Sweets and sweet flavors are a part of our North American culture, and as such can be healthy for us if we are wise about our choices and enjoy them in moderation. Sweets have a chemical effect on our brain causing the brain to release serotonin, our body’s “feel good” chemical. White sugar, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and chemical sweeteners can be harmful for us. There are a few sweeteners found in nature that are much less harmful, especially if they have been minimally processed. Using small quantities of natural sweeteners may also help reduce cravings for sugary foods.
The three natural sweeteners that I will explore are:
- Raw honey
- Maple syrup
Stevia: (brand names Truvia and Purevia)
- Comes from the shrub stevia rebaudiana, and has been used in South America for centuries
- The leaves are processed to isolate the sweet components
- Can leave a bitter after-taste
- Past research in the USA did not find any adverse effects on the body
- A little goes a long way because it is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar
- Can be used in cooking and baking in place of white sugar – although recipes would have to be adjusted because it is very concentrated
- Nutritional profile (in its processed form):
- Has no calories
- Has no effect on blood sugar levels, as it is extremely low glycemic – which makes it safe for diabetics to use and does not cause weight gain
- Provides antioxidants, vitamins and minerals
- Is also sold as a nutritional supplement
Raw Honey: (not pasteurized honey)
- One of the oldest natural sweeteners
- Is approximately 1.5 times sweeter than white sugar, so less is needed when substituting for sugar
- Can be light or dark in color and vary in flavor depending on the plant source (ie: clover, alfalfa, etc)
- Is considered an ethical and environmentally friendly sweetener
- According to David Wolfe – it is not a good choice of sweetener for anyone who has blood sugar disorders, candida or cancer.
- Nutritional and therapeutic profile of raw, unprocessed honey:
- Contains antioxidants, enzymes, probiotics and minerals
- Helps digestion as it has antibacterial properties
- Helps absorb calcium
- Does not spoil or go bad
- Is a natural antiseptic – it can absorb moisture around wounds preventing bacterial growth
- Is made from the sap of the sugar maple tree. The tree is “tapped” which allows the sap to flow freely; the sap is then boiled to evaporate the water = maple syrup
- Has a 60% sugar content
- Is about as sweet as white sugar, and can be used in cooking and baking (but other liquids in the recipe would likely need to be reduced).
- Nutritional profile:
- Contains 2 main minerals (manganese & zinc) plus several other minerals (calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium)
- Manganese is an essential co-factor in enzymes needed for our body’s energy and is an antioxidant (fights free radicals)
- Zinc is also an antioxidant and is good for heart health because it helps prevent damage to the inner lining of blood vessels (caused by oxidized LDL bad cholesterol).
A high intake of sweeteners and/or sugar, no matter what the source – is not healthy for us. While stevia, raw honey and maple syrup are all considered to be “safe” natural sweeteners – it is important to note that all of them are still forms of sweeteners or sugar, and have an impact on our body, either by feeding our sugar craving or causing excess insulin production. Likely the healthiest approach to any sweetener would be to use a minimal amount, and have a goal of “kicking” the sugar craving or carb craving that so many of us have developed over the years. This would go a long way to helping us avoid the many common chronic illnesses that are associated with a high sugar intake, such as obesity, diabetes, heart and stroke issues, high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, inflammation, etc.
Are you wanting to permanently “kick” the carb/sugar craving – but not sure where to start? I can help! Contact me,
Superfoods by David Wolfe
University of California, Berkley Wellness Letter – May 2013
Copyright © 2013 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved