One of the most common questions I receive from clients is: “I love sweet treats, but I know I need to cut back on sugar. What can I do?!” If you’ve wrestled with this challenge yourself, you know that finding a solution isn’t all that easy.
I’ll be the first to admit that sugar is hard to give up! I love a sweet tequila-based cocktail or a classic chocolate chip cookie from time to time. But I also know that refined sugar (the kind in most mainstream food products) always leaves me feeling sluggish, irritable, and oftentimes even sad – and I know I’m not alone. Refined sugars are linked to many adverse health outcomes like aging skin, a fatty liver, and depression. Eating too much refined sugar can result in weight gain, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease. These sugars, usually found in processed and packaged foods, can also cause acne and zap energy. After reading about those side effects, I bet refined sugar is starting to sound a little less sweet.
Because of its harmful effect on the body and brain, it is ideal to limit your intake of added sugar to no more than 25 grams per day. To put that into perspective, the average person in the United States currently consumes around 77 grams of added sugar daily. Talk about a mind-blowing discrepancy.
You may be thinking: this doesn’t apply to me because I use artificial sweeteners instead. While artificial sweeteners may seem like a great refined sugar substitute, most impose harmful side effects of their own. Common sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin are the worst offenders. Aspartame, for example, can cause headaches, dizziness, and digestive disorders. According to a 2022 study, sucralose seriously harms good gut bacteria. And finally, researchers found that saccharin is related to bladder cancer in animal studies, which bears concern for its impact on humans. While these sweeteners may sound appealing due to their low-calorie profile, it is crucial to consider higher-quality alternative sweeteners from natural sources.
The good news is that there are safe and nutrient-dense alternative sweeteners that can satisfy your sweet tooth without any negative health consequences. These sweeteners are derived from natural sources like fruits and roots and contain good-for-you antioxidants. Many of them are also low on the glycemic index, meaning they won’t cause your blood sugar levels to spike.
Here are my favorite healthy alternative sweeteners:
Stevia is a natural sweetener from the leaves of the stevia plant, which is native to South America. It’s been used by the native South Americans as a natural sweetener for centuries. The leaves have also been used traditionally for hundreds of years in both Paraguay and Brazil to sweeten local teas and medicine, and as a “sweet treat.” In recent years, it has become quite popular in the U.S. because it is a low-calorie alternative to sugar. Omica Organics sells a stevia sweetener made from high-quality stevia plants. It is also free from any additives and fillers. Additionally, stevia is low on the glycemic index and contains healthy antioxidants like kaempferol, which can reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer. Just be sure that the stevia you purchase is 100% pure and natural.
Monk fruit is a small, round fruit native to Southern China. It’s delicious and super sweet. Seriously, it’s 200x sweeter than typical sugar and is an excellent zero-calorie alternative. Lakanto’s Monk Fruit Sweeteners are made from high-quality monk fruit extract and don’t contain additives or fillers. They’re also heat-stable, making them perfect for cooking and baking. I especially love this brand because its products come in various flavors like lemon, chocolate, and vanilla. But my go-to Lakanto product is the Classic White Sugar Replacement because it contains a perfect 1:1 ratio of sweetness to white sugar. (There is a recent study that came out about Erythritol not being healthy. I believe if you eat it sparingly, you will be fine. That being said, there are other Monkfruit’s that don’t have Erythritol added.)
Manuka Honey is a top-notch choice for harmlessly sweetening all sorts of treats. This honey has many health benefits, including its serious antibacterial powers. Manukora’s Manuka Honey is graded on its levels of methylglyoxal (MG), a natural compound that gives the honey its antibacterial properties. I recommend Manukora’s MGO 850+ Manuka Honey for optimal immunity and gut health. You can use it in all kinds of ways, like stirring it into your tea or drizzling it over your morning toast. It’s also great for cooking and baking!
Organic Maple Syrup
You may be surprised to learn that you can’t go wrong with good ol’ maple syrup! Not only is pure and organic maple syrup delicious, but it’s also clean, with no other ingredients lurking in the bottle. When it’s minimally processed and unrefined, it’s a smart choice for an all-natural sweetener. Whether you’re drizzling it over your protein pancakes or using it as a sugar substitute in your favorite gluten-free muffins, organic maple syrup is a healthy option. Just make sure the maple syrup is organic, minimally processed, and contains no other ingredients.
Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut palm sugar is a tasty, refined sugar alternative made from coconut palm sap – the sugary liquid found in the coconut plant. It has a unique flavor that resembles brown sugar. Coconut palm sugar is an all-natural, unrefined sugar that is lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar. It also retains nutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium from the coconut plant, making it a healthier option than table sugar. Try stirring it into sauces and marinades for a sweet boost.
Lucuma powder is a unique sweetener made from the lucuma fruit and has a sweet, citrusy caramel flavor. It’s more nutritious than other sweeteners, with about half the carbs and 75% less sugar than the same amount of table sugar. Lucuma powder also boasts nutrients like beta-carotene, iron, and zinc. If that isn’t enough, lucuma powder is also a solid source of soluble and insoluble fiber, unlike most common sweeteners on the market. Lucuma powder is also packed with vitamin C, which is important for vision, immunity, and heart health. Try throwing a teaspoon of lucuma powder into your morning smoothies for a little extra sweetness.
To be totally honest, if it were up to me, I’d only consume and recommend stevia and monk fruit because I believe they are the highest-quality options. However, some of my clients want more choices, so I’ve included some other solid alternatives on this list. If you’re looking for more guidance on cutting back on refined sugar, I invite you to schedule a one-on-one consultation with me!