8 Natural Ways to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth
By Kayla McDonell
Added sugar is probably the single worst ingredient in the modern diet.
It has been associated with many serious diseases, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
What's more, most people consume way too much sugar and often have no idea.
Fortunately, there are many ways to sweeten foods without adding sugar. This article explores eight healthy alternatives you can use instead.
Why Sugar is Bad for You
For starters, there is simply nothing good about sugar. It contains no protein, essential fats, vitamins or minerals. There really is no need for it in the diet.
In fact, there is a long list of reasons why you should avoid it.
Simply put, people who consume the most sugar are far more likely to become overweight or obese than those who consume the least.
What's more, sugar is addictive. It causes dopamine to be released in the reward center of the brain, which is the same response activated by addictive drugs. This leads to cravings and can drive overeating (8).
In short, sugar is incredibly unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs. Instead, consider the following eight alternatives.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that's extracted from the leaves of a South American shrub known scientifically as Stevia rebaudiana.
It contains zero calories and has no known links to weight gain.
Not only is Stevia considered safe, it's also linked to some health benefits.
It's worth noting that the two different sweet compounds extracted from the stevia plant—Stevioside and Rebaudioside A—have slightly different tastes.
Typically available in powder or liquid form, products labeled "stevia" may contain either or both of these compounds in varying amounts.
That's why some varieties taste better than others and it may take some experimenting to find the right one for you.
All things considered, if you need to sweeten something, Stevia is probably the healthiest choice.
Summary: Stevia is 100 percent natural, contains zero calories and has no known adverse health effects. It has been shown to lower blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness similar to sugar. It's extracted from corn or birch wood and found in many fruits and vegetables.
Xylitol contains 2.4 calories per gram, which is 40 percent fewer calories than sugar.
Also, it does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels (16).
Most of the harmful effects associated with regular sugar are due to its high fructose content. However, xylitol contains zero fructose and thus has none of the harmful effects associated with sugar.
On the contrary, xylitol is associated with multiple health benefits.
Xylitol is generally well tolerated, but eating too much of it can cause digestive side effects like gas, bloating and diarrhea.
It's also important to note that xylitol is highly toxic to dogs. If you own a dog, you may want to keep xylitol out of reach or avoid having it in the house altogether.
Summary: Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that contains 40 percent fewer calories than sugar. Eating it may offer dental benefits and protect against osteoporosis.
Like xylitol, erythritol is a sugar alcohol, but it contains even fewer calories.
At only 0.24 calories per gram, erythritol contains 6 percent of the calories of regular sugar.
It also tastes almost exactly like sugar, making it an easy switch.
Your body does not have the enzymes to break down erythritol, so most of it is absorbed directly into your bloodstream and excreted in your urine unchanged (25).
Therefore, it does not seem to have the harmful effects that regular sugar does.
Moreover, erythritol does not raise blood sugar, insulin, cholesterol or triglyceride levels (26).
Human studies show no side effects of erythritol when consumed daily at one gram per pound (.45 kg) of body weight, though higher doses may lead to minor digestive issues in some people.
Summary: Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that tastes almost exactly like sugar, but it contains only 6 percent of the calories. It is an excellent sugar alternative, especially for people who are overweight or have diabetes.
4. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup is extracted from the yacón plant, which is native to South America and known scientifically as Smallanthus sonchifolius.
It tastes sweet, is dark in color and has a thick consistency similar to molasses.
It has recently gained popularity as a weight loss supplement after being featured on The Dr. Oz Show, a TV show hosted by a famous American doctor.
While one small study found that yacon syrup caused significant weight loss in overweight women, more research is needed to validate this claim (30).
Yacon syrup contains 40–50 percent fructooligosaccharides, which are a special type of sugar molecule that the human body cannot digest.
Because these sugar molecules are not digested, yacon syrup contains one-third of the calories of regular sugar or about 1.3 calories per gram.
They also feed the friendly bacteria in your gut, which are incredibly important for your overall health.
Yacon syrup is generally considered safe, but eating large amounts of it may lead to excess gas, diarrhea or general digestive discomfort.
Another downside to yacon syrup is that you cannot cook or bake with it, as high temperatures break down the structure of the fructooligosaccharides (38).
Instead, you can use yacon syrup to sweeten your coffee or tea, add it to salad dressings or stir it into oatmeal.
Summary: Yacon syrup contains one-third of the calories of regular sugar. It is also very high in fructooligosaccharides, which feed the good bacteria in the gut and may help with weight loss.
5–8. "Less Bad" Sugars
There are several natural sweeteners that health-conscious people often use in place of sugar. These include coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup and molasses.
While these natural sweeteners may contain a few more nutrients than regular sugar, your body still metabolizes them the same way.
That being said, the natural sweeteners listed below are slightly "less bad" than regular sugar. Nonetheless, they are still forms of sugar.