Medical experts have a wide range of opinions on what constitutes a healthy diet.
However, almost all agree on one thing: Eating too much sugar contributes to a host of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Both plain table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are equally culpable.
And they’re abundant, in sodas, juice drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, and virtually every processed food, including sauces, soups, many deli meats, hot dogs, and any type of bun or bread.
Even if you never touch dessert, it’s easy to eat too much sugar.
Zero-calorie artificial sweeteners are popular in diet products, but studies show that they don’t necessarily prevent weight gain. And for some people, they trigger headaches or other adverse reactions. What’s more, research has linked them to overeating.
What’s left? Natural alternatives.
These sweeteners are the healthiest ways to sate a sweet tooth:
1. Coconut Sugar
Also called coconut palm sugar, it comes from the sap of coconut blossoms. Compared to regular sugar, it is digested more slowly, causing milder upswings in blood sugar and more stable energy. And, it contains potassium, magnesium, zinc, other minerals, vitamin B1, and vitamin C.
How to Use: Substitute for table sugar. It has a slight caramel flavor.
2. Maple Syrup
Researchers have identified at least 54 different nutritional compounds in maple syrup. In lab studies, some of these inhibit cancer, inflammation, and diabetes. However, only pure maple syrup — not corn or other syrups with a maple flavor — deliver the benefits.
How to Use: In barbecue sauces and salad dressings and, of course, on pancakes.
Made from the leaves of the Latin American stevia shrub, the sweetener contains vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants — and zero calories. Plus, it doesn’t raise levels of blood sugar.
How to Use: Sweeten drinks or foods with powder or liquid stevia. Try a small amount, because it can be up to 400 times sweeter than sugar, depending upon the product, and can leave a slightly bitter or licorice-like aftertaste.
4. Blackstrap Molasses
A by-product of sugar refining, blackstrap molasses contains iron, magnesium, other minerals, and vitamin B6. And molasses is a natural laxative.
How to Use: In baked beans and gingerbread recipes, in spicy stir-fried dishes, or in a glaze for chicken or turkey.
5. Raw Honey
In addition to providing a variety of vitamins and minerals, raw, unprocessed honey fights bacteria and viruses, and can soothe coughs, sore throats, and other respiratory infections — or protect against them.
How to Use: In hot drinks, on toast or oatmeal, in salad dressings and smoothies, or with peanut butter.
6. Monk Fruit
Also called lo han, monk fruit is an Asian melon, and the zero-calorie sweetener comes in powdered form. Research shows it may improve cholesterol.
How to Use: Use it to sweeten drinks. It also can be used in some baking recipes.
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