We discussed the healthiest no-calorie sweeteners in a past post, but you may wonder if those popular natural sugar alternatives really are better for you than the white sugar you can buy at any grocery store, even though they are all forms of sugar. Read on to learn the health concerns of white sugar and how three natural sugar alternatives compare.
What is Wrong with Basic White Sugar?
Both white cane and beet sugar are highly processed (you can read about how they process it here), and unnecessarily stripped of any nutrient content, often with strong chemicals involved. In this highly processed form, white sugar has a glycemic index of about 60, which results in huge blood sugar spikes when you consume it without fat or protein, like in your morning coffee or glass of iced tea.
Also, while not everyone avoids GMOs, many people today do. While white sugar can be made from sugar beets or sugar cane, much of the sugar sold in the US is made from sugar beets, which are GMO crops approved by the FDA. Unless that white sugar you buy is labeled as organic or Non-GMO Project Certified, you don’t really know what you are consuming.
Is it beet sugar? Is it cane sugar? Manufacturers are not required to list the source of processed white sugar on the packaging! Who wants to take a gamble with what they are putting in their body?!
3 Natural Sugar Alternatives and How they Compare to White Sugar
1. Coconut Palm Sugar: Affordable, Natural, Healthy and Available Raw
Coconut palm sugar has become popular recently, although you may have heard it referred to as simply coconut sugar. It has a lower GI index (35) than cane sugar, so it won’t spike your blood sugar as high when you consume it. It contains antioxidants, calcium, iron, and zinc. Yes, sugar can really contain nutrients when they are not stripped out by manufacturers!
How is it made? It is the sap of the coconut palm tree, so it is naturally extracted from the tree, and then the moisture is boiled off. That’s it! Raw coconut sugar is made by carefully heating the sap to just over 100-degrees F to remove moisture.
2. Yacon Syrup: Best Sugar for Weight Loss
Yacon syrup first became famous when featured on an episode of Dr. Oz. It is a thick, brown syrup (Brown sweeteners are good! White usually = highly processed) extracted from the root of a plant called Yacon. It not only has a low GI, but it is also believed to help prevent diabetes. Much of the natural sugar in the syrup is unable to be broken down by your body, so it tastes sweet, yet doesn’t have many digestible calories.
Yacon syrup is also prebiotic, so once the indigestible carbohydrates arrive in your intestines, they feed the good bacteria that keep you healthy. It is also a good source of potassium and antioxidants, and was shown in a study to help people lose weight when it was consumed daily. Yes, a natural sugar that can actually help you lose weight!
3. Agave Syrup: Pros and Cons But Better Than White Sugar (Also Raw)
Agave syrup has been popular for years, especially among raw food eaters. It is only heated to about 118 degrees during production, so it is considered raw. It is derived from the Agave plant that has a similar structure to an aloe vera plant. Sap is extracted from a part of the plant called the Pina, and then heated slightly to break down the carbohydrates in it to form a sweet syrup.
While the syrup is natural, raw, and has a lower glycemic index than sugar, it is mainly fructose, which when consumed outside of fruit (when in fruit it is absorbed much more slowly) is believed to contribute to insulin resistance that is the main cause of diabetes. However, if you are generally healthy and use agave syrup sparingly (which is easy, because it is super-sweet), it is still more natural and better for your body than table sugar. You just don’t want to pour a ton into a glass of tea or cup of coffee. Instead, include it in recipes only. The other ingredients help it absorb more slowly, similar to how it is absorbed into your body from fruit.
If you have always wondered if natural sugar alternatives are really a healthier option than white table sugar, then now you know about three of them and their pros and cons. They all contain calories and carbohydrates, but natural sugars provide nutrients and health benefits white processed sugar doesn’t, and many are better for warding off diabetes or managing it.