When it comes to choosing a poison, it seems that the general American public chooses sweets on a pretty consistent basis. According to recent research, the average American consumes more than twice the recommended amount of added sugar in his or her daily diet. This includes the obvious sugars that come in the form of ice cream, candy, cake, and cookies, along with the less obvious ones like those found in sodas, coffee drinks, and commercial sauces and toppings. Developing awareness of our sugar intake can not only trim the waste line, but can reduce health risks such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.
While reducing the quantities of sugar and sweets that we eat plays an important role in trimming up and staying healthy, the type of sugars we eat are also key. Preliminary research suggests that substituting honey for table sugar can not only reduce the amount of the hunger-causing hormone ghrelin released into the blood, but it can also stimulate the release of hunger-quelling hormones. So choosing treats sweetened with honey instead of table sugar could help you stay on track in more ways than one.
Taking it a step further, raw honey has an even greater list of health benefits than pasteurized honey (honey that is heated to at least 70 degrees Celsius). Raw, unfiltered honey has a diverse antioxidant profile, along with living yeasts and enzymes that activate vitamins and minerals in the body and stimulate healthy digestion. It also has an alkalizing effect in the body – the opposite effect of table sugar, which is acid-forming.
Coconut palm sugar is another great natural alternative to table sugar. It is all-natural and all-delicious — it even dissolves and melts almost exactly like sugar in cooking or baking, but it’s completely unrefined. Coconut palm sugar is acquired from the flowers growing high on coconut trees, which are opened to collect their liquid flower nectar. This nectar is then air-dried to form a crystalline sugar that’s naturally brown in color and naturally rich in a number of key vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. It is never refined or bleached like white sugar, so the naturally occurring nutrients are still there in the finished product. That’s rare for sweeteners, most of which are highly refined.
Stevia is also a sweetener to consider. Unlike raw honey and coconut palm sugar, stevia is extremely low-calorie and is 10 to 15 times sweeter than regular table sugar. The bitter aftertaste of certain brands can be a drawback for some, and it doesn’t do so well in baking, but it’s a viable choice for sweetening tea or coffee. We aren’t in the business of advocating for particular brands, but I find NuStevia to be the least bitter of all the brands I’ve tasted. I use it in my Greek yogurt and berries, and occasionally add a pinch to a primarily vegetable smoothie. While stevia doesn’t contain the same profile of healthful nutrients that honey and coconut palm sugar do, it is a viable choice for those watching their caloric intake who want to take the natural route.
As with anything, the benefits of natural sugar alternatives are best felt when eaten in moderation — even the low-calorie choice like stevia. Sweets play a role in our lives for a number of reasons, whether it be social, therapeutic, or simply a quick burst of energy. Choosing wisely and sparingly will take you far on your path to living health and wellness.