Healthy Sugar Substitutes (Change Your Diet, Change Your Life – Part 1)

Part 1 of the Change Your Diet, Change Your Life series focuses in on a substance that’s near and dear to most of us – but one that contributes to a host of illnesses from diabetes to adrenal failure to tooth decay.

This offender is so processed that it has absolutely no nutritional value. In fact, it acts as an “anti-nutrient,” robbing your body of precious minerals.

What I’m talking about, of course, is sugar. And if you want to change your diet and change your life, this is the first thing you need to cut back on.

But don’t worry! Your life won’t be devoid of the sweet. We have taste buds targeted for sweet so we obviously are designed to want this flavor. Luckily, God created many healthy sugar choices to consume in moderation, many of which have been around far longer than refined sugar.

 

My favorite healthy sugar substitutes

These natural sweeteners nourish the body instead of deplete it.

Raw Honey: An enzymatic food filled with nutrition

Beekeepers live longer than anybody else. That’s the rumor, at least. But there may be something to it. Raw honey contains loads of vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and C), minerals (calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate, potassium, sodium chlorine, and sulphur), over 22 amino acids and antioxidants. It has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, used to disinfect and heal wounds, scrapes and burns.  It also soothes sore throats, coughs, and respiratory conditions.

Unlike other sweeteners, honey is pre-digested and easier on our internal system.  When consumed with starches, the enzymes in honey actually help us breakdown complex carbohydrates.  Maybe that’s why oatmeal and toast are often paired with honey!

Though honey is a healthy sugar, we have to remember, it’s still a sugar. It’s comprised of glucose and fructose so it’s best to use in small quantities.  It is also vital to use raw, unfiltered, unprocessed honey which keeps all of its enzymes, co-factors, vitamin and mineral content alive.  Heated honey that is transparent acts similar to the other bad sugars out there.

Honey is a delicious healthy sugar to use in smoothies, teas, cookies, nut bars, granola, fruit salad, yogurt, etc.

Stevia: The sweetest herb of all

This healthy sugar substitute from the sunflower family, native to subtropical and tropical South America and Central America, is 300 times sweeter than sugar!  Popular in other countries for hundreds of years, stevia is just recently taking off in the States.

Check this out: Stevia doesn’t affect blood sugar levels; it doesn’t feed Candida, and it’s calorie free! And yet, to me, it is a “clean” sweet that doesn’t set up cravings for sugar, carbohydrates, or other substances. There is some controversy about stevia’s safety so be sure to do a little research and decide for yourself.

I use stevia in my yogurt, kefir, oatmeal, cheesecakes, and smoothies. It doesn’t work well in baked goods as in larger quantities, stevia can be bitter.

Stevia comes in several forms. The whole dried leaf, the ground dried leaf which is a funky green powder, a more “refined” stevia that is white, and a liquid form which is more concentrated.  Test out the different forms and find one that works for you.  I like the liquid form as it blends the best.

When purchasing your stevia, find one that is a pure form as nowadays stevia products are filled with fillers like malodextrin, lactose, glycerin, and alcohol.

Brown Rice Syrup: A slow release healthy sugar

Brown rice syrup is an excellent sweetener since it releases slower in the system like a complex carbohydrate, making it more compatible for people with blood sugar or digestive issues. That’s because unlike honey and other sweeteners, brown rice syrup is made up of mostly maltose and maltotriose, sugars that take up to 2-3 hours to digest.

Brown rice syrup is created from cooked brown rice fermented by enzymes from sprouted barley. It has an earthy, buttery and nutty taste that works well in baked goods, sauces, desserts.

Other good healthy sugar alternatives

Real maple syrup is delicious and rich in flavor as well as an excellent source of manganese, zinc and other antioxidants. Be sure you purchase real, organic maple syrup as many of the commercial brands use formaldehyde in processing.

Date sugar is made up of pulverized dates and is loaded with fiber, potassium and iron. Denser in flavor and texture, it works best as a brown or granulated sugar substitute. It will color your desserts with a brown hue.

How about you?

What are your favorite healthy sugar substitutes?

Sources:

  • http://www.honey-health.com/honey-13.shtm
  • http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400318/Is-Stevia-Really-Safe
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_rice_syrup
  • http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=115
  • http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/dates.html

60 Comments

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  1. Hi, I’ve been following you for over a year now and have been enjoying the pregnancy weekly updates you post. I’m wondering you said they use formaldehyde in their syrup processing are you talking about the fake syrup or the real maple syrup. The brand I use is uncle mikes I don’t know if you have heard of it. I used to buy the white sugar but found out it horrible for you so I’ve been given organic coconut palm sugar and I’ll use it in some of my baking or my homemade hot chocolate or sometimes my coffee which I mostly take it with just cream. I refuse to use any of the artificial sweeteners. So I try to get the honey or I’ll use raw cane sugar. During the fall we get in some raw honey from people that work with my dad and husband so it’s the unfiltered stuff. In the summer we get the gently filtered honey.

    • Real organic maple syrup is a great choice.

  2. We use honey, stevia and coconut sugar.

  3. Do you have any advice for transitioning to these substitutes? My boyfriend has a serious sweet tooth, especially for chocolate, and it’s hard to keep non-sugar goods out of the house. I would like to make a change for both of us, but it’s challenging to do it alone as sweets are his one major weakness. Even if I try not to buy them, they often show up, or he’ll bring me something I like (such as a drink) but forgets that I’m trying not to eat sugar and I feel guilty about him wasting his money on something I don’t eat or drink.

    I think it’s so nice that you answer so many of your comments, thank you for all the great information! 🙂

  4. How about agave? I just purchased some to replace my sugar. Is it a good replacement? I also use raw honey and am willing to try new things!

    • Agave is very high in fructose which can be hard on the liver. It’s also heavily processed. I don’t use but it’s up to you 🙂

  5. I mainly use organic honey and organic coconut sugar, which you didn’t mention. Is there a reason why? Is it not as good of an alternative/substitute? Just curious on your take on it. Thanks

  6. I use Stevia for anything I can get away with, I have for the past 8 years. I use molasses for bread, RAW honey and organic Grade B maple syrup (has more nutrients than grade A, and has more maple flavor).

  7. You haven’t had white sugar in 11 or 12 years? What do you do when you go to someone’s house and they serve you birthday cake? Do you decline it?

    • Yep, politely decline. Sometimes bring my own. These days, with so many gluten sensitivities, nobody gives me a second look.

    • Also, what do you substitute in recipes such as cookies since refined sugar has a specific texture?

      • Coconut sugar has a low glycemic load and acts similarly to refined sugar as far as texture.

  8. Hi! first of all, congratulations for your site! I follow you from Spain and I love it!
    One question… Searching for natural alternatives for white sugar, I found a recipe about making your own Stevia extract using vodka as base. I read in your article that stevia based on alcohol was not good. do you think a homemade extract based on vodka should be ok?
    Thanks in advance!
    Laura

  9. I been watching what I eat since my baby was born. And your videos help a lot! I been wanting to replace refined white sugar and bought natural cane turbinado sugar. What are your thoughts on that? Thanks!

    • I think it’s OK. I prefer coconut sugar, date sugar or powdered honey but that’s just me :)>.

  10. Hi! I love this healthy eating series that you are doing! I’m on a tight budget and have always used that as an excuse to not buy alternative fats and sugars. Do you have any tips on how to make an economical switch to healthier substitutes? I would love to start trying them!

    • Hi hon,

      Butter or tallow are less expensive fats. Olive oil is more expensive but you can use sparingly.
      In regards to sweets, you can use sparingly for best health. Raw honey isn’t too expensive or date sugar.
      Yes, healthy food is more expensive but it’s an investment in your health and less expensive than medical bills!

      • Thank you! You’re right.. I never thought about using less sugar all together. 🙂 I’ve done that with meat so far…can’t afford the good stuff – go vegetarian! Thanks again, Genevieve! You blog and videos are so inspiring!

  11. Have you heard about arsenic in organic brown rice syrup? Is that something to be concerned about? Is arsenic in all of the above?

    • Hi Brooke, yes, I heard about the arsenic in brown rice syrup. In reality, small doses of arsenic are needed by the heart and our body so I wasn’t too concerned about. Having said that, I am waiting for the brown rice manufacturers to respond. No, you don’t need to worry about arsenic in stevia or honey.

      • Genevieve, did you ever hear back from the brown rice syrup manufacturers?

  12. Loved this video! Very informative! I’m going to try to cut out our sugar. I use stevia and raw honey at times already. I also used agave nectar, but I didn’t know that was unhealthy :/ what do you think of (just sparingly) unbleached organic sugar from a health food store? Or raw sugar?

    • I would use sucanat instead of sugar. Similar taste, 1:1 ratio, but better for you.

  13. Just wanted to let you know that its recently been found that organic brown rice sugar contains a fair amount of arsenic.

    • I know! I just heard about that. Shocker. The truth is, we do need a LITTLE bit of arsenic. It’s good for the heart and can be found in asparagus. I’m waiting to hear a response from the brown rice syrup industry.

  14. Hi Genevieve!
    I found your blog last week when a friend on FB posted your “Sh*t Crunchy Mamas Say” video. LOVE IT!

    We’ve been using xylitol for over 2 years now and we like it. What is your opinion on it?

    • Hi Christie, thanks for your kind words and glad you are here! Re: xylitol, I’m kinda neutral on it. I certainly don’t think it’s the worst sweetener out there but it isn’t nutritionally dense and can cause intestinal distress for some. It is also extremely toxic for dogs which causes me pause. For a zero calorie sweetener, I prefer stevia. Hope this helps!

    • Hi, I know this is an old post, but just an FYI xylitol can be a fluoride alternative that can help to remineralize teeth. Not sure about how it is processed or other health concerns. However since I couldn’t break my chewing gum habit, I feel good about finding one that contains xylitol instead of artificial sweetener.

      • I think xylitol can be great in small doses as it is great for teeth. I wouldn’t use as a sweetener for cookies or anything like that because too much can gas and bloating for people.

  15. As always great job! We use honey for A LOT of things & I actually just purchased Stevia for the very 1st time. So, super excited about incorporating that. But, I also had a possible video suggestion. Maybe a series on how to kick white sugar {addiction}, myself & the kids have transitioned well, buy my husband struggles with it. He completely understands the importance, but never the less craves it. I would love to see how you or Mike made the transition of being completely WS free.

  16. I’m looking for a sugar alternative to put in coffee. Which do you think would work best?

    • Date sugar, maple syrup, and stevia would all be nice.

  17. Hello!!

    Just wanted to add to the conversation organic coconut palm sugar is another great alternative!

    love n respect all!

    • Great point, LaNita! I’m also totally digging coconut nectar. It’s a new favorite!

  18. I love your blog! I’d also like to hear your thoughts on Xylitol. We love raw honey and stevia as well but I’ve been looking more into Xylitol as a substitute lately as well.

  19. Hi Genevieve, just found “you”. You have great info and present it so well! We are pretty healthy eaters. We are trying to make at least half of our meals raw – what a difference! On the sugar topic, although we try to use as little as possible (my 2.5 y/o does not even know or never tasted sweets), i have been using honey, maple syrup, xylitol (birch tree sugar). And just recently i found coconut nectar and coconut crystals…. Do you have any thoughts on that?
    Thank you.

  20. First of all, I love your blog! Keep it up! I started using organic sugar, and Agave, but now that I came across your blog, I’d like to stop using both. When you are baking, what do you use as a sugar substitute? What do you find works best when you make bread, muffins, cookies, and cakes – what helps your recipes keep the great flavor, as well as consistency? I noticed you recommended certain things to others, but is there one that you “live by” when it comes to baking? Thanks!

    • Hi Chaya,

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m not a huge baker but I find that sucanat works best for a sugar replacement since they are so similar in texture. But, I tend to bake with honey the most as I like the flavor and moisture it brings to recipes. Hope that helps! XO.

  21. Hi Mama Natural,
    I’m intrigued when you say you don’t eat sugat at all. It would be very interested if you could write a post about how you achieved to get rid of this nasty addiction.
    I try and try but it is very difficult to break the habbits. My childhood was plenty of sweets and processed cakes so my body needs this sort of food regularly. Not proud of that 🙁
    Love your blog 🙂

  22. Cara, apple sauce is very nice! So is banana and date mash. Let me know if you like stevia. Best in smaller doses. XO.

  23. We’ve tried our homemade apple sauce as a sugar substitute in several cake recipes, and everyone really seems to like it! I’ve used honey quite a bit also, but I’ll have to look into this Stevia….I know nothing about it.

  24. We have been trying to get rid of white sugar too. In baking I use succant. But I find I still use a little white sugar to make it tase right. Maybe I will give the stevia a try.

    • Hi Katie, you can also blend a few. Try succanat with a few drops of stevia to “lift up” the sweetness. XO.

    • Thanks for sharing the links, Nikki. I have heard negative things about ingesting large amounts of stevia because it can affect fertility, metabolism, and low birth weights. However, according to Dr. Weil as well as other medical professionals, none of these possibilities has been proved, and stevia has an excellent safety profile in Japan, where it has been used for more than 30 years.

      I personally have used stevia daily and got pregnant on the first try and Griffin was a healthy 7 pounds 13 ounces. However, I understand that each mama has to weigh pros and cons of any decision (which is what makes pregnancy/parenting/nursing so dang hard!)

      Go with your gut. I never liked agave and now see that it has “issues.” I also feel better using the green stevia powder since it’s less processed.

  25. I use mostly maple syrup (locally made). I experimented with raw honey, but I find that it does not taste very sweet to me (I have to use more than if I used table sugar), and it makes me feel terrible. Like that feeling you get if you’ve eaten too much sugar. So I quit using it. My son used it to make mead instead.

    • Different sugars react differently with people so by all means stick with the maple syrup! You might do well with brown rice syrup mixed with liquid stevia too. The brs is gentle on the body and the stevia gives it a sweetness boost.

  26. I am curious, the brown rice syrup, can you substitue that for white refined sugar in all baked goods? If so how should I convert it?

    • Hi Beatrice, you can use brown rice syrup but I would probably do a half and half blend with it and honey. Depending on the recipe, this might be too much added “liquid” so if that’s the case, use sucanat. Hope that helps!

  27. Great info! I have to admit I use white refined sugar, but I am looking for a more healthy way to get the sweetness I like. Will be trying these out.

  28. Just wanted to encourage you and say that this was a great video- so polished and professional! Congrats on a job well done to you and your hubby. (Of course I also liked the info. 🙂 We like honey. We use pure maple syrup sometimes as well for baking. I also like using fruit as a natural sweetener in recipes. Might give Stevia a try now.)

    • Aw, thanks so much Kayla! We just got a new camera so we’ve been having fun experimenting with it. It definitely gives a crisper finish :).

      Fruit makes a wonderful sweetener too. I like bananas and dates. XO.

      • Often times I make my own date paste from dried dates, and that is what I use to sweeten muffins and other things. I love raw honey and stevia as well! Great topic! Number one thing to change first in my opinion! love your videos!

  29. Hmm, okay. Ya we tend to use stevia and raw honey more anyways…so that’s a good thing. We’ll just finish up this agave and not get anymore. Thanks for the info.
    Ashley

  30. Honey and maple syrup! I also like stevia.

  31. We love stevia and honey as well, but have also been trying out agave..we like the taste etc. What are your thoughts on agave?
    Ashley

    • Hi Ashley, from what I’ve read, agave isn’t a healthy sweetner. Of course, a little in moderation is fine, but not a great choice as a staple. First off, agave isn’t raw as a lot of folks claim. It’s also comprised of ~70% fructose which is higher than high fructose corn syrup! Granted, it does have inulin, which is a fiber that slows down glycemic response but there are many other sugars out there that are better for the body. XO.

      • I’ve also heard that agave contains a steroid that can cause miscarriage. Since I think I had a very early miscarriage right after I started using agave, I’m staying away from it. Coulda been coincidence, but not taking any chances!

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