products aimed at providing a healthier alternative to refined sugar.
100% Pure, Organic Maple Syrup: Maple syrup comes from tree sap from maple trees and has a lower glycemic index compared to sugar. For the real deal, look for certified organic labels that state “100% pure maple syrup.” Organic maple syrup generally contains more minerals and only vegetable oils are used for de-foaming (no animal products or synthetics.) 100% pure maple syrup also contains more vitamins and antioxidants. However, it’s best used sparingly since it’s a concentrated source of sugar.
100% Pure, Organic, Raw Honey: Honey has a long history of being used as an immune booster and healing salve. Like so many other foods and sweeteners though, conventional honey has been de-natured by many commercial companies, resulting in few (if any) medicinal properties. Pasteurized and even cut with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, the enzymes, antimicrobial properties, and complex flavors are lost. Conventional honey, specifically imported from China, is also known to be high in heavy metals and tainted with various chemicals and antibiotics. If you choose to use honey, go for a raw, organic, and preferably local brand and use it sparingly. Any type of honey should not be fed to babies younger than 1 year old because of the potential risk of botulism. Strict vegans avoid honey, royal jelly, propolis, mead, bee pollen, bee bread, and beeswax.
Whatever your attitude towards honey is, I highly recommend watching documentaries such as Vanishing of the Bees and Queen of the Sun to understand how critical honeybees are as pollinators to our food supply.
Holistic Secret: Since alcohol is like high-octane sugar, avoid it or keep it to a minimum to help keep pathogens and sugar cravings in check.
Conservative with Sweets
All in all, most people in the U.S. are eating too many sweeteners, whether they’re highly processed or natural. My general recommendation is to focus on natural sweeteners and avoid high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners as much as possible. Read more about these sabotaging sweeteners.
To really promote vitality, good dental health, and a happier endocrine system though, you’ll want to be conservative with adding any kind of concentrated sweeteners to your diet or your family’s diet. By focusing on clean eating (like organic, whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, fungi, nuts, seeds, seaweeds, and whole grains) you can look and feel amazing.
My mission: As a Holistic Health Coach & Eco Expert, I’m dedicated to leading you straight to the core of what it takes to enjoy a new level of vitality, desired weight loss, sustainability, and detoxification. Enjoy my transformative programs and experience true health with true purpose!