Looking for healthy alternatives to sugar? Wondering which sweetener options work best for you?
While raw, unpasteurized honey is by far the best option when it comes to natural sweeteners, honey still contains fructose which can be burdensome when consumed in excess. Fructose is metabolized primarily in the liver, kicking the liver into fat storage mode. This can lead to insulin resistance and other health complications.
The following chart shows the similarities between natural sweeteners and manufactured sweeteners. Note that agave offers the highest level of fructose.
Where does this leave us when it comes to sweetening our food?
Small amounts of raw, unpasteurized honey may be the best option for healthy individuals.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose (Splenda) are 100% chemically derived. As they easily cross the blood brain barrier with the potential for neurological damage, they are best avoided.
Thankfully, there are low-fructose options that work well in moderation.
5 Sweetener Alternatives
Stevia is a sweetener extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana. The leaves have up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar without the fructose. Stevia can leave a bitter aftertaste which may or may not be noticeable. Most commercially available stevia involves some processing, but the carb count is still negligible. Our son with type 1 diabetes prefers stevia over all other sweeteners.
Stevita (a blend of stevia and non-GMO birch xylitol)
Mood and Mind (organic white stevia extract powder)
Suede Hills Organic Farm (100% pure green stevia powder)
If you’re so inclined, try your hand at making your own liquid stevia. Find the recipe here.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol appearing naturally in some fruit and vegetable fibers. It is probably the least optimal of the alternative sweeteners.
Xylitol can be extracted from corn husks, sugar cane bagasse (the fibrous material that remains after sugar cane is crushed), and birch. The extraction and processing of xylitol can be problematic, especially when derived from corn.
To avoid corn-based xylitol choose non-GMO birch xylitol. It’s important to note that sugar alcohol is not fully digested by the body and can lead to abdominal pain, cramping, or gas. The lack of digestibility also means that unmetabolized xylitol can create an environment for undesirable bacteria and pathogens.
Xylitol is also toxic to dogs.
Birch Xylitol Sources
3. Coco Monkey
This is a unique low carb sweetener offered exclusively by Wilderness Family Naturals. It is 100% organic and uses inulin as the base. Inulin is a dietary fiber extracted from the roots or rhizomes of plants with minimal impact on blood sugar. Additional ingredients include freeeze dried coconut water and pure monk fruit.
Coco Monkey has no bitter aftertaste and is water soluble.
Coco Monkey Sources
4. Agave Inulin
This 100% organic sweetener is derived from the blue agave plant. As noted above, inulin is a dietary fiber. According to agave inulin provider Z Natural Foods, 6 pounds of agave is needed to produce 1 pound of powder. Agave inulin is water soluble with a clean sweet flavor.
Agave Inulin Sources
5. Lo Han/ Monk Fruit
Lo han is a sweetener derived from the Chinese monk fruit ( luo han guo in Chinese). It is said to have first been used by monks in China in the 13th century. The fruit itself has been used medicinally for sore throat and coughs for hundreds of years. Monk fruit derives its sweetness from natural antioxidants known as mogrosides.
Monk fruit has minimal calories and is up to 200-500 times sweeter than sugar. It is water soluble and may be the best option in terms of purity and safety when purchased from a reliable source.
Monk Fruit Sources
*Note: Lakanto is a proprietary blend of non-GMO erythritol (a sugar alcohol derived from corn) and monk fruit.
Rotating and/or combining these sweeteners offers some variety without too much emphasis on one sweetener. I also try to keep sweetened foods to a minimum to keep our tastes diverse and drawn to nutrient dense foods like vegetables, healthy fat and fermented foods.
What about you? What’s your favorite sweetener?