While natural sweeteners do have their benefits, they’re not completely free of guilt, and there are some things you should know before choosing the natural sweetener route. Many of them do contain great vitamins, minerals and nutrients, but they also come with the same amount of calories as pure sugar, and affect your gylcemic index the same way. You don’t have to resort to ariticial sweeteners as the answer either. They’ve actually been proven to increase sugar cravings and are toxic to your whole body. Avoid these natural sweeteners if you’re watching your weight. While I do recognize their health benefits, those benefits don’t negate the calories they include.
1. Maple Syrup
Probably my favorite of all natural sweeteners is maple syrup, but it’s extremely high in sugar with 14 grams of sugar in just 1 tbsp! That’s as much as some candy bars out there, and if you’re like me, one tablespoon of maple syrup isn’t near enough since it’s so tasty! Maple syrup is rich in many B vitamins and antioxidants, but it’s still calorically the same per teaspoon as sugar.
Oh with all those tasty gingerbread recipes out there, surely you’ve seen molasses in a few of them. Molasses offers that smoky, sweet, rich taste many of us love, but it’s not calorie free. It is high in iron and magnesium, but will still pack on the pounds if used with abandon. Molasses contains 15 grams of sugar in one tablespoon, which is more sugar than a banana has!
3. Coconut Sugar
This “healthy” sugar promoted by all the health food gurus today is nothing more than hype, despite its benefits. Proponents of coconut sugar say it’s low glycemic and great for diabetics, but any sugar source, which coconut sugar is, is not a great choice if you’re watching your weight or blood sugar. Coconut sugar contains 16 grams of sugar per tablespoon. See what I mean? That little addition of it to your oatmeal or smoothie isn’t doing you any favors! Sure it contains vitamins and minerals, but that doesn’t mean it might not add to your waistline if used without caution.
Most of you have probably heard by now that agave is one of the worst natural sweeteners out there. Agave is 90% fructose, which is more than high fructose corn syrup! Fructose is not used for fuel like glucose is, and both types of sugars are used very differently in the body. Fructose is actually stored as fat by the liver and increases diabetes risk. Avoid agave, even in all those fun superfood bars and products out there.
Okay, now I know many of you will argue that honey is healthy. You’re right, it is! Honey is still high in sugar, the same as all other natural sweeteners. Honey contains 16 grams of sugar per tablespoon, just like sugar does. It does contain great antiviral properties and won’t hurt you on a special occasion or when you’re sick and using it as a remedy, but don’t use it with abandon and expect to lose weight.
Many people buy dextrose in the form of Sweet and Low, which is an artificial sweetener derived from the natural sweetener dextrose, a molecule of sugar. Though it is lower in sugar than all other sources mentioned here, it is still a form of sugar and will affect your sugar cravings, so avoid it.
7. Date Sugar
Many vegans use date sugar because it is specially derived from dates, a delicious caramel tasting dried fruit. I have to admit, it is tasty, but it will make you gain weight if used with abandon. Date sugar lends about 50 grams of sugar per ¼ cup, which equals about 16 grams per tablespoon. If you want to enjoy dates, eat only a couple of the whole foods themselves, not the processed sugar form.
8. Barley Malt
This sweetener is derived from the sweet grain barley, and you’ll find it in many natural health food bars or protein bars. It’s rich in sugar but only about half as sweet as sugar. It is also from a gluten source, so if you’re sensitive, you also want to avoid it for this purpose.
9. Demerara Sugar
This “healthy” form of cane sugar, as so many people call it, is nothing more than sugar cane steamed. The water is evaporated ou, which leaves larger crystals of sugar instead of the fine sugar crystals found in refined sugars. No matter what healthy foodie uses this, avoid it.
Another sweetener out there derived from sugar cane is sucanat. It is also a less processed form of sugar, but calorically the same. It contains little vitamins at all, and isn’t a great option, despite what you hear.
11. Fruit Juice Concentrate
I’m always surprised to see products that claim to be healthy and great for diabetics yet contain tons of fruit juice concentrate. This is straight up liquid sugar, and it is nowhere near the same as eating a simple piece of fruit. You’ll see it in many snack bars, beverages and even cereals on the market.
12. Evaporated Cane Syrup
Another natural sweetener that appears in everything from nondairy milks to granola bars is evaporated cane syrup. This is nothing more than liquid sugar, seriously. Avoid it because it isn't healthy and not doing your waistline any favors. It contains the same amount of sugar as regular sugar and spikes the glycemic index in the process.
13. Cane Juice
Lastly, a similar sweetener to evaporated cane syrup is cane juice, which is basically the same thing, but not evaporated. This simple sugar comes from sugar cane in liquid form that's extracted from the sugar cane plant. Just like evaporated cane syrup, it raises your glycemic index and contains no nutritional value.
If you’re going to choose a natural sweetener, choose pure stevia extract, not forms with added fillers like inulin, maltodextrin, dextrose, etc. I like NuNaturals brand of Reb99 Pure Stevia Extract, along with Now Foods brand Organic Stevia. Both contain nothing more than pure stevia leaves ground into a powder. LIquid stevia is also a great choice, so long as you choose alcohol-free forms. Stevia is a natural herb that lowers your blood sugar, fights diabetes, and looks just like any other herb or shrub such as basil or mint. It contains no calories, sugar and doesn’t affect your glycemic index at all. Do you use natural sweeteners?