What Are The Best Natural Sweeteners?
When considering alternatives to traditional sugar for sweetening up a favourite hot drink or adding a dash of sweetness to morning cereal, most people look for something that tastes and looks as good as the real thing. Unfortunately, many sweeteners don’t quite live up to expectation. Some leave a lingering after-taste or they significantly change the flavour of food or drink. Of course, it’s not just about the taste. Some natural sweeteners can harbour clear disadvantages. For example, some can play havoc with digestive systems whereas others are unsuitable for diabetics. It’s also very important to understand the caloric content and whether or not a sweetener has a suitable glycaemic index. Some natural sweeteners are simply not as healthy as others and some are more suitable for certain food or beverages than their counterparts. In this article we explore what the best natural sweeteners are and compare them to their competitors on the marketplace.
Today, natural sweeteners are very popular especially in an age when diet and exercise are high up on peoples’ priority lists. According to a report in the Huffington Post, more than 2/3 of Brits are on a diet at any given time meaning that using the best natural sweetener is of paramount importance. Refined sugar is notoriously bad for general health, especially in large quantities, and artificial sweeteners are constantly under scrutiny for negative side-effects and safety. Indeed some artificial sweeteners can increase depression, impair liver function, increase migraines and cause kidney problems. This is why consumers look for a different type of sweetener, one that is “natural”.
Agave Granulated Sweetener
Sisana are the producers of various natural sweeteners. One of the most popular products in their expansive range is a natural granulated sweetener called Agave Sugar.
Where Does Agave Sugar Come From?
Agave sugar is derived from Agave Syrup, comes from the Agave plant. Agave is primarily Indigenous to the hot dry areas ranging from the South West United States, through Mexico, and extending into the tropics.
How Is Agave Made?
This granulated sweetener is made by drying out Agave Syrup so all the moisture is removed. What is left is a powder-like substance which is then transformed into a granulated sweetener and is widely considered the best sweetener for beverages.
What Are The Benefits of Agave?
Sisana Agave is registered as organic and is therefore an excellent alternative to regular sugar and artificial sweeteners.. It is one of the best all-natural sweeteners and also contains a variety of nutrients that confer plenty of health benefits. It is low on the glycaemic index, meaning it won’t spike blood sugar and it contains Inulin, believed to be a good prebiotic and helps to maintain a healthy gut. Additionally, it’s designed to keep cholesterol levels low (alongside a healthy cholesterol oriented lifestyle). As well as Inulin, Agave contains saponins and fructans which have anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties. Fructans could well have a positive impact on colon disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and IBS, alleviating uncomfortable symptoms so long as they are consumed in small quantities.
What Are The Disadvantages of Agave
Agave does have fructose content (between 70 and 77%).
How Do You Use Agave?
Even sweeter than refined sugar, Agave sugar can be used in the same way as regular sugarin cooking, beverages, on cereals, etc.
In A Nutshell
- Agave contains more calories than a teaspoon of sugar (65 calories) however, it is sweeter so less of it is required making it a better alternative
- It possesses a low glycaemic index which won’t spike blood sugar
- Agave is a good prebiotic for a healthier gut
- Agave contains a high amount of fructose (90%)
Where Does Stevia Come From?
Stevia comes from a South American plant and has been used as a natural sweeteners for thousands of years. The leaves of this plant are extremely sweet, even more so than refined sugar.
How Is Stevia Made?
Stevia is so sweet that it needs to be prepared with other ingredients, for example, dextrose (which comes from corn and is another sweetener) or cellulose powder, a fibre that comes from plants which helps to bulk up a product. When you pick up a sweetening product with Stevia you’ll find these additives on the ingredients lists (usually referred to as rebaudioside or stevioside, both are food-approved).
What Are The Benefits Of Stevia?
This product contains zero calories or carbohydrates, it also has zero glycaemic index so will not raise blood sugar. This is why it is a great low-calorie sweetener.
What Are The Disadvantages of Stevia?
While Stevia is a natural sweetener it does have an after taste and is therefore it is not one of the best tasting natural sweeteners. Studies in the past revealed that high amounts of Stevia could prove toxic to reproductive organs and kidneys. This is why you won’t find unrefined Stevia or whole-leaf stevia in foods. Newer studies (including those undertaken by Coca Cola) show that purified extracts of Stevia do not have any toxicity and it is recognised as a safe product, approved for use in Europe, Canada, New Zealand, France, Japan and the USA.
How Do You Use Stevia?
It is best used in baking and cooking as a sugar replacement.
In A Nutshell
- Stevia contains zero calories and carbs
- Will not raise blood sugar (zero glycaemic index)
- Is safe to use
- Users may experience an after-taste
Coconut sugar also has many benefits.. It is a natural sweetener that has a low glycaemic index, contains a number of trace minerals and antioxidants including calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, polyphenols and vital vitamins. This is why many people use it as one of the best all around sweeteners and the best natural coffee sweeteners.
How Is Coconut Sugar Made?
Coconut sugar comes from the sap found in its blooms. It is heated up and evaporated into a sugar-like substance. It even resembles sugar although it is slightly coarser and is one of the best natural sweeteners for diabetics. due to its low glycemic index.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Coconut Sugar?
One of the main ingredients found in coconut sugar is sucrose (75%) and glucose (approximately 6%). Sucrose comprises of 50% fructose, which means that coconut sugar contains almost as much as table sugar (approximately 40%).
What Are The Benefits Of Coconut Sugar?
Coconut sugar is often recommended for diabetic use, although there is no currently published research that it is significantly better than regular sugar. However, coconut sugar does contain inulin which could slow down the absorption of glucose and balance the glucose levels in the body. It’s also worth mentioning that Inulin helps to stimulate bidobacteria (good bacteria) in the gut which in turn boosts the immune system. This is why it is believed that coconut sugar may help to alleviate symptoms of conditions such as colitis, diarrhoea and IBS when used as a sugar substitute.
How Do You Use Coconut Sugar?
Coconut sugar is an excellent alternative to regular sugar and is suitable for use in beverages, sprinkled on food and for cooking.
In A Nutshell
- Coconut sugar contains a high level of fructose
- While there is mineral content, it is small
- It may be better for diabetic use
- Coconut sugar is not zero calorie, with approximately 15 calories per teaspoon
- It is a carbohydrate, with 4g per teaspoon
- It is suitable for the Paleo diet
While Xylitol looks and tastes much like granulated sugar it doesn’t contain the caloric content (2.4 calories per gram, 2/3 that of sugar). It is a very popular sweetener on the marketplace and possesses many benefits. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol (sometimes referred to as polyalcohol) and chemically resides somewhere in between sugar and alcohol molecules. Sugar alcohols are low-digestible carbs and only 50% is absorbed by the body. There are traces of Xylitol found in a variety of fruit and vegetables, and even human beings produce it in very small amounts which is why it is considered a natural substance
Where Does Xylitol Come From?
Xylital is a natural sweetener typically derived from corn.
What Are The Benefits Of Xylitol?
Dentists believe it helps to reduce the risk of decay and some doctors believe Xylitol may even help to improve bone density and slow down or even prevent the onset of osteoporosis. It is also low on the glycaemic index meaning it doesn’t spike blood sugar or raise insulin levels.
What Are The Disadvantages Of Xylitol?
There are disadvantages to products with sugar alcohols. One of the main disadvantages is the stress they can put on the digestive system. Too much Xylitol can result in excessive gas, bloating and even diarrhoea and it therefore is not recommended for IBS sufferers, Crohn’s sufferers or Colitis sufferers. An important note for any potential consumers with pets is that Xylitol is extremely dangerous to dogs.
How Do You Use Xylitol?
Xylitol is usually found in sugar-free products such as sweets, mints, chewing gum and other products such as weight-loss products. It can be used in beverages, in cooking and baking, and on food.
In A Nutshell
- It has a low glycaemic index (7 compared to refined sugar which has a glycaemic index of approximately 65)
- It is a good product to support weight-loss as it contains 40% less calories than refined sugar
- Xylitol is usually recommended for people with diabetes, obesity, pre-diabetes and other metabolic problems, it is believed to be one of the best natural sweeteners for diabetics
Erythritol is another sugar alcohol similar to Xylitol which has 70% of the sweetness of sugar and far less calories (1 teaspoon contains only 1 calorie). Therefore, it is believed to be a very good low calorie sweetener.
How Is Erythritol Made?
Erythritol is a naturally-occurring molecule that is found in certain fruits. Erythritol is found in pears, grapes and water melon, among others It is also found in some drinks such as wine. When produced at an industrial level it is made using a fermentation process involving corn.
The Benefits Of Erythritol
This sweetener is low glycaemic and has no effect on insulin levels or blood sugar levels. Additionally, unlike Xylitol, there are no digestive side effects as long as Erythritol is consumed in suitable amounts. It is perfectly safe for the body and its particular chemical structure the human body cannot break down therefore traveling through the digestive system without any metabolic changes and is excreted in urine. Therefore Erythritol is thought to be the safest natural sweetener.
How To Use Erythritol
Erythritol is a very good refined sugar substitute and considered one of the best sweeteners overall. This product can be used in beverages and in recipes. When baking, an extra 25% should be added to compensate for any sweetness lost as a sugar replacement.
In A Nutshell
- It is low glycaemic index so does not spike blood sugar
- Erythritol does not spike insulin levels
- Using Erythritol produces no effect on cholesterol levels
- There is no effect on triglycerides
- This sweetener is considered an excellent alternative for diabetics, for use in weight-loss or for those who need something to help to stabilise metabolism
Another popular natural sweetener is Maple Syrup. It is 100% natural and touted as a healthier choice to refined sugar. However, Maple Syrup does not resemble sugar, it is purely syrup which can be used in cooking and stirred into beverages but it is not suitable for sprinkling on cereals.
Where Does Maple Syrup Come From?
Maple Syrup comes from the sap of the Maple Tree and has been used as a natural sweetener for thousands of years. Most of it is produced in Canada.
How Is Maple Syrup Made?
The sap is extracted from the tree and collected in a container. The contents are then boiled until it reaches the evaporation leaving a thick syrup. The syrup is filtered to remove any toxins and impurities.
How To Use Maple Syrup
There are different types of Maple syrups, and they are graded according to their colour. Dark syrup is best used for baking purposes whereas light syrup is good for use on pancakes, waffles, and other delicacies.
Advantages & Disadvantages Of Maple Syrup
Maple syrup contains various minerals and antioxidants including calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and manganese making it better than sugar in this regard, but it does contain a high amount of sucrose so it is not suitable for diabetics or for those suffering with heart disease. However, it does have a lower glycaemic index than sugar at approximately 54 so it won’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels as quickly as sugar does. One benefit of Maple Syrup is that it is a good source of antioxidants and one study discovered 24 antioxidant substances in maple syrup.
In A Nutshell
- Maple Syrup is slightly better than sugar
- It has a high glycaemic index although lower than sugar
- It is believed to be a good source of antioxidants
There are many different natural sweeteners available on the marketplace and each has their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Some natural sweeteners are safer to use than others and those who suffer with obesity, are diabetic or experience gut and bowel problems should conduct significant research before selecting a suitable sugar substitute.