7 natural sugar alternatives that have health benefits

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7 natural sugar alternatives that have health benefits

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This article describes 7 natural sugar alternatives. Replacing refined or table sugar with these is a better choice because many are low in calories and have polyphenols. 

There is a rapid increase in refined/table sugar consumption in the recent past. It has found its use in many food items which was not the case 50 years ago. 

Refined sugars are simple carbohydrates. These simple sugars don’t contain any minerals, vitamins, polyphenols, and amino acids. 

World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that added sugar quantities should not exceed more than 10% of total calorie intake per day (1).

Refined sugar is one of the main culprits of the rise in obesity in the USA and around the world (2).  And obesity is the root of many diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, chronic inflammation, and even cancer (3).

Thus, high sugar consumption is indirectly involved in many of the ailments. Therefore, finding alternatives to regular/table sugar can be beneficial. 

Fortunately, there are several natural sweeteners available that are lower in calories and also have additional health benefits. 

1) Xylitol

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener.  It belongs to the sugar alcohol family called polyols which are obtained from different vegetables and fruits such as plums, strawberries, cauliflower, spinach, and pumpkin (4).

Xylitol is used in confectionery as a sweetener as well as in odontological and pharmaceuticals (5).

The best-known use of Xylitol is in dental health. It helps in minimizing the risk of developing dental caries (6).

Other benefits of xylitol are still under study. 

So far, Xylitol is shown to be beneficial as an anti-inflammatory agent (7).

Xylitol is good for bone health as well (8,9).

Since Xylitol is as sweet as white sugar but has 2.4 kcal/g compared to sugar 3.87 kcal/g. This will definitely help to achieve the same sweetness with fewer calories. 

Research shows that consuming Xylitol be useful in preventing obesity and help manage weight loss plans (10,11,12).

Xylitol has been used as an anti-constipation agent as it normalizes bowel movement (13). This could be due to the fact that Xylitol has a prebiotic activity. It promotes the function of the colon and guts microbiota (14,15).

Xylitol is a natural sweetener that is as sweet a table sugar but has fewer calories. It has other health benefits too which makes it a great alternative to table sugar. 

2) Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana)

Stevia comes from a large family of plants in the South American continent. 

They are specific to North Eastern Paraguay where people used dry stevia leaves to sweeten their drinks. 

The main ingredients that give stevia its sweetness are stevioside and rebaudioside. Stevia has a bitter aftertaste which is due to the presence of stevioside. 

These ingredients make stevia 300 times sweeter than table sugar. Moreover, 1 gram of dry stevia has only 2.7 kcal (16).

Not only that, but stevia also has some health benefits. 

The obvious health benefit of stevia is weight management because it allows you to take fewer calories (17).

It also has the potential to increase insulin levels, decrease blood pressure and body weight (18).

Animal research shows stevia can promote insulin secretion and utilization in the body (19). Therefore, Stevia is helpful in the management of diabetes. Research in humans shows that consumption of stevia as a sweetener resulted in lowering of postprandial (after-meal) glucose levels in type 2 diabetes patients (20).

Stevia is also useful in lowering blood pressure without any adverse effect on the lifestyle (21).

Stevia also has anti-inflammatory activity by inhibiting pro-inflammatory indicators in our bodies (22).

In summary, Stevia is a natural sweetener with almost zero calories that has other health benefits such as glucose-lowering properties and anti-inflammatory effects. 

3) Erythritol

Erythritol is another natural sweetener heavily used in the food and pharmaceutical industry. 

Like Xylitol, Erythritol belongs to the sugar alcohol family polyols. 

Since Erythritol is present in small quantities in plants most of the available Erythritol comes from industrial processing. However, due to inefficient production methods, it is still expensive to buy compared to other natural sweeteners available (23).

Erythritol is very low in calories. 1 gram of Erythritol contains only 0.2kcal and it is almost as sweet as table sugar. It contains10 times fewer calories compared to Xylitol (24).

For this reason, Erythritol is a good sweetener for weight management. Animals studies show no weight gain after long-term consumption of Erythritol (25).

Erythritol sweetened drinks promote satiety (fullness) by suppressing ghrelin (hunger-inducing hormone) compared to aspartame (artificial sweetener) (26). Thus, replacing table sugar with Erythritol can be a better choice if weight loss is your goal. 

Erythritol is beneficial in lowering glucose levels shown by animal and human research. 

Animal research shows that it lowers glucose by increasing muscle glucose absorption and decreasing small intestine glucose absorption (27).

In humans, Erythritol does not cause a spike in glucose or insulin at higher doses in diabetics or non-diabetic patients which shows that it is a good alternative to table sugar (28,29).

Research also shows that Erythritol could be more effective in dental health compared to Xylitol and Sorbitol (30).

Erythritol is well tolerated. In fact, up to 132g per day Erythritol in adults is well-tolerated. Quantities as high as 1g/kg body weight did not show any adverse effects in healthy individuals (31,32).

Many studies have found Erythritol to be better for health because it has almost zero calories yet it is as sweet as table sugar. It can be a good choice for weight loss. 

4) Honey

Honey in a jar
honey is a good natural sugar alternative

Honey is one of the most recognized natural sweeteners in the world. Honey has been consumed for centuries for its health benefits. 

Although it has a similar calorie profile as table sugar, honey is still a better choice than table sugar because it has many vitamins and minerals which are not present in table sugar (33).

Research shows that honey can promote weight loss and lower triglyceride levels in the body. Moreover, inflammation indicators were also reduced in honey-fed animals compared to cane syrup or sucrose (table sugar) fed animals (34,35,36).

Similarly, honey use in humans is beneficial in weight loss. Both in healthy and type 2 diabetes patients, honey use was effective in weight management (37,38).

Honey has antioxidant properties as well due to the presence of polyphenols and flavonoids.

Dark color honey has more antioxidant properties due to its high polyphenolic content (39,40).

Honey is effective for wound healing and skin burns. It is also used for periodontal and oral care. Manuka honey variety is shown to have antimicrobial properties (41,42).

However, this Manuka variety is expensive compared to regular honey available in the market. 

Research shows that the antimicrobial activity of honey is also useful in controlling diarrhea-causing bacteria (43), thus can be useful for digestive tract health. 

Honey is effective in treating throat infection/inflammation and cough (44).

Honey has also been recommended for the management of type 2 diabetes but his recommendation should be followed with caution as the honey sweetness profile is similar to table sugar (45).

Honey is a well-known sweetener. It contains several vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds which have health-promoting properties. 

5) Maple syrup

7 natural sugar alternatives that have health benefits 1

Maple syrup is obtained from the sap of maple trees (Acer sp.). The production involves boiling the extract under specified conditions. It results in distinct color and aroma as well as a nutrition profile that contains minerals, antioxidants, and organic compounds (46).

It is well established that antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins are good for health. Maple syrup polyphenols inhibit α-glucosidase which results in decreased glucose absorption in the body (47).

Ascorbic acid (vitamin C) supplementation can reduce fasting glucose levels, decreasing insulin resistance and obesity-related inflammation. It has been recommended as a natural food intervention for diabetes management (48,49). 

Maple syrup contains ascorbic acid and the use of Maple syrup as a sugar alternative can be good for the management of diabetes (50).

Maple syrup can be a sweetener for choice due to fact that it does not cause glucose spikes after consumption (51).

Maple syrup contains several minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins. Mapel syrup use is associated with glucose-lowering due to the presence of vitamin C.

6) Monk Fruit extract (Siraitia grosvenorii)

Monk Fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) also known as Luo hanguo is a plant native to the Guangxi province of China.

Monk Fruit extract is now becoming popular as an alternative sweetener in the West but it has a long history spanning over 7 centuries in China. It was used as a natural sweetener and herbal medicine for the treatment of throat pain and inflammation (52).

The active ingredient that gives monk fruit its extremely sweet taste is a predominantly cucurbitane-type triterpenoid glycoside, mogroside V. 

Mogroside-V is very sweet yet has almost no calories (53). For this reason, this natural sweetener is a good alternative for weight loss. 

Apart from being sweet, the extract has been shown to be effective against many ailments.  

Monk fruit extract is a useful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent. The active ingredients regulate inflammatory indicators that minimize inflammation and oxidative stress (54.55).

Mogroside V shows anti-tumor activity by controlling the pathways that promote tumors (56,57).

Monk fruit extract shows a strong anti-diabetic effect. Therefore, it is suitable for people with diabetes (58,59).

Monk fruit extract is being popular in the West. It is a natural sweetener with almost no calories. It also has many health benefits that include weight loss, diabetes, and inflammation. 

7) Molasses

7 natural sugar alternatives that have health benefits 2

Sugar cane molasses is the most known molasses type consumed worldwide. It’s another alternative that has great nutritional benefits. 

Molasses have a dark brown color with a syrupy consistency. It is obtained after sugar cane juice is boiled to obtain sugar. Leftover is boiled for the second time to obtain dark color molasses (60).

Molasses contain various polyphenolic compounds.  Polyphenolic contents in molasses exert antioxidant activity (61).

Research also shows anti-mutation and antiinflammatory properties of molasses due to rich minerals and phytochemicals (62).

Moreover, the antioxidant activity of molasses is suggested to prevent 

DNA damage due to oxidation (63).

Some have suggested that molasses contain high iron content and thus can be used as a dietary intervention for iron deficiency anemia (64).

Animal studies show that Molasses can also improve testosterone levels (65).

Molasses is a good alternative to table sugar because it has polyphenols with antioxidant activity and also has high iron content. 

The Gist

Refined sugar is one of the main reasons for many diseases. Thus we need to look at alternatives that have fewer calories and may also have health benefits. In this article, we looked at 7 good alternatives to sugar that also have health benefits. Replacing sugar with them can have long-term health benefits.