Natural Sweeteners – Eating Healthy to Stay Healthy

A List of 14 Natural Sweeteners That Are Healthier Than Refined Sugar

Honey and Biscuits
Honey and Biscuits. Photo © USDA, Scott Bauer photographer

“Ecstasy is a glassful of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth.” -- Alexander Pushkin

“If you want to gather honey, don't kick over the beehive.” -- Dale Carnegie

Having sugary foods and drinks can cause a spike in your blood glucose levels. In response, our bodies secrete insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF). These two substances promote cell growth and inflammation. And when you have too much of them, they can pave the way for the development of cancer.

Here's a list of some natural sweeteners that are lower on the glycemic index than refined white sugar. These sweeteners are healthier for you than refined sugar, and they taste great!

Agave Nectar: available as a fluid in light, medium, and amber. Extracted from the agave plant, this nectar is low on the glycemic index, and sweeter than refined sugar.

Barley Malt: has a flavored sweetness somewhere between dark molasses and honey. Barley malt works well in baking and making smoothies. The bonus in this natural sweetener is that it has several vitamins and minerals.

Coconut Sugar: made from coconut sap, resembles cane sugar but is very low on the glycemic index. Very healthy, coconut sugar contains sulfur, healthy micronutrients, potassium, and magnesium. It is easiest to find in Asian countries, but may be available online.

Date Sugar: made from ground, dehydrated dates. You can measure this in the same quantities you would use for refined sugar when making baked goodies.

Crumbly and textured, it won't dissolve in hot drinks, but lends a great taste to pie and cobbler toppings.

Fructose: made from fruit sugars, this is twice as sweet as refined sugar. Use half the amount that you would normally put in cookies, cakes, and drinks.

Honey: the original natural sweetener, this is made by bees from flower nectars.

Honey comes in hundreds of types and colors. Flavors of honey depend on the kind of blossoms that the bees visited. You can get honey on the comb, as a liquid, as natural crystals, or as a whipped, spreadable mixture.

Maltose: made from the starch of sprouted grains and rice. The plant starches are cooked and fermented until they convert into sugar. You may find this sold as crystals or as syrup.

Maple Syrup: collected from the rising sap of sugar maple trees, which is boiled down to drive off the water and thicken the syrup. Maple syrup comes in several grades, from dark to light, and like molasses, contains a good amount of calcium. You can use this wonderful sweetener on pancakes and in baking. Caution: many syrups are labeled "maple flavor" but contain just a little real maple syrup, or flavoring.

Maple Sugar: made from the very last of the maple syrup, when all the liquids have boiled off. Maple sugar is crystalline and quite sticky. It can be used in baking and in hot drinks, and is often sold molded into candy.

Molasses: comes from crushed and squeezed cane, which yields a thin, yellowish juice. The cane juice is boiled down and reduced to insulphured molasses or the aptly-named blackstrap molasses.

Dark molasses, especially blackstrap, has a distinctive buttery flavor and is loaded with calcium, iron, and potassium.

Rice Syrup: also called brown rice syrup, it is made from brown rice starch that has been converted into maltose. Milder than most honey, rice syrup can be in cooking, drinks, and as a spread on breads.

Sorghum Syrup: similar to molasses, but squeezed from sorghum cane. Sorghum juice is boiled down to evaporate most of the water content until it becomes syrup. Because sorghum cane is pest-resistant, is needs little pesticides, making it nearly organic, and very safe to consume.

Turbinado Sugar: brown crystals, often called raw sugar, this is partially processed sugar that contains some molasses. Turbinado sugar is not bleached or refined to the extent that white table sugar is processed, and has fewer calories. You can find this kind of sugar in crystals that are a bit larger than white sugar.

Xylitol: a natural sweetener that occurs in fruits, berries, and some vegetables, but is made primarily from birch bark. Xylitol is safe for use by diabetics ​and is thought to help prevent tooth decay. Health food stores carry xylitol in crystalline form.

Natural Sweeteners Glycemic Index

Glycemic Index
Agave Nectar15
Rice Syrup25
Raw Honey30
Barley Syrup42
Maple Syrup54
Blackstrap Molasses55
Turbinado Sugar65
Pastuerized Honey75
Refined White Sugar80

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