Sweet Alternatives: Healthy Substitutes for Refined Sugars

The rise of processed and packaged foods has skyrocketed due to the fast-paced lifestyle, which has become a dreadful concern in the medical field. Many people love enjoying a cup of coffee with the sweetness of a spoonful of sugar; however, the exploding amount of sugar we consume daily will lead to numerous health problems. So, before you add another spoon of sugar to your favorite drink, let this article be an eye-opener on battling and finding natural alternatives to this sinful condiment.

The Health Concerns of Refined Sugars

Examples of natural sugars are lactose, found in milk, and fructose, found in fruit. On the other hand, refined sugar is sugar produced and processed from natural sources. Examples of refined sugar include white sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, palm sugar, and high fructose corn syrup. 

While sugars are a natural component of many foods, refining removes nutrients and fiber, leaving behind empty calories. Here are some health concerns associated with the consumption of refined sugars:

1. Obesity

One of the main concerns about refined sugars is their impact on weight gain and obesity. When we consume foods and drinks high in refined sugar, our bodies quickly absorb the sugar, causing blood sugar levels to rise. This spike triggers the release of insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. However, when we consume too much refined sugar, our bodies can become insulin-resistant, leading to weight gain and an increased risk of obesity.

Eating Sweet Food

2. Diabetes

Consuming refined sugars has also been closely linked to individuals’ susceptible risk of diabetes, more specifically, type 2 diabetes. When we consume foods and drinks high in refined sugar, our bodies must work harder to process the sugar, leading to an increased risk of insulin resistance. Eventually, this can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.

3. Cardiovascular Problems 

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and can result from health problems caused by a poor diet. High sugar intake has been closely linked to an increased risk of heart disease as it can contribute to inflammation, high blood pressure, and elevated triglyceride levels. High triglyceride levels further contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries, causing heart problems.

4. Decreased Brain Health

Studies proved that too much sugar can lead to overall cognitive decline, memory problems, and an increased risk of dementia. Refined sugar has been relatively associated with mental health, as research shows that people who consume more refined sugar are more likely to suffer from mental health issues (ex., depression) than those who consume less.

5. Other Health Problems

Excessive consumption of fructose, a component of many refined sugars, can make the liver work harder and strain simultaneously. The liver metabolizes fructose, and overconsumption may contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Also, refined sugars contribute to tooth decay. Sugar becomes the food of many bacteria in the mouth, producing acid that can damage tooth enamel and lead to cavities. 

The Need for Healthy Substitutes

The need for healthy substitutes arises from various reasons, primarily driven by a growing awareness of the multifaceted health problems caused by refined sugar.

It is tempting to open a box of chocolates and munch in to satisfy your sweet cravings. You can learn more about dear sugar and how sugar gives as an addition-like behavior.

Undeniably, there is a need for healthy substitutes that will promote individual health, societal well-being, and environmental sustainability. It is not just maintaining a healthier way of living but also a commitment to choosing to live better and longer. So, what are the alternative sweeteners in helping you ditch refined sugar?

Natural Sweeteners

Honey: Raw honey is a nutritional and natural powerhouse for sugar substitutes. Honey, in its raw form, contains royal jelly, beeswax, and pollen. 

Honey

Nutritional Benefits

Honey contains more nutrients when compared to table sugar, including antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. It is also easier to digest than table sugar and supports gut health. However, like table sugar, honey is high in calories and breaks into fructose and glucose. Thus, moderation in consumption is highly suggested. Also, honey contains some antibacterial properties.

Best Uses in Cooking

Use raw honey when cooking a recipe for a liquid sweetener that does not need to be heated too high. It can also be incredibly delicious in smoothies, baked goods, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Because there is water in honey, you must also reduce the liquid when replacing honey in baked goods.

Maple Syrup: This popular sweetener is produced from the sap of maple trees and has a distinct flavor that enhances the taste of various dishes and desserts. 

Nutritional Benefits

Maple syrup is an effective source of antioxidants and is rich in minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and manganese. Also, it has a lower glycemic index than refined sugar, meaning it does not cause spikes in blood sugar levels.

Best Uses in Cooking

Make sure you choose natural, pure maple syrup, not the artificially sweetened pancake syrup you often find at the grocery store. Use it in healthier breakfast options like oatmeal, coffee, plain yogurt, or savory dishes like vegetables, chicken, salmon, or salad dressing. Use maple syrup when cooking, but reduce the liquid in the recipe.

Fruit-Based Sweeteners

Date Sugar: Made from dates, dried, and ground into a fine powder, this alternative sweetener may taste slightly different from the commercial sugar we are all used to, but when used regularly, particularly in baking and cooking, it can still do the magic.

Nutritional Benefits

Fruit-based sweetener such as date paste is rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins, adding more nutritional value to your diet than simply using table sugar. Also, fruits are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, which can have protective effects against oxidative stress and inflammation. Fruit-based sweeteners may contain some compounds, contributing to their potential health benefits.

Best Uses in Cooking

Dates can be incredibly delicious in smoothies, baked goods, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Dates can be sweeter than sugar, so you must reduce the amount added and the amount of liquid when cooking. Date replacement sugar paste is easy to make at home using a blender. Use 3/4 cup water, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and about 1 cup warm dates.

Coconut Sugar: Extracted from the flower buds of the coconut palm tree, the coconut sugar creates a mild caramel taste, which can be easily used in many ways in regular cooking.

Coconut Sugar

Nutritional Benefits

Coconut sugar is usually not refined, so it retains all vitamins and minerals and reduces the cause of fluctuations in blood sugar levels. However, coconut sugar contains about the same calories as table sugar and is still high in carbohydrates and fructose.

Best Uses in Cooking

Coconut sugar can be used as a 1-for-1 replacement for white or brown sugar, making it easy to use in cooking. However, this can be very strong, so blend it in the food processor before using it in baking or place of powdered sugar.

Plant-Based Sweeteners

Stevia: Derived and extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana, cultivated for its medicinal purposes and sweetness characteristic for centuries in South America.

Natural Benefits

Its health benefits are that it regulates blood pressure and creates a lesser to no effect on blood sugar levels. It’s also much sweeter than sugar, so you need less to get the same sweetness. Because stevia extract is very low in calories, it is considered a healthy sugar alternative for people with diabetes or who need to control their weight.

Best Uses in Cooking

Stevia is commonly used in diet sodas, flavored water, and baked goods. Although not a chemical, stevia extract has a noticeable aftertaste even after being refined, so some people don’t like using it as a sweetener for coffee or tea. It comes in many variations and forms, including liquid and powder, so you may need to experiment to find which works best for different recipes.

Monk Fruit Sweetener: Extracted from the monk fruit, a small green melon-like fruit native to Southeast Asia, this sweetener is a healthier alternative to traditional sugar.

Monk Fruit

Natural Benefits

Monk fruit sweetener is a zero-calorie sweetener. This is particularly beneficial for those watching their weight or managing conditions such as diabetes. Also, the fruit contains natural compounds responsible for its sweet taste. These compounds are much sweeter than sugar, and only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired level of sweetness. However, commercially available monk fruit extracts are all processed to some degree and may contain sugars or other sweeteners, so be sure to check the label.

Best Uses in Cooking

Others find monk fruit to produce an aftertaste. If you are sensitive to this flavor, be careful when incorporating it into your cooking. Like any other high-intensity sweetener, you may need to modify your recipes or mix them with other sweeteners for the best results. Also, add monk fruit sweetener to your coffee or tea instead of sugar for all coffee lovers. 

Now that you are set for a healthier lifestyle, be sure to check Ready to Get Healthier? Here’s How to gain new perspectives in creating the best and healthier version of yourself.

Conclusion

It’s important to note that although refined sugar is commonly used as a sweetener, excessive consumption can have adverse health effects. To reduce these health problems, limit food and beverage consumption and find alternative but healthier sweeteners. These substitutions allow us to enjoy our favorite foods while prioritizing our health and well-being.