Evaluating Natural Sweeteners {Break the Sugar Habit Challenge}

break the sugar habit challenge
source: mandiehman on Instagram

We’re wrapping up the Break the Sugar Habit Challenge this week, and today I want to share some more research about sugar alternatives and natural sweeteners.

To be clear, I strongly believe that the risks of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin and Splenda outweigh any possible benefit. Because these are chemically processed and about as far from “real food” as you can get, I do not consider them healthy replacements for refined sugar. We avoid “sugar-free” products — which almost always have one of these added — almost entirely, especially for the girls (although I will admit to occasionally sneaking a Diet Pepsi at my mom’s house).

What I want to talk about today, though, are natural sugar alternatives such as maple syrup, honey, rapadura, etc. It probably won’t surprise you to know that there’s a ton of conflicting evidence out there (for instance, agave — which is often touted as a healthy, inexpensive sugar alternative — gets a pretty bad rap from many whole food diet proponents, such as Sally Fallon and the Weston Price Foundation), so I can’t give you a clear answer on which is the best, but I hope the information below will get you started so that you can make a decision for your family.

Our Plan Moving Forward

As for us, honey and maple syrup are no-brainers, and we already have those on a high shelf in the pantry, ready to rejoin the family when the challenge ends!

I’ll also be buying some coconut palm sugar and rapadura to use in baking, and I’m sold on the benefits of using dates and other dried fruits as a sweetener as well. I’ll continue to use stevia, especially in beverages for myself, although I’m still a little nervous about giving that one to the girls, because there is some debate about whether it can affect the reproductive system.

We have some white sugar in our pantry that I’ve been using to make a syrup for our hummingbird feeder, so I’ll have to decide whether to buy more when that’s gone or not! I think I still have a couple weeks to experiment with the natural alternatives before I have to make that decision, though.

The Research

A lot of this research is from other bloggers, with plenty of links to their sources. I’ll be honest that I don’t put a lot of faith in “official” research when it comes to food and nutrition, and I think each of these articles is fairly balanced in assessing the benefits and possible drawbacks of each sweetener. But if you want more scholarly references, I’m afraid you’re on your own!

Are Natural Sweeteners Good for You? | Food Renegade
First, the positives.  Natural sweeteners are Real Food, meaning they’re old and they’re traditional.  They’ve been around pretty much forever. As such, our bodies are better equipped to eat them. Usually, natural sweeteners don’t cause as large a spike in insulin levels as refined sweeteners, so they’re less likely to contribute to insulin resistance and over burden your pancreas.  On a practical level, that means they can reduce your risk for developing diabetes while simultaneously not sending you into the violent mood and energy swings associated with sugar consumption.

A Guide to Natural Sweeteners | The Nourishing Gourmet
Unrefined, natural sweeteners are a gift for us to treasure. Like any good gift, they can become corrupted and abused, a tendency we must watch out for. But properly used they add depth and sweetness to a myriad of savory dishes and they make heavenly sweet treats.

This guide is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather give you an introduction to the wonderful natural sweeteners I personally am familiar with and use.

The Most Nutritious Sweeteners | Heavenly Homemakers
Raise your hand if you ever feel overwhelmed and confused about which sweeteners/sugars are the best to use in your treats?

Uh-huh…me too.  There are dozens of different sweeteners out there and all kinds of  arguments trying to convince you to eat one over the other.

While I’m certainly no sweetener expert (although I do consider myself an expert taste tester of all things sweet and sweeter), I will share with you what I’ve learned through the past few years of researching.

All About Sugars: The Good, the Bad & the Disgusting | Kelly the Kitchen Kop
As you all know by now, NO sugar is good for us, and I’d be much better off if I could kick the habit for good, but until then, it helps to know which ones are at least a little better than others. Read more below about your choices.

All About Sugars: Best to Worst | Kelly the Kitchen Kop
To continue from part 1, Sugars – the good, the bad & the disgusting, I’m going to add a best to worst list of sweeteners here. These are in order from best choices to the worst choices:

Life is Sweet! A Guide to Using Healthy Sweeteners | Healthy Child
There is a broad spectrum of healthy sweeteners to choose from, and they vary in degrees of processing and nutrition. Raw and minimally processed sweeteners generally contain more nutrition than highly processed alternatives. Organic sweeteners have the added benefit of being grown and processed in a way that is not only healthier for us but for the environment as well.

Research from Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

Nobody does research like Katie from Kitchen Stewardship, so you’ll want to read through each of these posts for a more in-depth look at each of these natural sugar alternatives:

Join the Break the Sugar Habit Challenge

break-the-sugar-challengeAlthough we’re wrapping up the challenge, it’s not too late for you to jump in. Read back through the posts in the series and pick a date to get started. You can do it!

How will your family approach sweets moving forward? Will you use refined sugar in moderation or stick to natural sweeteners?