The American diet is largely flooded with refined white sugar and high fructose corn syrup — an excessive intake of which can lead to weight problems and eventually to conditions like diabetes –or artificial sweeteners containing aspartame that has been linked to the growth of brain tumors. With such poor options to choose from, it is good to know that natural and healthy alternatives exist to satisfy the sweet tooth. While this is not a “green light” to consume a limitless amount of these sweeteners, they are certainly healthier dietary choices to make.
1. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup comes from the boiled-down sap of the maple tree. A recent study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food found that it is rich in a number of anti-oxidants, some of which are unique to maple syrup itself. Particularly healthy is the darker Grade B syrup, which is high in these antioxidants and also calcium-rich. Be warned, though, that this nutritional information refers to real maple syrup and not the imitation syrups that often contain no real maple products at all and are largely based on high fructose corn syrup.
2. Coconut Palm Sugar
This sweetener, which has grown in popularity in recent years, is made from the sap of coconut palm flowers that is boiled into a syrup then dried and ground to the texture of granulated sugar. Like other natural sweeteners, coconut palm sugar is a better source of nutrients than refined white sugar and contains iron, magnesium and Vitamin B. It is also a more evironmentally sustainable option, as palms produce on average 50-75% more sugar per acre than sugar cane.
Honey is produced by bees from the nectar of various flowers and there are more than 300 varieties of it here in the United States, depending on the source of the nectar. Honey is shown to be incredibly rich in antioxidants, especially if it is one of the darker, unpasteaurized varieties like buckwheat honey. A study from the University of Wyoming also discovered that honey is lower on the glycemic index than sugar, meaning that it has less of an effect on the blood sugar and insulin levels.
4. Monk Fruit Extract
Americans are only just now starting to explore this sweetener which comes from a vine-ripened melon grown throughout China and Southeast Asia. It has a long tradition in Asia as an herbal remedy. However, keep in mind that while it has been marketed as a zero-calorie sweeteners, it actually does have about 2 calories per 2 teaspoon serving. This, however, is still substantially lower than sugar, which clocks in at 15 calories for the same 2 teaspoons!
5. Date Sugar
This sweetener takes advantage of the natural sugariness of dates and grinds them into a fine powder that makes an excellent sugar substitute. It is high in fiber and rich in Vitamin B6, iron and magnesium which is present in the whole dates and is particularly good in dishes like oatmeal.
None of these sweeteners have the nutritional value of whole grains or fresh fruits and vegetables. However, they are all still healthy alternatives to refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup and aspartame and most have some antioxidant or high-fiber properties that also make them an attractive and healthy choice to satisfy your sweet tooth.
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