I am putting together this list of all natural sweeteners for people who are determined to ditch fake chemicals in their food. Back when I was younger, I was obsessed with calories and was always looking for ‘light’ and ‘diet’ foods. My goal was to be able to eat whatever I wanted to without taking in any calories. Diet Coke, light yogurt, and all sorts of other foods that were loaded with artificial sweeteners made up a good portion of my diet. I didn’t worry about what sort of chemicals were being put into my overly processed food…I was just happy that there were no calories. Now that I’m older, I’m more aware of the issues surrounding artificial chemicals in my food and try to find natural sweeteners whenever possible. At this point in my life I’m more concerned about the possible side effects (short or long term) of artificial sweeteners than I am about a few extra calories. Given my expanding waste line, I should probably be more concerned about the calories, right? Well, if you are looking for natural sweeteners to replace your ‘diet’ habit, here are a few suggestions for you:
A Handy List of All Natural Sweeteners!
Cane Sugar: Sugar cane has been grown by humans to be used as a natural sweetener for thousands of years. Depending on how sugar cane is processed, you can get a variety of different types of sweeteners. The less processed the sugar cane is, the better it is for the environment and the more vitamins and nutrients that are retained in the final product. For a detailed description of several types of natural sweeteners including blackstrap molasses, Rapadura, Sucanata, Turbinado sugar and evaporated cane juice, check out SparkPeople.com. They have great list of all natural sweeteners created through the process of refining sugar cane. I was particularly interested in the information on the Blackstrap Molasses. It’s the most nutritious of the cane sugar products but also has the strongest flavor. Make sure you only use it to replace a small amount of the regular sugar in a recipe. It’s also a good idea to look for organic because the concentration process has a tendency to concentrate pesticides used on the plants.
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Maple Syrup: As a native New Englander, this is my all time favorite natural sweetener. I moved from New Hampshire to Texas after college and decided that I needed to make a pecan pie for my first southern Thanksgiving. I decided to make it a maple pecan pie (because who would really choose to use CORN SYRUP over MAPLE syrup, right?) Oh my God, you would have thought I had committed treason the way my guests acted! Apparently, you don’t mess with a Texan’s pecan pie! Well, maple syrup is just the sap of the maple tree that has been heated and concentrated to create a flavorful, richly colored syrup. Grade A is actually lighter in color and flavor than Grade B. Personally, the darker the better in my opinion. Don’t be fooled by the ‘maple flavored syrups’ you see in most grocery stores. Spend the money and get the real stuff! You will be truly amazed at the difference in flavor.
Agave Nectar: Agave is a type of plant that grows in the desert. The juice from it is extracted, filtered, heated and processed to create a liquid that is slightly sweeter and thinner than honey. It’s often a good choice of natural sweetener for vegans since it’s plant based, unlike honey. I never really understood the vegan’s need to avoid honey….the bees are going to make it anyhow and aren’t killed in the harvesting process as far as I know. I would love a vegan’s input on this one!
Honey: Made from a mysterious process known only to honey bees, this one is high on my list of all natural sweeteners. It contains a number of trace nutrients and comes as a ready made sweetener without much processing really needed. To use it in a recipe, replace 1 cup of sugar in baked goods with about 3/4 cup of honey. Lower the oven temperature about 25 degrees Fahrenheit and reduce the amount of liquid by about 2 Tablespoons for each cup of honey.
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Brown Rice Syrup: Basically, rice is processed with an assortment of enzymes and cooked down to a thick syrup. It’s supposed to break down slower in the body to create less of a sugar ‘spike’ after eating. It has a tendency to make baked goods a bit crispy so don’t replace all of the regular sugar in the recipe with brown rice syrup.
Barley Malt Syrup: Barley is sprouted, roasted and cooked down to a syrup. It has a bit of a malted flavor to it. Make sure you check the labels to be sure you are buying real barley malt syrup and not corn syrup and artificial flavors.
Stevia: This is the powdered extract of the stevia plant and it is 200 to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar. It doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar like regular sugar does, though. Some brands can have a bit of a licorice taste to them so experiment with different brands to find one you like. I have been using it in my coffee for years and do not notice a flavor at all.
Date sugar: Dates are dried and pulverized into a powder. It doesn’t actually dissolve but is good to use in baked goods. It burns easily, though, so use care when baking. It is high in iron, potassium, fiber and assorted vitamins.
While it might be tempting to grab a soda that is ‘diet’ or a ‘light’ yogurt you might want to think twice about it. There are a lot of health effects of artificial sweeteners that make them a poor choice of sweeteners. Whenever possible, consider using natural sweeteners instead of the artificial chemicals present in so many products. Ever look at your toothpaste ingredients? Yup, loaded full of artificial sweeteners. Mouthwash, lip balms, cough syrup, throat lozenges….they are hiding in more products than you can imagine! And they are not without risk! So, choose carefully, read labels, and keep this list of all natural sweeteners with you when you shop!
Which of these do you think is the best natural sweetener?
Diane has a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology with a Minor in Health Management and Policy. She spent many years working in cancer research, academics, and biotechnology. Concern over the growing incidence of human disease and the birth of her children led her to begin living a more natural life. She quickly realized that the information she was learning along the way could be beneficial to many others and started blogging as a way to share this knowledge with others. While passionate about health and the environment she can’t quite give up her favorite Cheetos and Diet Coke! Learn more about her HERE.