In this guide we will discuss what a natural sweetener is and review what some natural sweeteners available in today’s market are. Generally, natural sweeteners are healthier, and one could argue, better tasting alternatives to refined sugars but to help you to decide if natural sweeteners are good for you, we will list their advantages and disadvantages. When choosing a natural sweetener, you should keep in mind that they vary in taste, calories, effect on blood sugar levels and the ways they can be used in foods and beverages.
What is a Natural Sweetener?
A natural sweetener is a substitute for refined sugar, which is produced from gathering and processing naturally occurring sugars in various food plants (such as an agave plant, stevia plant, coconut palm, maples tree, palm tree etc.). There are two basic categories for natural sweeteners: sweeteners containing calories (including natural low calorie sweeteners) and natural sweeteners with zero calories.
Are Natural Sweeteners Good for You?
Generally, all natural sweeteners are better for your health than refined sugar because of its impact on your blood sugar levels. Natural sweeteners, compared to refined sugar, do not have such a sudden effect on your blood sugar levels, which is why people with diabetes to some extent can control their condition when using natural sweeteners. Another positive factor in using natural sweeteners (if used in moderation) is that it can aid in reducing mood swings, which are seen as a possible side effect of using refined sugar. On the other hand, if used excessively, even a natural low calorie sweetener can still negatively impact fat levels in your body and, similar to refined sugar, can aid in tooth decay. Again, moderation is the key. Any sweetener, be it sugar or its substitute, can affect health negatively if consumed in large doses. Regarding the debate on natural vs artificial sweeteners, we won’t go into details here, but rather refer you to several articles to read more: here, here and here.
Natural Sweetener List
This natural sweetener list includes the most common natural sweeteners available in the market today. We have listed both natural caloric and low calories sweeteners.
Natural sweeteners containing calories
Natural caloric sweeteners have some advantages compared to sugar. They contain nutrients and can have a medicinal effect.
Agave is extracted from the Agave plant and is available in various flavors. It is known for having a very sweet taste. Like honey, it is sweeter than sugar, so you need less of it to achieve the same result. More information on various agave products you can find here.
Honey is a well-known natural sweetener, which contains some vitamins, antioxidants and has an antiseptic quality. For example, it can ease cough symptoms. Honey is made from honey bees and it is the most natural and popular sweetener known today. For more information on honey benefits, read here.
Blackstrap Molasses is known for being a nutritious natural sweetener containing calcium, iron, magnesium, vitamin B. It is made from sugar cane. After boiling it for prolonged periods of time, it turns into a sweet syrup. The production method of blackstrap molasses makes this sweetener high in sugar, so we advise to use it in moderation. It has a distinctive flavor, which might limit its use in certain foods and beverages. More information on blackstrap molasses nutrition can be found here.
Maple Syrup comes from North America and it is extracted from maple tree. It is rich in minerals and vitamin B, and contains calcium and antioxidants. It has a distinct, flavoursome taste, and is completely unrefined. Maple syrup can be light or dark in color, with the latter containing more beneficial elements. For more on maple syrup grades, read here.
Coconut Palm Sugar is a granulated natural sweetener, which makes it convenient to use instead of sugar. It is popular sweetener to use in cooking because of its nice flavor, slightly resembling caramel. It is useful to know that coconut palm sugar has a low glycemic index. On the benefits of this natural sweetener, read here.
Natural low calories sweeteners
Zero calorie sweeteners are often associated with artificial sweeteners, but you can find some natural low calories sweeteners in the market too. Here are some options:
Stevia is a very popular low calorie sweetener. It comes from South America and is extracted from Stevia leaves, which are naturally a few hundred times sweeter than sugar. There has been some research done on stevia’s health benefits, where it has been shown that stevia can slightly lower blood pressure levels for people who have high blood pressure. The downside of stevia is that it has a very particular taste which is not to everyone’s liking. More information here.
Yacon Syrup is known for being a great supplement for weight loss. It has high amounts of soluble fibers, which can relieve constipation. Here it is important to note that it should be taken in moderation, in order to prevent indigestion. It comes from South America and is harvested from the Yacon plant. You can read more here.
Erythritol is an alcohol sugar and zero calorie natural sweetener, whose sugars occur in some fruits. The good things about this sweetener are that it does not affect your blood sugar levels and it tastes very similar to sugar. Be wary though that it should not be consumed in large amounts at a time, as it can cause indigestion. More information can be found here.
Xylitol is yet another alcohol sugar that has a very low number of calories. The advantage of this natural sweetener is that it can possibly prevent your teeth from decaying. Similar to Erythritol, it does not affect blood sugar levels and it should be consumed in moderation to prevent indigestion. More on xylitol here.
We hope this guide to natural sweeteners was useful. For more information on the glycemic index of different sweeteners, please read on here.