A lot of research has been and is being done on the food we consume. The studies are aimed at assessing the contents and benefits of the foods. Sweetness is one of the most valued flavours in our foods and drinks. It is therefore essential to understand sweeteners and how they affect our bodies. There are two major categories of sweeteners: artificial and natural. While artificial sweeteners are popular tools for weight and blood sugar control, some critics have concerns about possible health risks. Natural sweeteners are being suggested as a potentially healthier alternative.
What Are Natural Sweeteners?
Natural sweeteners contain trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, among other beneficial properties. They are a reliable source of sugar that has not lost its nutrition in the process of refining (15).
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic or derived sugar substitutes which are many times sweeter than sugar and provide no or almost no calories. They can be helpful for people trying to lose weight or for people with diabetes who need strict blood sugar control. They also don’t contribute to dental caries.
However, natural sweeteners provide not only flavour but also desirable healing properties, according to proponents. Additionally, they are able to be used in a wide range of food and drinks. The best part about natural sweeteners is that they are readily available. Most fruits contain natural low-calorie sweeteners and sugars.
Why Is Too Much Sugar Bad For You?
Even with the use of natural sweeteners, there is still a need for moderation. Too much sugar in any form can be unhealthy.
Unless you understand how much sugar consumption is recommended per day, it might be hard to know if you are on track.
According to the American Heart Association, women should limit their added sugar intake to 6 teaspoons per day (100 calories). Men should limit it to 9 teaspoons, which is 150 calories per day. Yet, an average person in America consumes about 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day (16).
Refined sugars are often found in soft drinks, cakes, fruit drinks, and ice cream, among other processed food. These added sugars have absolutely no benefits in terms of nutrients. However, the calories can lead obesity and to heart health issues (2). The American Institute for Cancer Research also encourages less sugary food consumption to reduce cancer risk (16).
Suddenly cutting added sugars out of your diet can be challenging. There are just too many sugary foods available. You are used to the sweetness, and it is understandable. Nevertheless, your health should be a priority. That may mean using natural sweeteners as a substitute for refined sugar.
Healthy Natural Sweeteners
Fortunately, there are several natural sweeteners available to you. Even so, natural sweeteners can still be considered added sugars if they are used in that way. They have different components which determine their usefulness as a sweetener. Here is a list of the best natural sweeteners and their calorie content.
- Raw honey
- Maple syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Monk fruit
Everyone loves the thick brown syrup that is honey. Other than the miraculous way in which it is made, it is a hub of nutrients. Raw honey contains trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes.. It also has antimicrobial properties and contains traces of local pollen, which may help with environmental allergy symptoms (13).
A tablespoon of raw honey contains 64 calories (13). Pasteurized honey tends to lose nutrients. Be sure to pick raw honey to get all the benefits it has.
Raw honey makes great natural sweeteners for coffee. Do not add it to the coffee maker, though. Extreme heat might denature the enzymes in the honey. You want all the benefits. Add a teaspoon in the mug when it has slightly cooled.
Dates And Date Paste
These tiny pieces of delicious fruits contain more nutrients than you might imagine. They contain vitamin B-6 and iron, and are high in polyphenols, potassium, and fiber.. You can eat dates as fruits or make a paste that you can use in cereals or bread.
A single average-sized date might contain up to 20 calories (5). However, different dates have different amounts of calories. Remember to check the package.
Maples are available in two grades; A and B. The grade B is darker and has much more nutrients than grade A. Maple syrup provides calcium, zinc, and potassium. Pure maple syrup has up to 24 antioxidants for free radical neutralization (14). You can use maple syrup in baking.
We know a lot about coconut water, oil, and milk, but little is said about coconut sugar. It is one of the best natural sweeteners, adding taste and flavour. Coconut sugar contains a small amount of inulin, a fiber which may help slow down sugar absorption. In one study, a high-performance inulin supplement was shown to help in improving levels of antioxidants and glycemic control in women with diabetes type 2 (9). Coconut sugar’s glycemic index is lower than other sugars, likely due to its inulin content. Hence it provides a more steady glucose release into the blood.
A tablespoon of coconut sugar contains about 18 calories (7). The calorie content is similar to that of regular sugar.
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For a natural sweetener keto diet, you can use monk fruit. Monk Fruit is a natural non-nutritive sweetener, meaning that it provides minimal calories and carbohydrates. Mogroside compounds found in the monk fruit are about 100-250 times sweeter than sugar (12).
The best part is that it does not elevate blood sugar levels and also is low in fructose.
Yacon syrup is extracted from the yacon plant roots. Its popularity is rising due to its benefit as a sweetener for weight loss (6). The syrup contains fructans as well as digestible sugars such as sucrose and glucose.
Yacon syrup contains 133 calories per 100 grams, while in one tablespoon, there are 20 calories (6). It is suitable as a low-calorie sugar. The fructans and inulin in this syrup are prebiotics, which provide a food source for our gut bacteria. Maintaining a healthy gut microbiome plays a role in digestive health, the immune system, and many other aspects of human health (3, 6).
Taking too much yacon syrup (more than 20 grams per day) may lead to abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and/or diarrhea (3).
You can easily make banana puree from bananas. It is also the magic fruit that may help with asthma, cancer, diabetes, and heart health. It contains potassium, vitamin, fibre, and magnesium. A medium-sized banana contains up to 102 calories (4).
How To Curb Sugar Cravings?
As you focus on a diet with little sugar gotten from natural sweeteners, sugar cravings are bound to kick in. A lifestyle change will therefore call for positive ways of ensuring you do not backslide.
Extreme deprivation of sugar from your diet can be harmful. Find a balance and keep a close tab on your natural sweeteners. If, at one point, you feel the need for more sugar, here are a few tips to curb the cravings.
Submit To Your Craving
Submitting to your cravings sounds unreasonable when you want to curb the cravings. It does not mean that you overindulge.
Take a piece of chocolate or cake. Ensure the sugar you consume does not exceed your daily limits recommended by the American Heart Association (6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men) (17). The little bit of sugar will help with your endorphins and help you focus on other tasks at hand.
Just try not to make it a habit to overindulge. Remind yourself of the importance of cutting on sugar. Stay on course.
Notice The Patterns
Do your sugar cravings hit a particular time every day? If so, find a way of including protein in the meal before your craving hour. It will help steer you through the day or night without any additional sugars.
If your craving has no pattern, focus on including protein in your main meals and snacks.
Eat A Balanced Diet
To stabilize your sugar levels and keep them steady throughout the day, have a balanced diet. Include vegetables, proteins, and healthy carbs and fats in all your meals.
A balanced diet will keep you fuller for longer. The nutritional carbs will release glucose into the blood in steady amounts, ensuring you have no unprecedented sugar cravings.
Spices seem to apply just about anywhere. Adding cinnamon to your afternoon or morning tea might be just what you need for a sugar refill. Most spices do not contain sugars and are a fantastic source of natural flavor.
Fruits are one of the best sources of natural sugars. Instead of reaching for a bar of chocolate, get a piece of whole fruit. Nuts, seeds, and dried fruits such as dates can also be a great source of natural sugar. Some low sugar fruits include strawberries, peaches, blackberries, oranges, and avocados (10).
You Are In Charge
Stand firm in your own decision. You decided sugar in excess is not suitable for you; why give in? Take control and opt to not do anything about it. You might be going cold turkey, but you will be way ahead. In a matter of days, your body will adjust.
No Artificial Sweeteners
You might think they are a great solution since you are craving sugar. They may not be. The artificial sweeteners have no health benefits other than providing a calorie-free sweet taste.
The next time you have a sugar craving, take a walk outside. Do whatever helps to divert your attention. Load or unload the dishwasher, take a shower, fold your clothes. Anything to ensure you do not give in. You are in control.
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Foods That Help To Curb Sugar Cravings
Ignoring your sugar cravings might fail to work. In that case, here are some low sugar or natural sugar foods that can help alleviate your cravings.
There are natural yoghurts that do not contain artificial sweeteners. Yoghurts provide probiotics for the gut system and contain calcium and protein. The protein may help alleviate your sugar cravings by making you feel full (1).
You might already be tired of hearing this, but water is essential. Dehydration can elevate sugar cravings. Maybe you don’t really want a chocolate bar; you need a glass of water. Hydrate.
You have to be very careful here. Some snack bars are high in sugar. Find something that is within the range of the calorie amount that you want and that provides protein. You are tricking your craving, not feeding it. A healthy snack bar will do the work just fine.
Make it sugar-free gum. Chewing gum reduces food cravings. Carry it with you and pop them if the need arises.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Acute effects of protein composition and fibre enrichment of yogurt consumed as snacks on appetite sensations and subsequent ad libitum energy intake in healthy men (2015, pubmed.ncbi)
- Added sugars (n.d., heart.org)
- Alternative sugars: Yacon syrup (nectar) (2017, nature.com)
- Are Bananas Really Worth the Calories? (n.d., time.com)
- Are dates healthful? (2021, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Can Yacon Syrup Really Help You Lose Weight? An Objective Look (healthline.com)
- Coconut Sugar: Are There Health Benefits? (n.d., webmd.com)
- Effect of Flavonoids on Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Adults at Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review (2016, pubmed.ncbi)
- Effects of high performance insulin supplementation on glycemic control and antioxidant status in women with type 2 diabetes ( 2013, pubmed.ncbi)
- Eight low-sugar fruits (n.d., medicalnewstoday.com)
- Erythritol as sweetener—wherefrom and whereto? (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Everything You Need to Know about Monk Fruit Sweeteners. (2018, foodinsight.org)
- Is honey better for you than sugar? (n.d., medicalnewstoday.com)
- Maple syrup (2008, nrcan.gc.ca)
- Natural Sweeteners, A complete review (2011, researchgate.net)
- Sugar and cancer, what’s the link? (2015, mdanderson.org)
- Tips for Kicking the Sugar Habit (2020, herbinclinic.com)