It’s easy to become overwhelmed when you walk into the sugar aisle. It seems new sweeteners come on the market every day, and they’re always advertised as being healthier than the sugar we all grew up with.

What’s so wrong with old-fashioned sugar? Nothing, if you use it in moderation. But many people these days don’t. Luckily, some sugar alternatives offer fewer calories and more nutrients than processed sugar.

Here, you’ll find a list of healthy sugar alternatives and suggestions for adding them to your diet.

1. Stevia

Sugar or stevia sweetener

Stevia is a naturally-occurring herb that grows in Central and South America. It’s up to 40 times sweeter than sugar, but it contains no calories, so stevia is a good alternative if you’re trying to lose weight. By itself, stevia tastes slightly bitter. Well-known sweeteners such as Sweetleaf and Truvia contain stevia, but without the bitter flavor. 

Since stevia-based sweeteners taste similar to sugar and are low on the glycemic index, they’re a good alternative for people who want to add sweetness to their food without sending their blood sugar through the roof. Avoiding rapid rises and falls in blood sugar is a good way to stave off cravings throughout the day, and could help you lose weight. Additionally, a limited study by the British Journal of Pharmacology of 106 people with high blood pressure showed  that stevia effectively lowered their blood pressure. 

Stevia-based products are best used in tea and coffee; they also work well sprinkled over yogurt or cereal. However, sweeteners that contain stevia aren’t recommended for baking, as they haven’t been formulated for that process. Stevia-based sweeteners that can be used for cooking should be available on the market soon.

Key Point: Stevia has gotten a lot of hype in recent years for its use as a high-potency sweetener. As a low-calorie alternative to sugar, Stevia is worth a try, but it doesn’t offer the same nutritional benefits as some of the other sweeteners explored here.

2. Erythritol

white sugar in wooden bowl for cooking or spa

At first glance, erythritol, a sugar alcohol, seems like a dream come true. It has all the benefits of table sugar, but none of the drawbacks. Erythritol is between 60 and 80 percent as sweet as table sugar, or sucrose, but is nearly calorie-free. Like stevia, erythritol has little impact on blood sugar levels, according to a study by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Enough studies have been done on erythritol to approve it as generally safe for use as a sweetener- in the United States, the European Union and Japan; more information on the safety of erythritol and other so-called “high-intensity” sweeteners is available here.

It’s also possible to bake with erythritol, so it may be easier to incorporate into your diet than stevia.

Key Point: Erythritol is a promising sweetener that will satisfy your sugar cravings without leading to weight gain or excessive hunger after meals. One downside of adding erythritol and other sugar alcohols to your diet is that they may cause digestive problems such as bloating or gas — although erythritol is less likely to do so than other sugar alcohols.

3. Honey

Honey drip

People have been using good, old-fashioned honey as a sweetener for centuries. Although it has slightly more calories than sugar, it is also sweeter than table sugar, so it’s possible to use less of it.

Depending on where your raw honey comes from, it may contain trace elements of minerals such as zinc, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and more, which are essential to a healthy diet. You can find a more detailed comparison of honey to sugar here.

You can pour honey onto oatmeal, mix into yogurt or add it to tea for a natural sweetener that will brighten your breakfast.

Some claims have been made that honey has medicinal uses as well, and can be used as a supplement to treat allergies. So far, there’s not sufficient evidence to say that’s the case, but it does have some proven antibacterial properties.

Key Point: In the choice between honey and sugar, honey wins out for its nutritional content. Honey isn’t calorie-free like other sweeteners — in fact, it contains more calories than sugar — so beware, and use it in moderation if weight loss is your goal.

4. Yacon Syrup

Different types of syrop including yacon syrup

Yacon syrup is relatively new on the sweetener scene. It’s extracted from the yacon root, which grows in the Andes region of South America.

Yacon syrup contains a large amount of sugar molecules that humans can’t digest, so it only has  a third of the calories of regular sugar. Like stevia and erythritol, it works well as a low-calorie sweetener. It has its own distinct flavor, and can be drizzled onto desserts, mixed in smoothies or even used in recipes for barbecue and teryaki sauces.

One small study of yacon syrup showed a decrease in insulin levels and insulin resistance, as well as lower body mass indexes, or BMIs, for overweight women.

Key Point: Yacon syrup hasn’t been studied as much as other sweeteners, but it’s worth a taste test if you’re looking for healthy sugar alternatives.

5. Blackstrap Molasses

Treacle

This sweetener may not be as well-known as honey, but it offers many similar health benefits. Blackstrap molasses is a thick, dark syrup that comes from processing sugar can and sugar beet into table sugar. It contains fewer calories than refined sugar, and is rich in iron, copper, calcium and magnesium.

One study from Virginia Tech shows that, along with other unrefined sweeteners, blackstrap molasses contains more antioxidants than regular sugar. It also beats honey, brown sugar and maple syrup in terms of antioxidant content.

Many enjoy this sweetener for its distinctive flavor, which is slightly different from that of sugar. It enhances the flavor of many baked goods and can incorporated into recipes that call for sugar.

Key Point: This natural sugar alternative adds more than just the sweetness you’re looking for. A dash of blackstrap molasses can also introduce more nutrients to your diet.

Final Thought

Nutrition experts agree that people today are eating too much sugar in their diets. The World Health Organization has called on countries to reduce their daily intake of free sugars — those that are added to food during the manufacturing process — significantly.

The health benefits of cutting back on sugar include more than weight loss: too much sugar can contribute to tooth decay and the development of type 2 diabetes, too.

Whether you’re looking to lose weight or simply want to try an alternative to plain, white sugar, there are several safe, tasty options available. It’s important to keep in mind that some of these alternatives, like honey, yacon syrup and blackstrap molasses, aren’t calorie-free.

For the best weight loss results, consider trimming sugary foods from your diet altogether. If you’re concerned about your sugar intake or just want to feel healthier, try to cut back on portions of desserts, swap soda for water or another low-calorie drink, and try to move away from processed foods. Your body will thank you for making the change.

5 Healthy Alternatives To Sugar
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