Replacing refined sugars: Your guide to natural sweeteners

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Refined sugars can cause serious health problems. There are many options for natural sweeteners that can be used instead. (Archive Photo | Collegian Media Group)

The USDA estimated that the average American consumes more than 22 teaspoons of added sugars per day. This overabundance of sweets has been linked to weight gain, the development of insulin resistance, fatty liver, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Knowing how harmful refined sugars, also known as white sugars, can be, finding and switching to healthy, natural alternative sweeteners can be worth the time and effort it takes.

Here are the pros and cons of popular sugar substitutes that you might consider using in your diet if you’re looking to cut down on refined sugars.

Stevia

Pros: It comes from the stevia plant, and is calorie free and natural (make sure and read the label because sometimes it can just be an additive and not 100 percent from the stevia plant). It requires only a small amount to reach the level of sweetness that white sugar has.

Cons: As mentioned before, check out the labels and make sure that is not a mixed between stevia and sugar alcohols. Since these substances are normally absorbed slowly from the intestinal lumen these mixed sweeteners may cause osmotic diarrhea and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Agave Syrup

Pros: It is made from the nectar of agave plants (the same plant is used to make tequila) that under heat is broken down from complex carbohydrates into fructose and glucose. It provides small amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium. Agave syrup is a popular vegan substitute for honey. It dissolves easily in liquid.

Cons: It does provide 11.5 times more calories than white table sugar, because agave syrup is composed of 90 percent fructose has a low glycemic index, you should consume it in moderation, specially if you are suffering from diabetes.

Maple Syrup

Pros: It is one of the most popular sweeteners in the market and it is made by boiling down the sap of maple trees. Try to select Grade B Maple Syrup which contain more of the beneficial properties such as manganese, zinc and potassium. It also contains polyphenols which have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce oxidative damage.

Cons: Maple syrup is about 2/3 sucrose (table sugar). Consuming large quantities of sugar may cause health problems, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Raw Honey

Pros: Using a moderate amount of pure raw sugar instead of refined sugar can offer health benefits and improve your general well-being. High quality honey is rich in antioxidants that help reduce blood pressure. If honey is local, it can be effective in alleviating seasonal allergies. Honey is also a natural energy booster.

Cons: Honey is made from pollen, so it could cause an allergic reaction. Avoid using honey if you are allergic to pollen. There are many regular honey products on the market, check the label before selecting one since it might have added sugars or sweeteners that are not present in raw honey.

Molasses

Pros: Molasses has the lowest sugar content of any sugar cane product. It’s a by-product obtained from the processing of sugar cane and sugar beets into table sugar. It provides numerous health benefits because of its dense nutritional content. Molasses has the power to naturally relieve PMS symptoms, stabilize blood sugar levels and improve bone health. Molasses can even bust stress because of its Vitamin B6 content.

Cons: Molasses is safe for most people when consumed in moderation. However, an excess intake of it can have negative health effects. Consuming large amounts can cause diarrhea and digestive problems.

With the pros and cons of these natural sweeteners in mind, the choice of which one to use is personal. Different people are searching for different things in a sweetener. However, natural sweeteners like these should be chosen over artificial sweeteners when cutting out refined sugars.

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