You know you should cut out sugar, but you have an awful sweet tooth, and just not enough willpower. Your end goal should be to get rid of sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners altogether as well as sugar, as they can create further sugar cravings. But if you really need a substitute to get you through withdrawal, here are a few to try, and more importantly, here are a few you should never, ever try.
The Best – Raw Local Honey
Natural health gurus have been extolling the virtues of raw local honey for years, and not only does this make a great sweetener, but it’s healthy for you. The key is to go with raw honey that is local to you, as local honey will help with any seasonal sensitivities you may have to native plants where you live. Pasteurized honey loses a lot of its health benefits and isn’t much better than sugar. The one drawback with raw local honey for an artificial sweetener or sugar substitute is it doesn’t cook well and is best for adding to foods and drinks without adding heat, although it’s great in your tea or coffee. You just can’t really bake with it.
Stevia, on the other hand, is great for baking and is a natural substitute for sugar. Unfortunately, you can’t substitute one cup of sugar with one cup of Stevia, as the latter is much sweeter. You’ll have to do some experimentation to find out how much Stevia to add to a recipe, and Dr. Axe recommends compensating for the loss of bulk ingredients with some alternatives.
“To make up for the lost bulk when using Stevia, use 1/3 to ½ cup of one of the following bulking agents: fresh fruit puree, yogurt, roasted winter squash, two whipped egg whites, or you can use 1–2 tablespoons of coconut flour.”
This sugar substitute is becoming increasingly popular, along with all the other coconut product crazes: coconut oil, coconut milk, and coconut water. This is probably as close as you’ll get to brown sugar without using, you know, brown sugar. According to Livestrong, it has a lower glycemic impact than sugar and has many trace minerals, as well as some electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which may help lower blood pressure.
Did you know that real maple syrup — not maple-flavored corn syrup — has up to 54 different antioxidants? It’s been reported to have properties that can fight cancer and diabetes. Good and good for you, for the win.
Runner Up: Blackstrap Molasses, which is making a comeback as a rich sweetener.
The Worst – Saccharin
Didn’t this stuff go away when they stopped making Diet Tab? The jury has long been in on the carcinogenic side effects of saccharin, yet it still used today and people are still eating and drinking it. You know it as those little pink packets of Sweet N’ Low, which happens to rhyme with “Just say no.” Take the hint.
Aspartame is another one of those little sweeteners we see everywhere to pour in our coffee and tea, going by the trade names of Equal or Nutrasweet. More like “NutraSUCK.” You’ll also find it in a huge majority of your diet sodas, among other things. Not only is it carcinogenic like its pal Saccharin, but studies have shown memory loss linked to it, according to Dr. Axe. And here you just thought you were getting old and Alzheimer’s was setting in.
“No, not Splenda!” you cry. “But it’s natural!” Yes, it’s derived from sugar and technically natural, but unfortunately, some studies have linked this sweetener with leukemia and when heated, may create toxic compounds. It’s natural, but it comes from a very bad thing and then is processed to make it worse.
If you’re scratching your head because you’ve never heard of this, you probably aren’t alone. This particular sweetener is marketed to consumers as Ace, Sweet One, and the ironically titled Sweet ‘N Safe. It’s more commonly used in chewing gum, candies, and alcoholic beverages. The potential damages? This chemical sweetener has been linked to cancer, kidney and liver dysfunction, eyesight damage, and even autism. (Hint: Vaccinate your kids, but don’t give them this stuff).
Runner Up: Agave Nectar, which is marketed as a healthy alternative but is loaded with fructose, and is little better than table sugar or corn syrup.
[Image via Thinkstock]