What’s a Natural Sweetener and How Can I Choose Those For Valentine’s Day
Sugar. Sugar leaves many of us with incredible highs and lows in our energy and our moods. We know sugar is as addictive as cocaine, impacts our waist line far more than any saturated fat, fuels inflammation in the body, feeds cancer, messes with our moods and our hormones and ultimately isn’t worth it.
Today as we are becoming more aware of how inflammatory sugar is, there are more and more alternatives. Unfortunately, many of them are just chemical concoctions no one should be eating. Before jumping into what to use, I want to first address one ‘natural’ alternative sweetener I don’t recommend.
Go Natural, But This Natural Sweetener Isn’t Recommended
Agave nectar is made from the starch of the root of the agave plant and goes through a similar process that cornstarch goes through to become high fructose corn syrup. The end result is a product that is 70% fructose, where as the HFCS used in most soda is 55% fructose making agave nectar actually higher in fructose than HFCS.
Because this form of fructose is highly processed, it is a foreign sugar to us and isn’t digested in the small intestine but in the liver where it gets converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. To make matters worse, processed fructose inhibits leptin, the hormone that helps know when we are full and to stop eating.
Agave contrary to popular belief, is not a natural sweetener and is best avoided.
Natural sweeteners provide us with naturally occurring enzymes, vitamins and minerals so we are better able to process and utilize the energy the sweetener provides. They don’t block hormones or stimulate the brain in near the way processed sweeteners do.
Paleo-Approved Natural Sweeteners to use this Valentine’s Day
Coconut sugar is made from the extracted sap of the blooms of the coconut and is a lower glycemic sweetener than either honey or maple syrup. Coconut sugar contains the minerals potassium, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, sodium and sulfur. It contains many B vitamins such as inositol, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and choline. It also contains polyphenols and antioxidants.
Coconut sugar can be used as a direct 1-1 replacement for table sugar in your baked goods and has about half the glycemic load as table sugar. Its flavor is similar to brown sugar.
Honey has long been known for its powerful healing properties through some of its phytonutrients that act as anti-fungals and antibacterials. Honey also contains vitamins B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and certain amino acids. The minerals found in honey include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.
Because honey is primarily comprised of monosaccharides, it is considered an easier sweetener to digest than others. (Because of its simple construction, honey is an allowed sweetener on the GAPS diet.) This can be a great source of quick carbs and quick energy, if needed.
Maple syrup contains at least 24 antioxidants and the darker the syrup (Grade B) the more antioxidants you will find. Maple syrup also contains high amounts of manganese as well as some calcium, potassium and zinc. Maple syrup has some B vitamins such as niacin, B2, B5, B6, folic acid, and biotin that are vital to supporting blood sugar stabilization.
Maple syrup ranks at about a 54 for on the glycemic index, compared to table sugar’s score of 65. It is composed of about two-thirds sucrose, a disaccharide, making it more difficult to digest for some (compared to honey).
Try the Melt in Your Mouth Blondies that use maple syrup as the sweeteners. Yum!
Dates or Date Sugar
Dates are a good source of potassium, copper and have some magnesium and manganese. Dates also contain niacin, B6, pantothenic acid, small amounts of folate and thiamine. Date sugar can be used as a 1-1 replacement for table sugar or brown sugar.
Medjool Dates are known to be high in antioxidants. In fact, they have been shown to actually reduce LDL cholesterol by inhibiting LDL oxidation in the body according to this study. They are also a good source of fiber and therefore useful in preventing or relieving constipation.
Blackstrap molasses contains many minerals such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, iron, phosphorous, chromium cobalt and sodium. It also contains various B vitamins such as niacin, vitamin B-6, thiamine and riboflavin.
Blackstrap molasses is known for its high levels of antioxidants due to the high levels of manganese it contains, it is a blood sugar stabilizer because of the chromium (chromium increases glucose tolerance in the body) and it also has been shown to lower blood pressure due to its potassium levels.
There you go, 5 natural sweeteners to sweeten up your Valentine’s Day this year that you can feel good about. But, as always, sweeteners are still, sweet. When you sit down to enjoy your delectable delights this Valentine’s Day, be sure to be fully present. Take your time and enjoy each bite so you don’t feel like you missed it and then only want more.