It is best to keep your sugar intake as low as possible, but there are natural sweeteners that bring more than sweet taste to the table. Find out which natural sweeteners contain health promoting substances and are healthy sugar substitutes.
We all know that white refined sugar brings basically only empty calories to our diet. There are a lot of alternatives available to refined sugar like raw cane sugar, brown sugar, plant syrups (eg, maple syrup, agave nectar), molasses, honey, and fruit sugars (e.g., date sugar). Many of them cost much more than an average pound of white sugar but are they really any healthier and worth the extra money?
Sweeteners as an antioxidant?
According to a study published in the American Dietetic Association Journal there are sweeteners that are healthier for you than others. The study looked at the antioxidant content of different natural sweeteners. Low intake of antioxidants is linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease and other degenerative disorders. The average American is consuming 130 g (26 tsp) of added sugar per day, which is far beyond the recommended amount of 9 tsp for men and 6 tsp for women. If some of that sugar would be substituted with antioxidant containing sweeteners, it could offer potential health benefits or at least minimize the bad effects refined sugar has on your health.
The study analyzed the antioxidant content of refined honey, corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup, agave nectar, brown rice syrup, barley malt syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, raw cane sugar and date sugar. It turns out that most sweeteners don’t have any significant amount of antioxidants, including unrefined sources like maple syrup. There were only two types of sweetener that showed antioxidant content far beyond the others. The sweeteners found to contain the most antioxidants are black molasses and date sugar followed by barley malt extract. It turns out that the other sources are mainly empty calories with no significant health benefits compared to the amount of sugar they contain.
Black molasses and date sugar have the most antioxidants of all natural sweeteners.
Comparing natural sweeteners
But what about honey, maple syrup or agave nectar? Don’t they contain vitamins and minerals? Aren’t they natural healthy products that are a better alternative to table sugar? The above mentioned study didn’t analyze anything else except antioxidant content. Mineral and vitamin content or glycemic index (GI) of these sweeteners were not taken into account. That’s why we have compared more data including antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, GI, calories, sweetness and fructose content of these sweeteners. You can look at the results in this infographic.
Among different sugar substitutes most don’t have any real nutritional value. This is true even for sweeteners that are perceived to be healthy like agave nectar which actually has a very high fructose content (84%) making it an unhealthy choice. Black molasses does have the most antioxidant content but has a tart flavor and can not really be used as a substitute for sugar. It is better in savory dishes because of its’ smoked flavor.
The best sweetener substitute for sugar is date sugar. It is a wholefood and has the most nutritious profile compared to other sweeteners. Date sugar is made by grinding whole dates, that’s why all the nutrition from dates are in date sugar making it a healthy substitute. It contains vitamins, minerals and a fair amount of antioxidants combined with a bunch of fiber which is why it doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels immediately like white sugar does. Date sugar does not desolve in water and that’s why it is best not to use it to sweeten tea or coffee.
We are not suggesting to replace any of your fruits and veggies with date sugar for more antioxidants. You should strive to lower your daily sugar consumption from any source to 9 tsp for men and 6 tsp for women. Your prime source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals should be fruits and vegetables. But it is good to know, that by using date sugar, there is a much healthier way to sweeten food.
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