How Sweet It Is: Your Guide to Natural Sweeteners

How Sweet It Is: Your Guide to Natural Sweeteners

Two hundred years ago, the average British Person consumed 4 pounds of sugar per year. In 1970, we jumped up to 120 pounds of sugar per year. Today, the average British consumes almost 150 pounds of sugar in one year. This is equal to 3 pounds (or 6 cups) of sugar in just one week! Yowza!

Naturally, this sugar shock correlates directly with the massive consumption of dead, processed food. Sugar is in just about every processed food out there, sporting more aliases than James Bond, making it even more difficult for the untrained eye to spot. Sneaky, sneaky.

What’s the big deal?

The refined sugars (including the devil incarnate, high fructose corn syrup) that make up the bulk of the annual 152-ish pound sugar consumption has zero nutritional value. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Check it:

1. It’s addictive.

Sugar has been studied and shown to be as intense as addictions to opiates like cocaine and heroin. Adding insult to injury, it’s not satiating, meaning it doesn’t create a feeling of fullness. This leads to cravings and, you guessed it, eating more sugar. Think you might be a sugar addict? Read this to break up with your sweet tooth for good.

2. It’s GMO-city.

The two biggies, granulated white sugar and high fructose corn syrup, are derived from genetically modified crops (sugar beets and corn). What‘s a GMO, you ask? Read this.

3. It makes you fat.

In addition to the perpetual cycle of eating it, as described in #1, sugar creates insulin resistance and raises insulin levels in the body, which increases the deposit fat in your cells.

4. It messes with your mood and energy.

Consuming excess sugar urges your body to secrete additional insulin, which transforms into energy. This is the phenomenon known as the “sugar rush”, which is quickly followed up by the inevitable “sugar crash”, leaving you tired, cranky, hungry, and moody, when your blood sugar takes a tumble.

Why artificial sweeteners are worse

It seems that the {obvious} choice to avert the above issues is to just replace the white stuff with an artificial sweetener, right? No.

Worst. Replacement. Ever.

In addition to shoving low-fat and chemical-laden “health foods” down our throats, the Diet Dictocrats have touted sugar-free options in the form of diet soft drinks, cookies, candy, and other nasties as a safe and tasty alternative for weight loss and {worse} diabetics. Here’s why this is a bad idea:

1. It causes weight gain.

Artificial sweeteners may play another trick, too. Research suggests that they may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and gain weight.

2. More GMOs.

The popular artificial sweetener Aspartame is the brain child of Monsanto, the biotech behemoth and GMO titan. It’s made using genetically modified bacteria and the end result is the biggest one-two punch to ever hit the food industry. Talk about a double whammy.

3. It’s linked to numerous health issues.

From headaches, to gastrointestinal problems, neurologic deficits, liver and kidney toxicity, and cancer, and just about everything in between. I could drone on for days about this topic alone. But I won’t.

How to get your sugar fix naturally

I like a nice fudgy brownie just as much as the next gal, but you won’t see refined white sugar {or—gasp—corn syrup!} in my pantry. Instead, I’ve got an arsenal of natural sweeteners that I turn to when the mood strikes for a little something sweet. I am human, after all.

Not only will these alternatives wreak less havoc on your body, but many also contain beneficial nutrients the way nature intended them to. Of course, it’s best to enjoy these in moderation, particularly if you’re watching your weight. Even too much of a good thing can tip the scale out of your favor. Disclaimer ending…now. Check out this saaaweet cheat sheet to swap out the bad for the good.

Natural Sweetener Cheat Sheet

Raw, local (ideally) honey

Raw, local honey is best simply because it’s not pasteurized to remove its healthy enzymes and healing properties. Opting for local honey is also beneficial, as you glean the immune-stimulating properties that your body and immune system needs. It’s also been known to be helpful in fighting seasonal allergies (or hay fever). Honey is sweeter than white, refined sugar, so you’ll need less when baking.

Real Maple Syrup

Grade A is sweeter and less robust than Grade B, which has a stronger, maple taste. Opt for organic maple syrup because non-organic is processed with formaldehyde, which is toxic.

Maple Sugar

Not as strong as unrefined cane sugar, and adds a lighter touch to many desserts. It can be used in place of white sugar. This is one of the more expensive natural sweeteners.

Coconut or Palm Sugar

Made from coconut tree nectar, it’s naturally low on the glycemic index, meaning that it won’t spike your blood sugar like white or refined brown sugar. It also has significantly more potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, phosphorus, nitrogen and sodium than its white and brown counterparts. This is the brand I use.

Coconut Nectar

Very low glycemic liquid sweetener derived from the liquid sap of the coconut blossoms, and it naturally contains vitamins, minerals, amino acids and other nutrients (including vitamin C).The glycemic index of coconut nectar is 35, making it one of the lowest among any sweeteners. This is the brand I use.

Muscovado Brown Sugar

Less processed form of brown sugar that retains the real molasses that conventional brown sugar (even organic) strips out. In a nutshell, conventional brown sugar is highly processed, refined white sugar that has had the surface molasses syrup added back in, which imparts its characteristic flavor. This is the brand I use.

Unsulphured Molasses

Molasses is a by product of white sugar. It has a very dark, robust flavor, and contains the minerals and vitamins from the sugar cane. Since it has a fairly high iron content, it has often been recommended for those with low iron. It’s fantastic for gingerbread cakes and cookies, as well as baked beans. Unsulphured is made from sugar cane plants that have ripened naturally. Sulphured comes from a much younger sugar cane that is unripe and to which sulfur dioxide is added to ripen it and as a preservative. Opt for unsulphured. This is the brand I use.


It’s similar to molasses in flavor, though not as strong. While molasses is a by product, sorghum is a “whole food” product made from sorghum grain. There are different types of sorghum: one is darker, one is lighter. The dark type works great in place of molasses. The lighter type is much more versatile and makes a great substitute for corn syrup in recipes.

Rapadura or Sucanat

This unrefined, whole, cane sugar is sweet and dark in flavor and full of all of its natural minerals. It can be used in a 1:1 ratio with white sugar, though it will have a more molasses-like taste.


Stevia is an herb that is very sweet. The Japanese have used it for about thirty years as a no calorie sweetener. The ground herb is green, so it is usually refined to a white powder, with its sweetness concentrated. It’s also available in extract form (my personal preference), just be sure to buy an extract made from the whole leaf. It can also have an “herb-y” after taste, so it is best used in very small amounts. Use stevia in moderation (like 1-2 drops at a time), especially if you are using a concentrated form – it’s ridiculously strong. This is the brand I use.

Now what?

This is where the rubber meets the road, but sweetener swapping can be confusing at first. As always, I’ve got your back. Check this out.

If The Recipe Calls For… Use This Instead…
White Sugar Equal amounts of rapadura/sucanat, coconut/palm sugar, maple sugar or use ¾ cup of honey in place of 1 cup of white sugar. With many recipes you can use maple syrup as well, you just may need to adjust the wet ingredients slightly.
Brown Sugar Equal amounts of Muscovado brown sugar, rapadura/sucanat, or coconut/palm sugar.
Corn Syrup Equal amounts of sorghum or maple syrup; ¾ cup of honey in place of 1 cup corn syrup.

Easy, right? If you’re new on this real food journey of cutting out the crap and replacing it with the good, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Start small. Begin using just one natural sweetener in place of regular sugar and then incrementally add more to your arsenal. Remember, it’s about progress not perfection. No one is perfect. Well, except Barbie.

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