Let's Talk Sweeteners
By: Aya Owies
Let’s talk sweeteners! There is a plethora of information about sweeteners out there but it’s challenging to know which ones are the healthiest option. Many of us were raised eating white sugar, however, in the last couple of years we’ve come to find that sugar has been the cause of many of America's greatest health issues. We now know that a diet high in sugar is linked to cardiovascular disease, fatty liver, leaky gut, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancers, and other metabolic diseases. As a health coach, one of the main areas clients want to work on is managing their sugar cravings. People are addicted to sugar and they are struggling to break free from this addiction. While a diet high in sugar causes a slew of health issues, eliminating sugar from our diets completely isn’t the answer or the solution.
Our bodies need sugar to survive, it’s the reason why some of nature's most delicious foods are packed with healthy sugars. The key is to steer clear of artificial sweeteners and added sugar and instead enjoy natural sweeteners in a healthy and balanced way. When it comes to sugar it’s all about moderation. Sugar plays an important role in our body and more specifically our brain. “Glucose, a form of sugar, is the primary source of energy for every cell in the body. Because the brain is so rich in nerve cells, or neurons, it is the most energy-demanding organ, using one-half of all the sugar energy in the body” (Scott Edwards, 2020). Just like with everything, there’s a good side and a bad side, with sugar it’s so important to find the balance. The truth is, we don’t really need to consume very much extra/added sugar. Most of the foods we eat are metabolized into sugar or have enough sugar to provide our body with what it needs to survive. The reality is we do have foods and drinks with added sugar and we like to add sugar to things we’re baking, cooking, etc. There are healthier alternatives, in this case, I’ll share a few of my favorites below!
Honey is one of my absolute favorite sweeteners, you can’t get more natural than honey, right?! It’s so versatile, easy to use, and tastes absolutely divine on and in everything. Honey also has some amazing health and beauty benefits. Add it to a little bit of avocado oil or olive oil and you have yourself a super hydrating and nourishing hair mask. If you have bad allergies try consuming local honey or bee pollen. Honey is packed with antioxidants which helps boost the immune system, it can help with acne, heal wounds, can be used as a prebiotic and can even improve digestion. If you can, opt for honey that’s raw and try to consume your honey in its most raw form (limit heating/cooking it).
Dates are also one of my favorites and while there are many types of dates, medjool is one of the best and most popular. Dates are high in fiber, packed with antioxidants and of course they make an excellent natural sweetener. They make the perfect snack, but they can also be used in cooking and baking as well. You can make pie crusts with them, throw them in the blender with a frozen banana and dip them in peanut butter for the perfect snack. Depending on the type of date sweetness will vary. The smaller and harder dates tend to be a little less sweet.
Monk fruit is a unique type of sweetener that many aren’t very familiar with. Monk fruit is native to the regions of Southeast Asia; and it looks like a small gourd that grows on a vine. Monk fruit extract contains a substance called mogrosides which is known for being super sweet. A little monk fruit goes a long way. Monk fruit has many benefits, but one of my favorites is that it has zero sugar which means that it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. That means if you are prediabetic or diabetic using monk fruit as a sweetener is a great option. Monk fruit has no calories, no carbohydrates, and can be used in multiple forms such as powder or liquid. It doesn’t taste similar to white sugar and may take some time to adjust to its unique flavor, but it’s totally worth it.
Similar to dates, bananas are another one of my go-to sweeteners (I eat them almost every day). They are the foundation of all of my smoothies and make them extra creamy and so delicious. Bananas are known for being rich in potassium. Potassium is a mineral that’s important for helping maintain fluids in our body and regulate the movement of nutrients and waste in and out of our cells. Bananas are an excellent way to sweeten breads and pies, but of course, they also make the perfect snack. If you hit a slump mid-day and your brain needs a little pick me up try reaching for a banana.
Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut palm sugar is very similar to brown sugar only the granules are slightly larger, think tiny crushed crystals. It has a deep, rich molasses taste and can be substituted for regular white sugar. Coconut palm sugar is made from the sap of coconut palm trees; the sap is collected, heated and once the water evaporates you’re left with beautiful, crystalized sugar. Coconut palm sugar is unique because it’s considered a low glycemic sweetener which means that it will have a lower impact on blood glucose levels. This makes it similar to monk fruit in that it is a good option for people who are prediabetic or diabetic. It can be used in your morning cup of coffee, for baking and in anything you would use white sugar in.
A good rule of thumb is to always try to avoid added sugars and stick with the natural stuff when possible. Added sugar can go by many names, but to keep it simple if it’s not something that you can understand (honey, coconut palm sugar, etc.) try to avoid it. Even better, try cooking and baking more at home using some of the sweeteners above. Finally, when it comes to sweeteners and I mean all sweeteners, natural or not, consume in moderation. Moderation with anything and everything is key to living a healthy and balanced life. When trying anything new it takes some time to adjust but I promise once you get used to using natural sweeteners you’ll never turn back.
Aya is a Health Educator, coach and yoga practitioner, She is a Holistic Health Educator M.A., board-certified holistic nutritionist and 500hr YTT certified in yoga therapy. Additionally, Aya is a full-time health coach and specializes in working with a broad range of individuals helping them create a healthy and more balanced life. To learn more about her, visit www.thehealingnook.net.