Five Sweeteners that Are Good for You—Really!
In the low-carb world, people like to say that sugar is sugar is sugar. That’s why many of them will tell you that eating honey or maple syrup is as bad for you as spooning table sugar into your mouth.
Well, guess what: That’s not exactly true.
It is true, of course, that all sweeteners will cause your blood sugar to spike. That’s why you should use even the good ones very sparingly. And if you need to lose weight or you’re battling any major health conditions, I recommend avoiding sweeteners altogether. I’m all about cutting carbs, especially when you need to heal.
But if you’re slim and healthy and you want a splurge, I can recommend five sweeteners (as long as you only use small amounts of them) with a totally clear conscience. That’s because they make up for their effects on your blood sugar by healing your body in powerful ways. Here’s a quick look at all five, and why they’re waybetter for you than table sugar.
Ancient healers considered honey a medicinal food, and modern science shows that they’re correct. Here are just some of the health benefits of honey:
- It inhibits inflammation.
- It helps fight cancer.
- It has antibacterial properties.
- It’s rich in antioxidants.
- It can help heal your gut. One study, for instance, found that honey promotes the growth of good gut microflora and helps protect against damage caused by dangerous mycotoxins.
I do have two cautions about honey:
- Never give honey to a baby. It can contain botulinum spores that are harmless to older people but can endanger infants.
- Much of what’s labeled as honey isn’t pure honey. To make sure you’re getting the real deal, shop for honey at your local farmers’ markets, contact beekeepers directly, or order raw honey online.
My kids and I love to start a lazy Sunday with almond-flour waffles and maple syrup. It sounds pretty sinful, doesn’t it? But get this: Maple syrup contains 54 different beneficial compounds. What’s more, five of these compounds apparently don’t exist in any other foods!
Researcher Navindra Seeram, whose team discovered the wealth of nutrients in this yummy sweetener, says that the “sheer quantity and variety of identified compounds with documented health benefits qualifies maple syrup as a champion food.” I won’t go that far… but if you’re going to eat a sweetener, this is a good one to reach for.
Molasses is the “throwaway” product left over when manufacturers refine sugar cane. But instead of eating the sugar, you should eat the dregs.
Why? Because molasses contains the nutrients stripped out of the sugar cane. For instance, it’s rich in copper, iron, calcium, vitamin B6, and magnesium. In addition, molasses has much less effect on blood glucose levels than sugar.
When you buy molasses, choose blackstrap molasses. This form contains more nutrients than the other forms.
Prunes, dates, bananas, pumpkin, and unsweetened applesauce are all fabulous sweeteners. Along with a burst of natural sugar, they give you a big dose of fiber and nutrients.
You’ll find hundreds of great recipes online for healthy goodies that use mashed or pureed fruits. You can also experiment with your own recipes; for instance, try replacing half of the sweetener in a recipe with applesauce or pureed dates or bananas and cutting out some of the liquid.
I use this sugar when other sweeteners just can’t do the trick. It contains some important nutrients—including potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamin C—and it has less effect on your blood glucose than table sugar does.
So what’s not on my “best sweeteners” list?
Now that I’ve told you about my favorite sweeteners, let’s take a look at two supposedly healthy ones that didn’t make the cut. I use one of these products occasionally, while I won’t touch the other one—but neither of them earns a “champion” rating from me. Here’s a look at them.
- Agave. This sweetener has a higher fructose content than high-fructose corn syrup. It’s also heavily processed, making it anything but “natural.” I won’t use it, and you shouldn’t either. If you’re going to eat fructose, eat it in forms that provide powerful nutrition—for instance, fruits, berries, and the healthy sweeteners I talked about earlier.
- Stevia. This one gets a “B-“ in my book. There’s some evidence that it can increase insulin sensitivity, which is a good thing. But calorie-free sweeteners confuse your body, which is a bad thing. And if you use lots of stevia because it’s calorie-free, you’re still training your body to expect too much sweetness, and you won’t free yourself from the Sugar Demon. I turn to stevia only when my top-five sweeteners can’t do the job. If you do use it, buy pure stevia rather than brands that contain other additives.
My guess is that you won’t have a problem limiting your stevia use and giving up agave if you add my five top sweeteners to your diet. After all, why settle for less when you can use the best? So experiment with using honey, maple syrup, molasses, mashed fruits, and coconut sugar when your sweet tooth needs a little thrill. To get you started, here are a few fun recipes:
- Blueberry pancakes, made with honey and topped with maple syrup, from Mark’s Daily Apple.
- Chewy molasses and ginger cookies featuring blackstrap molasses, courtesy of Paleo Parents.
- Peach almond crisp, which uses dates to add a little extra sweetness, from The Clothes Make the Girl.
- Apple “oat” muffins, sweetened with applesauce, from the Paleo Mom.
- Chocolate coconut cookies sweetened with coconut sugar, from Paleo Plan.
- Maple syrup souffles with a double punch of sweetness from maple syrup and pumpkin, from Living Paleo.
Enjoy! And if you have recipes you’d like to share, post them in the comments section… I’d love to see what sweet things you’re cooking up in your own kitchen.
Keep Thinking Big & Living Bold!