Now that health experts are acknowledging that the root cause of America’s health crisis isn’t fat (and healthy fats are actually good for you), many have begun to shine the light on sugar—a known toxin that is the primary dietary cause of obesity and related diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
But, since sugar is highly addictive, cutting sugar out our of diets isn’t so easy. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average American consumes 34 teaspoons of sugar a day, which is equal to more than 500 calories, and more than 100 pounds of sugar over the course of a year—per person.
The good knows is that it’s totally possible to satisfy a sweet tooth without succumbing to the addictive and toxic nature of refined, white sugar. There are so many all-natural sugar substitutes available, and by making these swaps, you can lower your risk for chronic disease, combat obesity, and actually lose weight—while improving your overall health at the same time.
Honey actually contains natural sugar, but it also has amino acids, electrolytes, antioxidants, and antimicrobial compounds that provide a host of health benefits. Honey has been shown to help with weight management, seasonal allergies, energy deficiencies, sleep issues, diabetes, and coughs.
As with any sweetener, it is important to use honey in moderation, and you want to avoid cooking with it. Instead, it’s best as an add-on to your meals. Try drizzling it on cereal or toast, adding it to yogurt, and including it in your morning smoothies. It’s also great in salad dressings, like my Chipotle Honey Mustard Dressing.
Stevia has become very popular as a natural sweetener, but not all stevia products are the same. I recommend using full green leaf stevia, which offers the most health benefits. It has been shown to combating cancer, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
It’s important to note that stevia is more than 200 times as sweet as sugar, while having zero calories and no carbohydrates. However, that doesn’t mean you want to use cups of it at a time. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly. It’s great to put a few drops in your tea or smoothies, and it also goes well with baking. Stevia does not brown like regular sugar, so it doesn’t work well for caramelizing.
Like honey, dates contain sugar in addition to more healthy compounds, such as phytonutrients, fiber, potassium and other antioxidants. This allows dates like the Medjool variety to decrease cholesterol, prevent and relieve constipation, boost energy, reduce triglycerides, and strengthen bones.
Dates are especially good in baking, and like most other fruits and vegetables, you can toss them right in to a smoothie. Dates are also great for those on a raw food diet who need a versatile natural sweetener. Another common use for dates is as an appetizer or snack, especially when stuffed with healthy ingredients like goat cheese.
If you get the organic variety, which I recommend, coconut sugar is unrefined, vegan and non-GMO. It can replace white sugar in just about any recipe in a one-to-one ratio. It’s also good for the gut and provides a good dose of vitamins and minerals.
Coconut sugar is a bit drier and more coarse than refined sugar, so you may need to add extra liquid to get the same texture in your favorite basked goods, like my Chocolate-Caramel Coconut Flour Brownies or Snickerdoodle Cookies.
Maple syrup is one of the most recognizable natural sweeteners around, and for good reason. It contains many antioxidants, fights inflammatory diseases, protects the skin, improves digestion and more.
This heat-stable sweetener works well in many recipes, including marinades, dressings, glazes, baked recipes, or simply on its own. And you can also use it in your coffee or tea in place of sugar. Some of my favorite maple syrup recipes include my Maple Glazed Rosemary Carrots and Maple Breakfast Sausage.
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