Quitting refined sugar may be a great way to kickstart your wellness journey, but it sure ain’t easy. After all, we use sugar in everything from our morning coffee to savory pasta sauces.
For those who aren’t ready to get rid of all the sweetness in their lives, we have some healthy alternatives to refined sugars. Keep reading to discover Sweetkick’s top five options.
What Are Refined Sugars?
Refined sugars are heavily-processed, added sugars from plants, such as sugarcane, beets, or corn. They go under tons of different names, such as high-fructose corn syrup, table sugar, sugarcane syrup, or brown sugar.
Refined sugars have zero vitamins or minerals, which is why they’re also called “empty calories.”
Because refined sugars don’t contain any protein, fat, or fiber, they do little to keep you full, even in large amounts, causing you to feel hungry immediately after eating them.
Eating too much refined sugar is linked to all sorts of health problems, including lowered immunity, faster aging, increased tooth decay, and a higher likelihood of weight gain. Plus, all sorts of swelling get triggered by a high sugar intake, which can lead to a host of chronic health problems.
So, all in all, refined sugars aren’t exactly our friend. But what should you do if you want to sweeten your coffee, bake a sweet treat, or balance out savory recipes? Well, you can use a healthy alternative to refined sugar. In the next section, we’ll discuss our five favorite options.
What Are Some Healthy Alternatives to Refined Sugars?
1. Monk Fruit Extract
Sourced from the monk fruit, which is native to China, this natural sweetener has been used for centuries by those with metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes.
Monk fruit sweetener clocks in at zero calories and zero grams of sugar. Plus, it’s high in antioxidants called mogrosides, which may help support healthy blood sugar levels. (It’s the main sweetener in our Clusters!)
The only downside to this natural sweetener is its increasing popularity — and rising prices to match. Some brands may sneakily mix their monk fruit extract with other (cheaper) ingredients. So, the moral of the story is always to check the ingredient list!
2. Stevia Leaf
This zero-calorie sweetener is made from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant, which is native to South America. You can find stevia powder or syrup in most supermarkets, but if you want to be more adventurous, you can buy whole stevia leaves to add to your cooking.
Stevia may not spike your blood sugar, but some are concerned that it can change your gut microbiome and can make you crave more. But on the bright side, stevia might have an anti-inflammatory effect on the microbiome and even increase its diversity.
Stevia has a bitter aftertaste, making it difficult to use as a pure sugar substitute. But you may enjoy the taste of stevia and find that it makes for a great sugar replacement.
3. Palmyra Blossom Nectar
This sugar substitute comes from the unrefined nectar of the palmyra tree, which is native to India. While it’s not exactly sugar-free, it’s a natural ingredient with many health benefits.
Just one tablespoon of palmyra blossom nectar contains more than your daily requirement of vitamins B12, B6, and B1. Plus, it’s pretty high in iron, potassium, and magnesium. In combination, these vitamins and minerals can give you sustained energy — far from the quick crash of refined sugar.
What’s more, palmyra tree syrup is only a 40 on the glycemic index. For reference, white sugar is 100.
4. Raw Honey
The O.G. of refined sugar substitutes, raw honey has been used for thousands of years for its therapeutic benefits. It’s full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Plus, it has antimicrobial properties — which explains why it’s so popular as a cold remedy.
Just make sure you’re getting raw honey and not the processed stuff on supermarket shelves.
5. “Warm” Spices
Adding warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove to your coffee or tea can boost flavor in addition to other healthy compounds. For instance, cinnamon is known for being anti-inflammatory.
Plus, these warm spices might cut down on your regular sugar cravings.
Avoid These Sugar Substitutes
Some sugar substitutes are marketed as healthy, but we have some concerns about their effects on your health. Here are three alternatives to refined sugar we suggest avoiding — and why.
1. Agave Nectar Syrup
Technically, agave is a “natural” sugar from the agave plant. But it’s not much different from refined sugars derived from plants like sugarcane.
Agave syrup is up to 90% fructose, a type of sugar. As a reference, fruits like apples are less than 5% fructose — the remaining percentage is glucose, which is used by the body as energy.
When ingested by itself (meaning, without glucose), fructose is poorly absorbed by the gastrointestinal tract and is quickly processed by the liver. It is not used by the cells for energy like glucose is. It’s possible that, Instead, fructose gets stored in the liver as fat.
So, in sum, try to avoid agave syrup. It may taste good in margaritas, but we promise that our favorite sugar alternatives — like raw honey — can taste just as good.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
They may be zero calories, but artificial sweeteners, also known as non-nutritive sweeteners, like sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal), and saccharin (Sweet’N Low) are anything but good for you.
You may remember artificial sweeteners for the news they made for being potential carcinogens. Those studies may have been debunked, but that doesn’t absolve artificial sweeteners from their poor health effects — even if they contain fewer calories.
Similar to refined sugars, artificial sweeteners can cause an insulin spike, leading to increased cravings. They may also alter the gut microbiome. Plus, they’re linked to side effects such as tinnitus, headaches, and brain fog. These sweeteners are common in chewing gum.
Say Goodbye to Refined Sugar
Refined sugar has zero vitamins, minerals, or other beneficial compounds that keep you healthy. Eating too much of it spikes sugar cravings and can lead to many health issues. These range from something mild like excessive hunger to chronic health conditions.
So, for your health and wellness, it’s best to cut refined sugar from your diet.
Fortunately, with the different alternatives to refined sugar, you won’t be missing much. Whether you’re using raw honey, a packet of stevia leaf, or a dash of cinnamon, there are plenty of healthy ways to get some sweetness.
And while you’re quitting refined sugar, Sweetkick will be here with you every step of the way.