There are a number of health reasons to stay away from refined sugar, but unless you've been able to give it up completely, you're probably using a healthier alternative to stir into your coffee and cereal every morning. How healthy is your healthy alternative, though? Let's go over five of the most common alternatives.
Although agave nectar has only been trending with the health food crowd for a while now, it's been used as a sweetener, medicinal tonic, and fermented into alcohol (tequila) for thousands of years in its native Mexico. While traditionally produced agave has high mineral compounds, fructans, and saponins, which enrich it with antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and immune-system-boosting properties, it's now believed that commercially produced agave loses all those properties before it reaches shop shelves due to the high heat applied during extraction for mass production. Without its health properties and minerals, the agave syrup we're left with is basically a high-fructose syrup that's even worse than white sugar.
Although coconut sugar comes crystal, liquid, and block form, the most commonly found is granulated and can easily be mistaken for brown sugar. This sweetener comes from the sap of cut flower buds that grow on coconut palms. While it contains vitamins like B1, B2, B3, and B6, which aid in fighting stress and boosting energy, and short chain fatty acids like glutamic acid, which aids the body's metabolic functions.
One of its main strengths, aside from being sustainably farmed, is that it has a low glycemic index of 35, making it perfect for diabetics and people who want to avoid blood sugar spikes. Coconut sugar is also rich in potassium and zinc and has twice the amount of iron and four times the amount of magnesium than its doppelgänger brown sugar.
If you thought maple syrup was reserved for topping your pancake stacks, you thought wrong. When used in moderation, this natural syrup can be a weight-loss wonder and a great replacement for cane sugar.
Not only does the tree sap contain minerals like zinc and magnesium, it also has a low-glycemic index, which means it stabilizes your blood sugar levels by releasing sugar slowly into your bloodstream, preventing dreaded sugar highs and the cravings that follow them.
Honey is probably one of the most commonly used alternatives to cane sugar. Although commercial honey has a low-glycemic index, manuka honey, which is created by bees that feed on the sap of tea trees, is your best bet, because it's packed with antibacterial health properties.
You might not have heard of blackstrap molasses, but if you're on the lookout for an alternative to refined sugar, you might want to add it to your shopping list. Molasses is the byproduct of cane sugar production, and of the many varieties, blackstrap molasses has the lowest sugar content an is mineral rich.
Blackstrap molasses is the liquid that remains after crystallized sugar is extracted from cane juice during the production of refined sugar. As a result, it doesn't taste as sweet as other byproducts but retains most of cane sugar's nutritional value. Although the syrupy substance scores moderately high on the glycemic index at 55 — meaning it should be used in moderation — it's still relatively low compared to refined sugar and has the added benefit of blood- and bone-boosting mineral content, with 5 tablespoons providing 95 percent your recommended daily allowance or iron, 50 percent of calcium, and 38 percent of magnesium.
It is also relatively cheap, despite not being as widely available as other natural sugar alternatives.