6 Natural Substitutes for Refined Sugar to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
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Added sugar is everywhere — and not just the obvious sweet treats like cake, cookies, and soda. Sneaky sugars can also be found in foods like protein bars, salad dressing, yogurt, condiments, and nut butters.
That makes it difficult to avoid added sugar altogether—although it can be done thanks to programs like SugarFree 3, as well as paleo or Whole30 diets.
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But before (or after) making a commitment like that, maybe you just want to find a middle ground, where you’re still getting a little sweetness, but taking a less processed, chemical route.
There are a couple ways to do this. First, you can go the sugar-free route with non-nutritive sweeteners, meaning sweeteners with no calories. We’re not talking about artificial sweeteners here. We’re talking about sources of sweetness that come from natural, plant-based sources.
Conversely, if you’re okay with the calories, maybe you’re looking for a more natural source of sugar. Keep in mind that while these natural sources may have some marginal health benefits, they still carry all the health baggage that more refined sugars have, so moderation still matters.
Here are some solutions for both strategies.
2 Natural, No-Calorie Sweeteners To Consider
While the health and weight-loss benefits of stevia are still being researched, it can be useful for making lower-calorie versions of your favorite sweet treats — although sometimes it can have a bitter aftertaste. Make sure to peek at the ingredients label and look for 100 percent stevia extract, because some varieties — particularly powder versions — include fillers and additives.
2. Monk Fruit
Monk fruit, a plant native to Southern China, is up to 250 times sweeter than regular sugar and has a slightly fruity flavor. Like Stevia, be sure to look out for unnecessary additives like dextrose on the ingredient list.
3 Natural, Less-Processed Sugars To Consider
1. Maple Syrup
Unlike imitation syrups — which are typically made with corn syrup and imitation maple extract — the real McCoy is made by boiling down tree sap. (The nutrition label should have just one ingredient: 100 percent pure maple syrup.)
Needless to say, its distinct maple flavor is perfect when drizzled on a stack of protein pancakes — and a two teaspoon serving of this natural sweetener contains trace amounts of several minerals, including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, as well as 22% of the daily value for manganese.
This “liquid gold” is made when bees transport flower nectar to honeycombs, where the nectar evaporates and thickens. The type of flower — like wildflower, avocado, or orange blossom — dictates the flavor and color of the honey, which means you can find a wide array of unique flavors to sweeten your tea, oatmeal, yogurt, dressings, and more. Even better, honey contains small amounts of a number of vitamins and minerals, including several B vitamins.
3. Date Paste
This sweetener is made by pureeing chopped dates and hot water into a thick, creamy paste — you can make it yourself or pick up a store-bought version. Because you’re basically just eating a smashed-up fruit, it’s a pretty good way to go as far as sweeteners. You’ll get small amounts of several vitamins and minerals as well as a little bit of fiber.
Known as “treacle” in England, molasses is boiled down sugar cane juice. Because it’s less processed than refined sugar, it contains more nutrients, including calcium, iron, vitamin B6, and magnesium. In fact, one tablespoon of molasses contains 12% of the daily value for magnesium.