Thursday, March 1, 2012

Healthiest Options for Sweeteners

Are you so confused by all the variations of sugar out there? I was too. That's why I did my research and created this quick reference list!


Ideally, sugar should be cut completely out of your diet. It feeds Candida, increases menstrual cramping, suppresses the immune system and causes hormone imbalance. Not to mention, is one of the root causes of diabetes and elevated blood sugars.

However, it's highly unlikely that you'll never eat sugar again, so let's find out what the best forms of sugar are. This is not a comprehensive list, though I tried to do my best.

If you have PCOS, you also need to keep in mind that your body doesn't break down sugar like a normal persons body. You have increased insulin resistance and your body will convert sugar straight into fat (usually around your middle) instead of breaking down into energy. Use caution when eating sugar of any kind!

You will see a number after each sweetener's description with the letters GI in front of it. This stands for that particular sugars glycemic index number. The glycemic index is a comparative measurement of the amount of glucose released by a particular food over a 2-3 hour period. Foods that rapidly release glucose rate high on the glycemic index (GI). Foods that slowly release glucose are low on the glycemic index. Ideally, you'll want to keep your glucose level low, so it is slowly released. High glucose levels lead to diabetes and other health issues. Just to give you an idea, a best practice is to keep your total glycemic load under 100 per day.


Natural sweeteners are closer to their whole form than refined sugar and sweeteners. They contain flavors that are deeper and richer than their refined counterparts so your recipes will turn out much better.


  • Agave Nectar - is naturally extracted from the Americana Agave, a cactus-like plant native to Mexico. To produce agave nectar, the leaves are cut off the plant after it has aged 7-14 years. Then the juice is expressed from the core of the agave. The juice is filtered, then heated into a concentrated syrupy liquid, slightly thinner than honey. The color of the syrup depends upon the degree of processing. The clearer the liquid, the less it was processed. Therefore, clear agave nectar is as close to raw and unprocessed and you can get and is preferable to a darker "raw" agave nectar, which is not raw at all. Also be warned that there are few quality controls in place to monitor production, as most agave is coming from Mexico. Also, all natural enzymes are removed to prevent fermenting. All agave nectars dissolve easily and can replace honey, maple syrup or other liquid sweeteners cup for cup. GI: 15-30
  • Barley Malt Syrup - is made by soaking and sprouting barley to make malt, then combining it with more barley and cooking this mixture until the starch is converted to sugar. The mash is then strained and cooked down to syrup or dried into powder. GI: 42
  • Blackstrap Molasses - is a dark, thick syrup made as a by-product of making refined sugar. It contains all of the minerals from the cane juice in a concentrated syrup. Rich in iron and other minerals, molasses has a strong, deep flavor and can be added to breads and muffins or drizzled on top of hot cereal. Look for "unsulphured molasses" which indicates that no sulphur was used in the extraction processes. Also make sure that it's organic! GI: 55
  • Brown Rice Syrup - made from brown rice that has been soaked, sprouted, and cooked with an enzyme that breaks the starches into maltose (aka: malt sugar, which is known to cause spikes in blood sugar). It has a light, mild flavor and a similar appearance to honey, though less sweet. Rice syrup can be substituted one for one for honey or maple syrup. Lundberg Brown Rice Syrup is gluten-free. GI: 85
  • Colas  (and most other sodas) - though cola has a lower GI ranking then some might expect, there are many other reasons to avoid cola, or any type of soda. There is nothing beneficial to the human body inside a can of soda (not the mention we should avoid drinking out of aluminum cans!) GI: 70
  • Frozen Fruit Juice Concentrate - can be used to sweeten fruit pies, crisps, or other desserts - simply thaw and use. Concentrated fruit juices are closer to refined sugar, however. GI: 40
  • Honey - a sweet substance made from plant nectar and acid secretions by the honey bee. About 40% of the sugar in honey is fructose. The source of the nectar determines the color, flavor, and texture of honey. Alfalfa and clover honey are the most common types, though other types can be found also. Honey is sold in liquid or crystallized form, and is available raw or pasteurized. Commercial honey is heated to 150 to 160 degrees F to prevent crystallization and yeast formation. Organic or raw honey has not been heat-treated. With antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and phytonutrients, raw, unprocessed honey is considered a superfood by many alternative health care practitioners and a remedy for many health ailments. Choose your honey wisely. There is nothing beneficial about processed honey. Honey is sweeter than other liquid sweeteners but can be substituted cup for cup for any of them. GI: 30 (refined honey has no nutritional value and has a GI of 75!)
  • Maple Syrup - is made from the boiled sap of sugar maple trees. Forty gallons of sap is needed to make one gallon of syrup. Maple syrup comes in two grapes, A and B. Grade A is lighter and more refined. Grade B is darker, richer and least refined, containing more minerals, such as manganese and zinc. Though it is much more nutritious then refined table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, there are still better choices. GI: 54
  • Sorghum - is a thick, dark syrup similar in flavor to molasses. It comes from the sweet sorghum plant, a grain related to millet that is similar in appearance to corn. The juice is extracted from the plant and then boiled down to a syrup. GI: 50
  • Yacon - is popular for its gentle sweetening quality. Yacon is a distant relative of the sunflower with edible tubers and leaves. It is both naturally low in calories and low in sugars that elevate blood sugar levels. Every part of the plant has been used to help those with blood-sugar disorders. As a prebiotic, yacon is good for digestion, stimulates positive colon health, and helps with the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Yacon helps to regulate friendly intestinal flora, and especially improves the growth of certain probiotics, thus helping to reduce constipation. Yacon root contains significant quantities of potassium and antixoidants. Because of its high antioxidant value, yacon is beneficial in reducing free-radical damage in the body, especially in the colon. It is processed similarly to maple syrup. It tastes similarly to molasses or caramel. GI: 1


  • Amasake - This is an ancient, Oriental whole grain sweetener made from cultured brown rice. It has a thick, pudding-like consistency. It's not easy to find in the U.S. GI: 43
  • Whole Cane Sugar - also called Dried Cane Juice, is made from the dried juice of the sugar cane plant. Many of the minerals from the plant are still present which helps to digest the sugars. Dried cane juice resembles brown sugar in appearance and taste, though is less sweet. It can be substituted for white sugar cup for cup in baked goods. Trade names for this type of sugar are Rapadura and Sucanat, Rapadura being the least refined. GI: 43
  • Coconut Palm Sugar - naturally sweet, nutrient-rich juice that is tapped from the coconut tree and secretes from the coconut blossoms. This sap is low glycemic, diabetic-friendly, contains 17 amino acids, minerals, vitamin C, broad-spectrum B vitamins, and has nearly neutral pH. Raw coconut palm sugar is minimally evaporated at low temperatures for 90 minutes to remove excess moisture and allow for crystallization. Sap nectar is only 16% sucrose. Aka: Coconut Nectar Sugar or Coconut Sugar. GI: 35
  • Date Sugar - is made from ground dehydrated dates. It has similar taste and appearance to brown sugar, but the taste is slightly less sweet. It is high in fiber, vitamins and minerals but doesn't dissolve in liquids. It can be substituted cup for cup in baked goods. Note: date sugar is usually not gluten-free due to the adding of oat flour during processing. GI: 62
  • Evaporated Cane Juice - is often considered unrefined sugar, but juicing is a refining process, and evaporating refines further. Though better than turbinado, cane juice (unevaporated) is a better choice as a sweetener. GI: 55
  • Lucuma -is an exotic fruit once known as the "Gold of the Inca." Lucuma has been honored for its healing, spiritual and flavorful qualities since ancient times. It is low in acid, low in sugar, and contains an excellent source of carbs, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Lucuma has an abundant supply of beta-carotene, niacin and iron, with significant amounts of calcium and phosphorus. Its low sugar content makes it a healthy alternative to sugar for people who have diabetes and other illnesses. It has a sweet and creamy maple-like taste. GI: 25
  • Maple Sugar - is what remains after the sap of the sugar maple is boiled for longer than is needed to create maple syrup. Once almost all the water has been boiled off, all that is left is a solid sugar. By composition, this sugar is about 90% sucrose, the remainder consisting of variable amounts of glucose and fructose. GI: 68
  • Organic Sugar - comes from sugar cane grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides. It is usually darker than traditional white sugar because it contains some molasses. It has not been processed to the degree white sugar is processed. GI: 47
  • Turbinado - is sometimes called Raw Sugar but it's not actually raw. It is processed, though not as refined as common white table sugar. Therefore, given a choice between raw and white, choose raw. GI: 65

  • Erythritol - is a naturally derived sweetener that is virtually free of calories and occurs in plants. It is approximately 70% as sweet as table sugar. Usually made from plant sugars mixed with water and then fermented with a natural culture into erthritol. The unique characteristic, not seen in other natural sugars including xylitol, is that erythritol is absorbed directly by the body and is less prone to causing gastric distress or a laxative effect. Studies show that erythritol's strong antioxidant activity may even protect the vascular health of diabetes. GI: 0
  • Maltitol, Maltitol Syrup, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Xylitol, Lactitol, Isomalt - examples of sugar alcohols. They occur naturally in plants, but are usually manufactured from sugars and starches. Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugars because they are not completely absorbed by the body. They can ferment in the intestines and cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. Xylitol GI: 7
  • Stevia - is derived from the leaves of a South American shrub, Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia is about 300 times sweeter than cane sugar, or sucrose. Stevia is not absorbed through the digestive tract, and therefore has no calories. Stevia does not affect blood sugar levels and is therefore acceptable for people with diabetes or hyperglycemia. Stevia can be found in either the natural sweetener or dietary supplement section of your local co-op or health food store. It comes in several forms: dried leaf, liquid extract, or a powdered extract. GI: 0

Dried Fruit
Make sure that dried fruit has not been preserved with sulfur dioxide or sweetened with sugar or juice. Better yet, dehydrate your own fresh fruit. It takes about five pounds of fresh fruit to equal one pound of dried fruit. When purchasing dried fruit, always choose organic! Store dried fruit in tightly covered glass jars in your pantry. Dried fruits are great as a snack (when paired with a protein like nuts), added to salads/stews/rice/breads/etc or to make nutritious raw desserts or snacks.

  • Medjool Dates (GI: 62)
  • Raisins (GI: 54)
  • Zante currants (GI: 57)
  • Dried Cranberries (GI: 17)
  • Dried Cherries
  • Dried Apricots (GI: 30)
  • Dried Apples (GI: 29)
  • Dried Pears (GI: 63)
  • Dried Figs (GI: 61)
  • Dried Plums (GI: 29)
  • Goji Berries (GI: 29)

Refined sugar has most or all of its natural vitamins and minerals removed during the refining process. These vitamins and minerals are the very nutrients that help to metabolize the sugar you consume. Many health advocated believe that refined sugar is one of the two leading causes of nearly every health ailment known to man. Not only does it have a high GI ranking, but it also is extremely acidic to the body causing calcium and other mineral depeltion from bones and organs. Conclusion: Remove all refined sugars and sweeteners from your pantry and diet!

  • Sucrose/Sugar Cane/Sugar Beets/Table Sugar/White Sugar (GI: 80)
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup/Corn Syrup (GI: 75-87)
  • Glucose aka White Bread (GI: 100!)
  • Maltodextrin (GI:150!)

All artificial chemical sweeteners are toxic and can indirectly lead to weight gain. Some have been linked to brain tumors in animal studies. When stored at warm temperatures or for long periods of time, they can turn into a known carcinogen. If too much is consumed in a short period of time they can cause symptoms such as nervousness, sweating, feelings of fear, migraines, heart palpitations and a myriad of other symptoms. GI: n/a

  • Aspartame
  • Equal
  • NutriSweet
  • Splenda
  • Sweet 'n Low
  • Truvia
  • Etc

In Conclusion...

For myself (your conclusion may be different based on your health issues) based on how it was processed, the health benefits it offers and its glycemic index number, I'll be sticking to the following sweeteners:

Organic/Raw Unprocessed Honey - use to replace: refined honey
Yacon - use to replace: maple syrup, molasses and agave nectar

Raw Coconut Palm Sugar - use to replace: white and brown sugar
Lucuma - use to replace: maple/butterscotch/toffee flavor, coffee/tea creamers

Stevia - best and should be used before any other sweeteners listed above!

Note: Because Stevia is 300 times sweeter than traditional sugar, you'll want to use the following conversion chart:

1 Tsp Stevia (powered)=1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Tsp Stevia=1 Tbsp Sugar
A pinch of Stevia=1 Tsp sugar
1 Tsp Stevia (liquid)=1 Cup Sugar
6 Drops liquid Stevia=1 Tbsp Sugar
2 drops liquid stevia=1 Tsp sugar