We all love to eat sweet things. Yet, we consume many calories every day from sugar without realising it can cause a wide variety of health problems from diabetes, headaches, migraines, and mood disorders to impairment of liver and kidney disorder. Other common side effects of consuming excessive sugar include tooth decay, obesity, heart disease, many types of cancer and poor cognitive functioning. Artificial sweeteners may not be much better with research now linking them to unbalanced gut bacteria and a host of health problems. However, there are natural sweeteners that are healthy and contain far less calories (1). Perhaps it’s time to consider a natural sweetening option? We’ve put together a list of the healthiest and best natural sweeteners for your coffee, tea or indeed anytime when you might consume refined sugar. Enjoy.
Top of our natural sweeteners list is stevia. Extracted from the stevaia rebaudiana plant, stevia is one of the best low-calorie natural sweeteners. It can be helpful in lowering down the blood pressure levels.
Stevia has no calories (3) or carbohydrates. The main components of stevia that is Rebaudioside and Stevioside, are a hundred times sweeter than the refined sugar. It is available in the form of tablets, drops, packets, and baking blends.
Stevia might have a bitter aftertaste. This is why it is not widely used by people however, it is considered one of the best natural sweeteners for diabetics as it does not affect blood sugar levels.
The stevia sweetener side effects are non-existent after extensive testing and reported stevia dangers are so far unproven. (28) However, some people have been known to be allergic to the plant so caution is warranted.
2. Raw Honey
Raw honey is the most commonly used healthy substitute for artificial sweeteners. It consists of phosphorus, antioxidants, vitamin B6, enzymes, potassium, zinc, iron, riboflavin, calcium, and niacin (2).
Honey can easily neutralize free radicals and promote good bacteria growth in your digestive system. A tablespoon of honey provides you with very less calories in comparison to other sweeteners.
Try not to cook honey, rather add it directly on the top of your salads and cereals.
Out of all the natural sweeteners, dates are the most nutritious option. They are filled with copper, vitamin B6, fiber, iron, potassium, manganese, and magnesium (4). It helps in metabolizing proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Dates also reduce the LDL cholesterol in the body and decrease the risk of stroke. Make a paste out of dates and add it your food. The date paste can be prepared by soaking them in hot water until soft, and then make a paste by grinding it.
4. Coconut Sugar
These days coconut sugar is very commonly used by many people as a natural alternative to the refined sugar. Coconut sugar is loaded with nutrients like zinc, polyphenols, potassium, iron, calcium, phytonutrients, and, antioxidants.
The sap of coconut blooms is extracted, heated, and then evaporated to make sugar crystals. It is really simple to add coconut sugar to your recipes because it is as sweet as sugar and resistible to heat.
5. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is one of the healthiest natural sweeteners available all around the world. It is 100% natural, pure and unprocessed as it is boiled down directly from tree sap.
This syrup is rich in various minerals like calcium, manganese, and potassium (6). It reduces the oxidative damage and neutralizes free radicals damage as well.
6. Blackstrap Molasses
Blackstrap molasses can turn out to be the healthiest step you have taken in a while. Blackstrap molasses has antioxidant properties and has great amounts of calcium, copper, manganese, iron, vitamin B6, potassium, and selenium.
It is prepared by boiling raw cane sugar, and hence all its nutrients are retrieved in it. Having a unique flavor of its own, blackstrap molasses can be used while baking, and preparing marinades.
7. Balsamic Glaze
If you are searching for a tasty alternative to refined sugar, then the balsamic glaze is the right thing for you. It is highly rich in pepsin that helps in promoting healthy digestion in your body and fights free radicals due to the presence of antioxidants (7).
Balsamic glaze is easily available in the market, but you can also prepare it at your home by simmering two cups of balsamic vinegar to a half cup over a medium-low flame. After cooling the prepared solution, you can use it in the food.
8. Banana Puree
Banana is rich in potassium, fiber, and vitamin C (8)and can make your food sweeter in a nutritious way. All you have to do is, grab the ripe bananas and make a puree of them in a blender. The measurement of banana puree to be put in the food is same as that of refined sugar.
Note: Try to use banana puree as soon as possible because it turns brown when exposed to air.
9. Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is prepared by the fermentation process of brown rice. It can act as a perfect replacement for the recipes that include corn syrups. Easy to digest and healthy to consume, it is easily available at any nearby stores, and can be used while preparing granola bars, sweetened nuts, and fruity pies.
Note: Make sure that you buy gluten-free brown rice syrup.
10. Real Fruit Jam
Apples, grapes, berries, and pears can turn out to be the best economical substitute for the processed sugar in your recipes. You can prepare these jams using fresh or frozen fruits. If you are making fruit jams at home, then use them immediately as they have no preservatives.
Note: While buying commercial jams, make sure that they have no added sugar in them.
Erythritol is another low-calorie natural sweetener that can be used in the place of refined sugar (10). Erythritol is prepared from sugar alcohols found in many fruits, and does not have any effect on blood sugar spike level or on biomarkers.
Note: Too much consumption of erythritol can bring in digestive problems in your body.
Xylitol has the same sweetness as that of sugar and with lesser calorie content in it. This healthy sugar alcohol can benefit the dental health and reduce the cavity amount in your teeth, improve bone density, and prevent osteoporosis (11).
1) Xylitol should be kept out of the reach of dogs as it is toxic to them.
2) If consumed in large amounts, it can have adverse effect on your health.
13. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup has become pretty popular in recent times because of its weight loss effects. High fructooligosaccharides content helps yacon syrup feed the good bacteria present in the body and relieves the problem of constipation. It is not digested by the body, but, transferred to intestine where it helps flush out the toxins.
Note: It can cause loose motions if taken in high quantities.
14. Sorghum Syrup
Sorghum syrup is prepared by boiling the juice of the sorghum plant and turning it into a thick consistency syrup for regular use. It is rich in iron, proteins, fiber, and antioxidants (12). This syrup can be another excellent natural substitute of refined sugar. It can be used to top pancakes, breads, and biscuits, cereals, and for cooking purpose as well.
It is made by boiling sugarcane, like sugar but is brown in color, pure, and less refined. The amount of calories is same in both of them, but jaggery doesn’t contain the chemicals that are used to refine sugar. It can be very useful in keeping your respiratory and digestive system healthy.
16. Palm Sugar
Palm sugar is obtained from the sap of the flowering buds of the palm tree. It can be used as a sweetening agent in many dishes. Palm sugar is full of various useful minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients such as vitamin B1, B2, B3, and B6, zinc, iron, potassium, etc (14).
It has low glycemic content which makes it one of the best natural substitutes of synthetic sugar. Also, it has a taste like butterscotch, so you won’t have to compromise with your taste buds too.
17. Agave Nectar
Also known as ‘Gift of God’- agave nectar has been used for over a thousand years. It is derived from the same plant as that of tequila, and can be added to any dish you are preparing. Comparable to the sweetness and texture of honey, it can be used by the people who do not like the honey’s taste.
As it contains fructose instead of glucose, agave nectar is considered to be diabetic-friendly (15). We think this is the best sweetener for coffee as it tastes very close to molasses sugar, used often in coffee. It is much sweeter than sugar so less is needed and it has little aftertaste which can often spoil the coffee aroma.
Note: Do not consume agave nectar in high amount as its high fructose amount can turn out to be dangerous for your health.
Superior to white processed sugar in every way possible- sucanat is one of the super foods. It is actually raw sugar, which has equal amount of glucose and fructose (16).
Sucanat is rich in potassium, vitamin A, magnesium, and calcium and low in the number of calories found in white sugar which makes it a nutrient rich substitute of white sugar. To use it, you have to choose any recipe, and replace the sugar with sucanat with the same measurements.
Applesauce is nothing, but a healthy alternative to sugar which not only provides sweetness but also substitutes fat in food preparation too. Widely utilized in England, North America, and Germany, it can be used as a topping or added in dishes. It is available in almost every supermarket or can be prepared too.
Note: Applesauce can be used as a home remedy for diarrhea as well (17).
If nothing else works, choose raisins over artificial sweeteners. Filled with antioxidants and fiber (18) (19), raisin puree can be your best friend for preparing sweet dishes. Soak raisins in a jar overnight and the next day, blend them properly. Once it is done, you can store it and use whenever you like to.
Rapadura is like getting sugar but with all the minerals intact. Yes! Rapadura sugar is an unrefined form of cane sugar (20) that has the natural caramel flavor of the sugar. It is very high in many minerals than other sugar forms. Use it in the same ratio as that of sugar.
22. Vanilla Beans
This spice can surprisingly be used as a natural sweetener in many dishes like cakes, puddings, hot and cold coffee. Rich in antioxidant properties (21), it can help treat many allergies and various other diseases. You can add vanilla beans in your food by picking up a dried vanilla bean and grinding it.
23. Apricot Puree
Apricot puree is one of the tastiest and easiest to prepare natural sweeteners at home. Rich in iron, (22)vitamins, magnesium, and fiber, apricot puree cannot be ignored if you are looking forward to healthy living.
Soak some apricots overnight, and the next day ground it into a paste after removing the stones. The prepared puree can be used as a topping on toast, added to any dish or given to the young ones.
Nutmeg has a spicy, sweet, and warm flavor which can be used in any kind of food preparation in grounded form. It can also be added to milk at night to gain a healthy body.
Note: Nutmeg is a useful sleeping aid (23). If you have to wake up and work, then nutmeg should be the last thing you choose!
If you are suffering from diabetes, then mannitol is the thing you need. Mannitol increases blood glucose level which is less than sucrose and can be used in many types of food.
Note: HIgher consumption of mannitol can cause diarrhea ().
Sorbitol is widely used because of its high nutritive power that provides dietary energy. It contains about 60% of the sweetness of table sugar and 30% lower calories (25). It can turn out to be very fruitful for you if the sugar is replaced with sorbitol while on a diet.
This may sound weird at first but yes, cinnamon acts as a natural sweetener. This wonderful ingredient can be used grounded or in stick form to sweeten things. It not only replaces sugar but lessens up the impact of sugar on your body.
It is very effective in lowering the blood lipid levels in type-2 diabetic patients (26). By adding two teaspoons of cinnamon in your tart, curries, or apple pie you can notice a lot of change.
These yummy berries can make your tart or muffins very tasty, and as they are rich in antioxidants (27), they will only make your health better. Make a puree or paste out of them, and add them to whatever food you want to give a fruity punch.
29. Monk Fruit
This melon look-alike fruit actually belongs to the gourd family. The best thing about this fruit is that it doesn’t contain any natural sugar. Rather, it is sweet because of the presence of an antioxidant named mogroside.
This component makes it 150 to 300 times sweeter than sucrose (28). Some of the studies say that this antioxidant is able to control blood sugar and cholesterol levels. The extract or powder of this fruit can be used in drinks or baking recipes.