One of the easiest ways to start the health journey is to swap out refined sugar with natural sweeteners. There are so many great whole food options to choose from. Yet how do you know which healthy sugar alternative to use when? I’m here to help! I’ve got the skinny on all ingredients both natural and sweet, and how to use them to enhance your food, not overpower it. Plus, I’ve got a great snack recipe to share that is equal parts sweet + nutritious.
Natural sweetener vs. refined sugar
First, let’s get some terminology straight. When I talk about refined sugar, I’m talking all processed sugar. What we like to think of as ‘sugar’ has 56+ different names. These names include: sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, blackstrap molasses, beet sugar, carob syrup, cane sugar… and so many more.
If you are a label reader like me, then know that just because you don’t see corn syrup or sugar on the label, doesn’t mean there isn’t processed sugar in the product. Whether it’s natural or processed, almost every product we consume has some sort of sugar in it. So let’s break it down.
Table sugar typically comes from processed sugar cane plants and sugar beets. High fructose corn syrup comes from processed corn. The processes used to make these ingredients involve chemicals, additives, and preservatives. Regular intake of these sugars leads to a whole host of health issues such as Type II diabetes, dementia, liver disease, cancer, depression… need I say more? The hardest part is these processed sugars are in so many of the foods that we westerners regularly consume. Thankfully, natural sweeteners are exploding in popularity, variety, and availability in recent years.
When I talk about natural sugar, I’m talking about real, minimally processed, natural sweeteners. I know that maple syrup and bananas are not ‘sugar free,’ yet they host so many more benefits and so many fewer negatives than processed sugar. Even healthy sugar alternatives need to be eaten in moderation. Here are a few of my fav natural sweeteners:
While there are other natural options, these are my go-tos for most of my cooking, baking, and smoothie making.
Why I choose healthy sugar alternatives
While the phrase ‘sugar is sugar’ is partially true, there is a big difference between refined sugar and more natural sweeteners. The sweeteners I just listed above can all be found without chemicals. Meaning, you can go out in nature right now, depending on where you live, and tap a tree, pick these fruits, or request a peek inside a honeycomb from some friendly bees. I talk a lot about whole food, plant based ingredients, and this is exactly what I mean. I want the majority of my food to grow in nature, not a factory.
Best “Whole” natural sweeteners
Sometimes we need a natural sweetener that’s not a liquid. Lucky for us, dates and bananas work perfectly for these! Dates are good and sticky, which helps things like granola bars stick together and bananas are our top choice for thickening up our favorite green smoothies! Both of these add natural sweetness and flavor without reaching for the sugar jar in the cupboard.
Best “Liquid” natural sweeteners
Honey and maple syrup are two of our favorite natural sweeteners. You may only think of these sweeteners when you’re making a cup of tea or feasting on pancakes, but these two super-awesome, very natural sweeteners are good substitutes for sugar in so many ways! We use maple syrup and honey to sweeten everything from homemade salad dressings to green smoothies, homemade granola, and fruit salad–– not every fruit has to go in a blender (check out the recipe at the bottom of this page)!
Two “Not-So-Favorite” sugar alternatives
Stevia and Agave are the two natural sweeteners that are hot right now, but they aren’t my fav. They are both highly refined, just like white sugar. So even though they come from natural sources, we don’t really consider either of them to be our top natural sweeteners of choice. Plus, Agave is known to have high fructose content, which is linked to obesity and diabetes (among other things). Of course always do your own research, consult with your health practitioner, listen to your own body, and do what works best for your dietary needs and lifestyle.
Now it’s time to fall in LOVE with our favorite (and super cleanse-friendly) snack.
Best Snack using Natural Sweeteners
- 2/3 cup strawberries - fresh, stems removed and sliced
- 2 tablespoons raw almonds - sliced
- 1 teaspoon lemon - zest
- 1 sprig fresh mint - roughly chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
- Combine strawberries, almonds, lemon zest, and mint in a bowl.
- Drizzle with maple syrup and stir.
- No strawberries on hand? This recipe also tastes delicious with diced pineapples or raspberries.
How to kick that sugar habit with healthy sugar alternatives
One big reason people need to cleanse, is to break up with sugar. Whether you realize it or not, your body has probably developed a dependency on refined sugars. Fresh Start 21 cuts out all processed sugar, and spends 21 days helping the body detox from that dependency, while helping you find delicious, healthy options to fuel your body with instead. Like this incredible snack recipe, this whole food, plant based cleanse is full of real food that will heal + energize your body. So what are you waiting for? I’d love for you to be the healthiest version you can be.