5 natural sweeteners to help you beat sugar cravings

Natural sweeteners can help you indulge your sweet tooth without overloading on processed sugar – but which ones should you turn to?

A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but we all know by now that too much of the sweet stuff isn’t good for us.

There’s growing scientific evidence to show our seemingly insatiable appetite for sugar is contributing to waistline issues and serious diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The World Health Organisation recommends we limit our sugar intake to six teaspoons a day – which works out to about 5 per cent of our total daily calories.

What are natural sweeteners?

Keeping our sugar intake to just six teaspoons a day can be tricky given sugar is hidden in almost everything we eat.

But the good news is there are lots of healthier alternatives available – and many of them include other nutrients our bodies need.

Dietitian Rebecca Flavel says while “sugars” in all forms are converted by our bodies into glucose for fuel, the effects on our health when it comes to natural versus refined sugars are usually very different.

“The less refined the natural sweeteners are the better, so they still contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and in some cases, fibre,” Rebecca says.

Here are five we love (in no particular order):

1. Honey

The original “go-to”, this is one of the best natural sweeteners of all.

Raw honey is full of enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin.

Honey has the same calories as sugar and yes it is high in fructose (a natural sugar), but science shows it has many health benefits when used in moderation.

Drizzle it on your morning oats, over your toast or mix it in yoghurts or salad dressings. It’s great in tea and even coffee too.

2. Stevia

Derived from the leaf of the stevia plant, which is native to Central and South America, stevia has been used to sweeten beverages and make tea since the 16th century.

It’s virtually calorie free and has been shown to have next to no impact on blood glucose, making it an excellent sugar substitute for people with diabetes.

It’s also been shown to lower blood pressure.

Stevia is available in liquid or powder form and, given it is about 100 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar, go lightly – a little goes a long way.

3. Blackstrap molasses

Also known as black treacle, blackstrap molasses comes from raw sugar cane.

The extract is boiled until it is a rich, sweet syrup.

Unlike other molasses, blackstrap is boiled three times, concentrating its nutrients.

In its organic form it is rich in copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, selenium and vitamin B6.

Use it when baking or add it to hot water and drink it either warm or cold. But remember, it is still high in sugar content despite all the extra nutrients.

4. (Real) maple syrup

Maple syrup is prepared from the sugary sap of the maple tree and goes through minimal processing.

It contains antioxidants and minerals such as zinc and potassium.

It also has a lower glycemic index than refined sugars, meaning it won’t lead to spikes in blood sugar –  although, Rebecca cautions, it’s still a concentrated source of carbs, so don’t go overboard.

Strange but true – some people swear by a fine drizzle of it over Brussels sprouts.

Just be sure to buy the 100 per cent pure syrup and not maple-flavoured corn syrup.

5. Coconut Sugar

Made from the sweet nectar of flower buds on the coconut palm, the name alone evokes holiday feels.

It has been used as a natural sweetener in Southeast Asia for centuries, particularly in the Philippines and Indonesia.

Coconut sugar is a source of potassium, iron and vitamins and although it provides the same amount of calories and carbs as regular sugar, it has a lower GI.

A word of caution on natural sweeteners…

Rebecca says we need to remember that naturally derived sugars are still sugars.

“So they’re not a health food,” she says.

“But if you’re looking for something to sweeten food or drinks, they are a more nutritious way to do it.”

Looking for some sugar-free baking inspiration? Try these for a delicious treat:

Written by Liz McGrath.