We are wired to crave some sweetness in our foods, especially during the winter and in childhood. This craving was meant to drive us to take in healthy carbohydrates in the form of naturally sweet plant foods.
But due to the extravagant amount of sugars and artificial sweeteners in the majority of our foods and their extreme levels, our taste buds are desensitized and many of us can no longer detect natural sweetness in healthy plant foods.
We’re just not wired to handle the exorbitant amount of sweetness of most modern diets, and all of that excess sweetness triggers unhealthy food cravings and addiction.
The cravings that children have for natural sweetness (for growth and development) would normally wane in adolescence. Instead, this waning is defeated by sweet addiction.
When we eat refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, our brains believe that we’re getting nutrients we need. But because we don’t get any real nutrients, our appetite and food cravings are re-triggered. Our bodies aren’t looking for more sweetness necessarily—they’re looking for real food!
Furthermore, when we take in all of these low-nutrient foods and drinks, we have less room for the good stuff.
Introduced to satisfy consumers’ sweet tooth, non-nutritive artificial sweeteners with no calories seem like good alternatives to refined sugars and nutritive natural sweeteners. However, the side effects simply aren’t worth it. These fake sweeteners cause symptoms that range from headaches and migraines to weight gain and even more serious conditions like cardiovascular disease. (1)
So what’s the difference between a nutritive sweetener and a non-nutritive sweetener ? Caloric content. Nutritive sweeteners contain calories while non-nutritive sweeteners have zero calories. No calorie, artificial sweeteners may sound like a good idea when you want to lose weight, but they aren’t. Their side effects far outweigh potential benefits of a low-calorie sweetener, and they are actually linked with weight gain, not weight loss.
Keep reading to see the comparison between natural and artificial sugar substitutes…
What Is Natural?
Some “natural” sweeteners are really not very natural. Refined sugar is only called a “natural” product under today’s parameters, because it starts with real foods like beets, sugar cane, corn and fruits. But what happens then?
It gets refined. Refined sugar becomes an injection of concentrated, nutrition-less carbohydrate that spikes your blood sugar in dangerous ways. Even “natural” products like agave nectar, honey, maple syrup and molasses may be highly refined and processed, moving them far from their original natural state and the benefits that the whole food entails. Be sure to read labels to make sure your “natural” product is actually natural!
“Natural” sweeteners like Truvia® and Nectresse™ are derived from real food but then they are altered, processed and refined. PureVia® and Truvia® are sold as sweeteners because they are made from a derivative of the stevia plant, rebaudioside A, not pure stevia. So…not very natural.
You might be wondering, how this sugar substitutes like Nectresse™ can claim to have zero calories if it contains sugar? First of all, food producers can say something has zero calories if it contains less than 5 calories per half teaspoon. Secondly, the sugar alcohol, erythritol interferes with your body’s absorption of sugar, further lowering caloric intake.
But the catch? Because your body can’t completely absorb sugar alcohols, they can ferment in your digestive tract, causing bloating, diarrhea and gas. This kind of fermentation raises acidity in your body.
We Need To Rediscover Natural Sweetness!
How can you rediscover the natural sweetness in real foods? You can use a substitution process to break your sweet addiction.
Avoiding processed foods can help you to avoid added sweeteners and recover and retrain your taste buds. Then you can begin tasting the natural sweetness in carrots, onions, raw milk, squash and many other whole foods. A sun-ripened tomato can feel like a burst of sweet in your mouth if your taste buds haven’t been desensitized, and the nutrients and sweet taste of countless plant foods–from raw nuts to baby lettuces–can provide satisfaction in terms of taste and nutrition.
Remember, we’re wired to crave sweetness so you shouldn’t suppress that craving. Instead, discover the ways you can fulfill it as you’re meant to: eat real food and use real natural sweeteners.
Paula’s Purple Rice is one of those real foods that can help curb cravings and rebuild your body everyday. Though not a sweetener, it has a pleasant taste, and is a raw, vegan, micronized food filled with nutrients that recharge and regenerate your cells at the most vital level-the mitochondria-the life and energy center of your cells.
So now, let’s look at a list of the top five truly natural sweeteners and sugar substitutes. Most of them — though not all — still contain “sugar”, but they are true natural sugars and much easier for your body to digest and process, and they bring the most health benefits to your body.
Top 5 Natural Sugar Substitutes
All of these sweeteners are lower on the glycemic index than sugar. Where regular table sugar scores 100, many of these sweeteners score closer to a 50, about half on the glycemic index. That means they affect your body to a lesser degree, so they’re not going to cause your energy levels to drop, increase or spike your insulin levels, increasing your risk of diabetes, like a lot of the other sugars out there today. However, anyone with type-1 diabetes should avoid real sugar in all forms. In my non-medical opinion, the only sugar substitute that seems to safe and actually sugar and calorie free is Stevia.
- Honey is actually a food, as well as a sweetener. In addition to natural sugar, honey also contains amino acids, specific types of electrolytes and antioxidants, and antimicrobial compounds that can really support the health of your body. So one of your best options when it comes to sugar substitutes is to use pure, raw honey.
- Now, you want to use it sparingly, as the proverbs say. (1) You don’t want to go overboard using honey. One tablespoon, one to two times daily, is a good, healthy amount that most people can do well with.
- There are a few other benefits of honey as well. For instance, it helps reduce allergy symptoms. Raw local honey contains local pollen, and it actually really helps with allergies because it helps your body adapt to local pollen. It’s kind of a natural immunization over time.
- Extra benefit: Raw honey contains antimicrobial properties, and can actually even be used as a form of natural medicine.. So don’t just eat honey. You can actually use honey when you get a cut or a wound and put it in the area. If you have acne or skin issues, you can put it right on the area.
- Stevia is a no-calorie, all-natural sweetener that comes from the leaf of a flowering plant, and is especially good if you have blood sugar issues, if you’re overweight or if you have type-1 or type-2 diabetes. Stevia contains no sugar at all, making it truly one of the best sugar substitutes around.
- There are many types of stevia. Ideally, you should get full, green leaf stevia. Another form of stevia that’s suitable is stevia that’s just ground and part of it is extracted.
- There are some brands out there that you should avoid because they’re so highly processed, and they also add in other chemicals.
- Sweet Leaf is a favorite brands because it’s natural, healthy and delicious. In fact, it even has stevia flavors — you can get chocolate stevia, vanilla stevia, chocolate raspberry stevia and pumpkin pie spice stevia. Make sure you choose the healthiest, most organic type you can find.
- Again, just like using honey sparingly, you shouldn’t dump this in your foods and go overboard. A little bit goes a long way, so use just a few drops in your morning tea, coffee or smoothie.
- We could throw other fruits here into this category — things like raisins, apricots, other dried fruit and pineapple juices — but the great thing about dates is they’re also very high in fiber and potassium, as well as other vitamins and minerals. In fact, of all the sweeteners here dates have the highest nutrient value.
- If we’re comparing this to white sugar or high fructose corn syrup, dates are not sugar. Dates are a food that contains sugar, and this food also has fiber and antioxidants, and minerals like potassium, that help you slowly absorb sugar and help regulate sugar within your body.
- Dates are especially good to use in baking.They’re great to just throw in smoothies as well. And they’re really great if you’re into raw food and vegan foods.
- Organic coconut sugar is unrefined, vegan, non-GMO. When you’re baking and you want a recipe that has the equal amounts of one cup of sugar to one cup of an alternative natural sweetener, coconut sugar or coconut palm sugar is the ideal replacement.
- Coconut juice, which is where a lot of coconut sugar comes from, is full of potassium, electrolytes and nutrients. So if you’re looking for equal comparison to sugar that’s nontoxic, non-GMO, that your body’s going to be able to digest better, organic coconut palm sugar is a better option.
- Coconut sugar is a great replacement, an equal replacement, to actual table sugar, especially in baking cookies, pies and things like that.
- Last but not necessarily least in terms of a natural sweetener is 100 percent pure organic maple syrup. Look for grade B or even grade C that is USDA-certified organic.
- Maple syrup is one of the best sugar substitutes because it’s a fantastic sweetener! It’s good especially over things like pancakes and waffles and good in certain recipes where you want more of that earthy flavor along with it.
- Maple syrup has a higher antioxidant capacity than sugar. (8) In fact, according Pharmaceutical Biology, pure maple syrup contains up to 24 different antioxidants. (9) These antioxidants, in the form of phenolic compounds, are beneficial for reducing free radical damage that can cause inflammation and contribute to the formation of various chronic diseases. (10)
Transition to Sugar Substitutes
How can I phase out the sugar and avoid dangerous artificial substitutes?
Start working to retrain your palette to enjoy the natural sweetness of FOOD, not added sweeteners. Try adding other flavors like tangy, tart, warm and savory to please your palette. For example, vanilla, cocoa, licorice, nutmeg and cinnamon enhance the flavor of foods, so you need less sweetness.
When you crave a sweet drink, try homemade infused waters. Start sweetening your tea with honey, coconut sugar or even maple syrup for a twist.
Be creative and experiment with new foods, healthy sweeteners and added flavors that keep you satisfied.
But… what about all of those chocolate treats so prevalent around holidays and special occasions?
Happily, there are now many organic versions that are non-GMO, low-sugar and also gluten, dairy, soy free, and even vegan, that taste just as good as the “unhealthy” versions. Just don’t over do it because it’s healthy! Healthy sugars still have calories.
Just remember, even if you can’t turn down a that dark chocolate truffle, chocolate squares, or even a piece of cake, given with LOVE and good intentions on a special occasion, it won’t totally wreck your health, as long as you train your taste buds to be happy most of the time without all of that excess sweetness.
Adapted from various articles by Dr. Axe