The Best Natural Sugar Substitutions

First, just let me say that it's ALWAYS best to limit the amount of sugar in our diet whether it's refined or even natural. This is especially true if we're watching our waistline, trying to achieve clear skin BUT most importantly if we're wanting to decrease inflammation in our body. Any sort of inflammatory condition from arthritis to atherosclerosis would benefit greatly if we eliminated sugar in the diet. 

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On this next point, I'm firm - NEVER, EVER opt for artificial sweeteners which include aspartame, sucralose and saccharin - they have been linked to numerous side effects such as headaches, migraines and weight gain (to name a few). Scariest of all, is the growing amount of research linking them to an increased risk of cancer. Read more here. Many of the ladies I work with use sweeteners to avoid excess calories - STOP IT! Ditch the chemicals and use some of these natural, unrefined alternatives. 

Here are some quick facts about refined sugar:

Did you know that not only is refined sugar non-nutritive (literally - having no nutritional value) but it's also addictive?! It literally has the same effect on the reward centres of the brain as such drugs like cocaine and nicotine. Meaning - to get the same "high" as we previously did from whatever junk food we're eating, we must constantly eat more of it. Thereby enabling the addiction.

And it can worsen conditions such as:

  • asthma
  • heart disease
  • gall stones
  • hormonal issues

Refined sugar has been linked to:

  • insomnia
  • weight gain
  • acne
  • hair loss
  • hypoglycemia
  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • degenerative diseases

Lastly, it depletes us of B vitamins which are needed for energy, combating stress and helping to curb cravings - ALL of the things that we, as women, are trying to achieve. 

I highly recommend eliminating all refined sugars and artificial sweeteners from your diet and instead, opting for these natural sugar substitutes that are a much healthier option: 

Raw Honey

My favourite! Raw honey is loaded with powerful antioxidants, it's super anti-inflammatory and immune boosting. Did you know that raw honey is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal?! It's long been used as a home remedy for things like acne, wounds, burns and rashes (when applied topically), taken internally for sore throats, and other infections as well as seasonal allergies. As if all of that wasn't enough, raw honey is also beneficial for healthy digestion and can help stabilize blood sugar levels.

BUT! Your honey MUST say "raw" which means that it has not been heated or pasteurized. This means that it retains all of its nutritional benefits. This is the biggest difference between raw/unpasteurized honey and conventional - which in my opinion is nothing more than sugar. 

How to use it: 
I like to use a little in my herbal teas, baking, salad dressings or stir-fry sauces. I'll also take a spoonful as soon as I detect a sore throat or cold setting in to help boost my immune system. I'll also take it regularly in the warmer months to help combat my seasonal allergies. 

Pure Maple Syrup

Not only is maple syrup a delicious alternative to refined sugar but it contains nutrients, antioxidants and trace minerals which refined sugar lacks.  It also scores lower on the glycemic index which means that it won't impact our blood sugar levels as dramatically as table sugar. And because maple syrup is derived from the sap of maple trees, it doesn't go through the same rigorous processing as refined sugars. When used in moderation, pure maple syrup has a beneficial effect on our body. 

Look for darker, grade B maple syrups - these will have the most nutritional benefits. 

How to use it:
I use it interchangeably with raw honey in my baking and cooking. I always, however, opt for maple syrup in my coffee. I just prefer the flavour to any other natural, unrefined sweetener. 

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is low glycemic (meaning it won't drastically spike your blood sugar levels) and unlike refined sugar, it retains many of its nutrients. What I like about coconut sugar is that it can be used in a 1:1 ratio in baking wherever white/brown sugar is called for. How easy is that?!

How to use it:
I use it primarily for baking - wherever dry sugar would be called for. 

Blackstrap Molasses

It's the (very) thick substance left behind once raw cane sugar has been processed. It's sort of bittersweet in flavour and loaded with vitamins and minerals beneficial to our health.

Because it's an excellent source of magnesium, B6 & iron, it can help combat symptoms associated with PMS and stress. It also contains a good amount of chromium which helps to manage blood sugar levels. 

How to use it:
Try adding a little to your morning coffee and see what you think. Use it in your baking or even in your cooking! I like adding it to a homemade BBQ sauce or drizzling a little onto my morning oatmeal. 

Stevia

Stevia is actually an herb that is naturally sweet. It's been around for ages but has gained popularity more recently. It's said to be 100-200 times sweeter than sugar (so a little goes a looooong way!). Unlike sugar, it won't spike your blood sugar levels. Many people who are avoiding sugar prefer to use stevia. 

Admittedly, my least favourite natural sugar alternative. I've tried and tried and tried to get behind stevia but it does have a very distinct taste that I just can't get used to. I'll use it from time to time but it's not my first choice, personally.

There are lots of stevia products on the market which are not healthy such as the white powered forms which are very processed. I prefer to buy the liquid extract drops.  

How to use it:
I'll add a few drops to a smoothie, elixir or my baked goods.  

Dates

Ah, dates - certainly not the most attractive food! They are dark brown and wrinkly on the outside. BUT I encourage you to look past that because they are an excellent way to naturally sweeten your food. A good source of fibre and very easily digestible. I especially like using dates in my smoothies and baked goods. What I like best of all is that they are a whole food that contain a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. 

How to use it:
I'll add 1-2 to my smoothies to help sweeten them up. I've often used them in my baked goods and desserts in place of sugar. 

SO, HOW EXACTLY DO YOU TRANSITION TO NATURAL SUGAR SUBSTITUTES? 

Easy! Throw out the refined sugar in the house. This includes white & brown sugar, anything that reads high fructose corn syrup and any and all artificial sweeteners. Literally, get rid of it and start with a clean slate. Purchase some of the natural substitutes listed above to use in your morning coffee/tea or to bake with. Start small. Try the raw honey or pure maple syrup (they're the easiest and most accessible) then work your way towards experimenting with some of the others. 

Eliminating refined sugar and artificial sweeteners is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and well-being. 

Once you try a few substitutes, let me know what you think! 

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