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Discover 7 Healthy Natural Sweeteners for Your Sugar-Free Diet

Are you trying to quit sugar, but you love a sweet treat? Don’t worry; there are plenty of natural alternatives to sugar that, consumed in moderation, are healthy and safe. It’s been six years since I quit sugar, and I’ve created hundreds of sugar-free recipes that are delicious and satisfying, with no added sugar and minimal use of natural sweeteners. Whether you are looking to lose weight or improve your overall health, read on to discover some of the best sugar substitutes and how to work with them to achieve your goals.

A sugar-free lifestyle: my 5-year success story

I wrote this article five years after I quit sugar. During this time, I became an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, created hundreds of recipes of healthy sweet treats and sugar-free desserts, and published two cookbooks with lectin-free, gluten-free, and sugar-free recipes:

While I do love that we have safe alternatives to sugar, I am not advocating for using these sweeteners to simply replace sugar. That’s why, when I create recipes, I don’t replace one cup of sugar with one cup of sweetener, but I build the recipe in a way so it doesn’t need that much sweetener.

The usual amount of sweetener that I use in a full-size cake can be about three tablespoons of sweetener. This way, you will not feel an aftertaste (which many people complain about), and you won’t have to worry it will negatively affect your health, as the dose is very small.

Read more about my 5-Year Journey of Quitting Sugar and How It Changed My Life:

Sugar cubes

What does sugar-free mean?

There is no secret that excessive sugar consumption can be detrimental to one’s health, and it’s important to be aware of the different types of sugar and their impact. Refined sugar, which is often found in processed foods and beverages, is particularly problematic.

Consuming too much refined sugar can lead to weight gain, as it contains empty calories with no nutritional value. Additionally, high sugar intake can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health issues.

However, sugar comes in many forms and shapes, sometimes disguised as healthier alternatives, such as agave syrup or molasses. Not all that is labeled sugar-free or no added sugar is healthy!

So, if you wonder what ‘sugar-free’ truly means, these are the most common situations you will meet with a ‘sugar-free’ claim:

  1. No added sugar. Many products and recipes are labeled sugar-free, but are they really sugar-free? If there is no added sugar, but there is molasses, corn syrup, date syrup, agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar, and even large quantities of honey, then they are not sugar-free. Some of them will be even more dangerous than sugar because, under the disguise of the sugar-free label, you will believe they are healthy and eat more. I occasionally use dry dates in my baking, but it is in minimal quantities, and I do mention it is not for everyone.
  2. Sugar-free but contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose. Just stay away from these, they are worse than eating sugar!
  3. Sugar-free but contain low-calorie sweeteners like the seven ones listed in this article. They are safe to eat, but you should apply caution. Do not replace one cup of sugar with one cup of sweetener. That’s not healthy, and it will not help to reduce sugar cravings, on the contrary. Use these sweeteners in minimal amounts to add a little sweetness to truly sugar-free desserts. I do stay away from most sweet treats marketed as keto (there are some good ones, too!), as they tend to be overly sweet.

The mindset: it’s the sweetness, not the sugar!

When deciding to quit sugar, we must start with the right mindset. The whole point of quitting sugar is to make our taste buds more sensitive to the sweet taste.

When we are used to eating overly sweet food, our sensitivity to sweets decreases, and we will always want more sweets. When your taste buds feel the sweet taste, a signal will be sent to the brain to release insulin. But guess what? Your brain doesn’t make a difference in the source of sweetness.

Surprisingly or not, this adaptation is not a long process. It’s challenging because sugar is addictive, but sugar withdrawals don’t last long.

In one week of giving up sugar, you will notice a difference. If you eat something sweet you used to eat before, you will find it extremely sweet. Your taste buds have adapted already, and congratulations, you are more sensitive to the sweet taste!

So, when you start cooking sugar-free sweet treats or desserts, do not go crazy on the sweetener!

Artificial sweeteners to avoid at all costs

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, are often used as a substitute for sugar in foods and drinks. Food manufacturers love them because they are cheap and have a long shelf life. While they may provide a calorie-free alternative to sugar, research has linked their consumption to various negative health effects.

Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes, while others have linked them to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. Additionally, some people may experience negative side effects like headaches or digestive issues when consuming artificial sweeteners.

You might know them by these names: Sweet’N’Low, Equal, and Splenda.

A Duke University study in 2007 showed that one packet of Splenda, which is sucralose, killed off 50% of the male rat’s microbiome (good gut bacteria).

Natural sugars that can be healthy

What you can occasionally have as a treat, but know that it can cause a spike and sudden drop in glucose levels and are not appropriate for people with insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes: maple, dates, these types of natural sugars. And even if you are healthy, eating them can make you feel tired, groggy, cranky, lethargic, and brain-fogged.

The quality of the product matters. You can have some pure maple syrup once in a while but stay away from those that are mixed with corn syrup or contain other questionable ingredients.

Good quality dark chocolate, made with cacao mass, cacao butter, vanilla, and a little bit of sugar, is a great way to get over that sweet craving. Chocolate above 85% cacao has no more than 1g of sugar per square. And even if sometimes the suggested serving is half a tablet, and it has 6g of sugar, one square after a meal is more than enough to satisfy that sweet craving.

Alternatively, you find good quality dark chocolate that is 100% sugar-free, as it’s sweetened with non-caloric sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit.

DISCLAIMER: Please consult with your doctor before making any diet changes, especially if you take any medication.

Seven sugar-free, low-calorie, natural sweeteners that are safe

Natural sweeteners products

Sugar-free, low-calorie, natural sweeteners are a great alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners, even if you have insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes. In fact, many doctors around the world recommend these sweeteners to people suffering from diabetes because they can offer you that sweet taste without spiking your blood sugar.

These seven natural sweeteners are considered safe:

  1. Allulose (non-GMO)
  2. Monk Fruit
  3. Inulin
  4. Erythritol (Swerve brand as favorite as it also contains prebiotic oligosaccharides)
  5. Stevia
  6. Yacon Syrup
  7. BochaSweet

While there are already studies confirming that these sweeteners are generally safe, long-term safety and effectiveness still need to be studied.  

Allulose (non-GMO)

Allulose, quite a recent addition to many experts’ favorite list of non-caloric natural sweeteners, is a rare form of sugar that was first discovered in figs. Allulose is so new that it is not yet approved by the European Union (at the time I’m writing this article, September 2022), but there are signs this will happen soon. It is, however, approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the US market. We soon should be seeing more sugar-free products – food and drinks – on the market containing allulose as a form of sweetener.

Allulose is almost 70% as sweet as sugar, so a little less sweet than sugar. Today, a lot of allulose is being produced, most of which comes from corn. For this reason, make sure you buy non-GMO allulose.

Allulose can be found in powder, granulated form, or syrup form and works well in baking and making ice cream or drizzling on top of pancakes and porridge.

Because allulose contains fiber, some people might experience minor, non-toxic abdominal discomfort when consuming it. As with all non-caloric, natural sweeteners, make sure you consume them in moderation, or rather small quantities, that would be enough to satisfy your sweet tooth without unpleasant side effects.

Gundry MD Allulose Sweetener

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Monk fruit

What is monk fruit? Also called lo han guo or Buddha fruit, monk fruit is a small round green melon coming from southern China and named after the monks who first cultivated it centuries ago. 

Its health benefits are well-known in traditional Chinese medicine, but The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its use as a sweetener only in 2010. Like allulose, when I wrote this article, monk fruit is still to be approved by the European Union.

Monk fruit sweetener is extracted from dried fruit, and it is 150-250 times sweeter than table sugar. It has zero calories and carbs and does not raise blood glucose levels, hence is recommended for diabetics.

You can sweeten anything with monk fruit. In its granulated form, you can add it to cakes, desserts, coffee, teas, porridge, and pies, and in its liquid form, you can use it as a syrup for pancakes, crepes, and more. Monk fruit is one of my favorite sweeteners, and I missed it since I moved from the US to Europe.

The FDA concluded that monk fruit is “generally recognized as safe” for everyone, including pregnant women and children. However, there are no scientific studies yet on the long-term use effects. There are no known side effects.

Monk fruit has been traditionally used for thousands of years by the Chinese to make hot drinks for the treatment of sore throat and the removal of phlegm, and its anti-inflammatory properties have been confirmed in a 2011 study.

Because monk fruit is so sweet, most monk fruit sweeteners are mixed with erythritol.

Inulin 

What is Inulin? Inulin is a type of dietary fiber found in more than 36.000 species of plants, such as chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, raw asparagus, raw onion pulp, wheat, and raw barley. Inulin is available as powder, in supplement form, or as an ingredient in high protein bars, cereal bars, yogurts, other milk products, drinks, baked goods, and desserts.

According to Dr. Steven Gundry, inulin “is probably the best prebiotic there is“.

Inulin helps improve digestive health and immunity, relieves constipation, helps manage high blood sugar, improves calcium and magnesium absorption and bone density, and, of course, helps with weight loss. Also, although the evidence is not so strong, some studies talked about other benefits of inulin for heart health, colon cancer, mineral absorption, and inflammatory bowel disease. 

In small doses, inulin is safe for most people. However, if you are sensitive to FODMAPs, you might not tolerate inulin. Always start with small amounts and see how you feel. Because of the high amount of fiber, you might experience digestive discomfort until your body adjusts to the added fiber.

Since inulin comes in a powder form, I love to add it to recipes that need a powder sweetener and to use it for dusting. Inulin is one of my favorites, but it is not a strong sweetener. It’s perfect for people like me who have trained their taste buds to be very sensitive to the sweet taste.

Erythritol

What is erythritol? Erythritol occurs naturally in some fruits, mushrooms, and fermented foods and belongs to the sugar-alcohols category (same as xylitol). The problem with sugar-alcohols is that they can cause digestive upset for some people. Erythritol is a good substitute if you can tolerate it.

In my experience, people use too much of it when trying to replace sugar. For example, if they have a recipe that asks for one cup of sugar, they’ll replace it with one cup of erythritol. I would never do that, and I don’t think that’s a SAFE way to use sweeteners. The most I ever added to a dessert was maybe 1/4 cup of sweetener, but I generally add 1, 2, or 3 tablespoons. When used this way, it will most likely not cause side effects.

Due to its low-calorie content and no impact on blood glucose levels, erythritol is recommended by doctors for people with diabetes.

NOTE: Does erythritol cause cardiovascular disease?

In March 2023, a study about erythritol published in Nature made misleading headlines about the safety of this sweetener in relation with cardiovascular health. While I do agree that we need to be more cautious when using these sweeteners and use them minimally, the study was misinterpreted by most of the media outlets and created panic among those who have been using this natural sweetener.

This new study only proves that high levels of erythritol in the blood are associated with adverse effects of cardiovascular disease. However, erythritol can actually be created endogenously from glucose by an unhealthy metabolism (the people in the study were over 60 and already had heart disease). The level of erythritol in the plasma is actually not related to the consumption of the sweetener erythritol.

Also, correlation does not equal causation, and several studies have shown that erythritol is not only safe, but has several benefits – including positive effects associated with reducing cardiovascular disease.

Stevia

What is Stevia? Stevia is a very old natural sweetener used to add sweetness to tea, and other beverages taste since the 16th century. The plant, part of the sunflower family, is originally from Paraguay and Brazil, but nowadays, it is also found in Japan and China (China is now the current leading exporter of stevia). 

Stevia is a non-nutritive sweetener (it contains zero calories) and a herbal supplement. It tastes 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, and it’s FDA and EU-approved alternative sweetener. If monk fruit is popular in the US, Erythritol and stevia are the most common non-caloric sweeteners in the European Union.

The most common way Stevia is sold is in a liquid form, in a very small bottle. Use one or a very few drops in your coffee or desserts where a granulated sweetener is not necessary. In a granulated form, stevia is usually mixed with erythritol or other sugar-alcohols.

The problem with stevia is the aftertaste, usually described as bitter. I have never experienced this problem; I guess this is because I always use the minimum for just a hint of sweetness. Also, the quality of the stevia product you are buying matters, and a more expensive product, from a reputable company will be of better quality.

Some popular brands of Stevia, like Sweet Leaf in the US, are mixed with inulin.

Yacon Syrup

What is Yacon Syrup? Yacon Syrup is a natural sweetener extracted from the yacon root, which natively grows in the Andes mountains in South America, where it has been traditionally used for medicinal purposes. People there believed that Yacon Syrup’s properties benefited those suffering from diabetes and helped in kidney affections and digestive disorders. 

The syrup has a dark color, and its consistency is similar to molasses. 

The carbohydrate content in yacon is about 70 to 80 % fructooligosaccharides and inulin. These components have a low glycemic index and should not cause spikes in blood sugar. According to Nutrition by WebMD, yacon root is shown to be hypoglycemic and may decrease insulin resistance and serum insulin.

However, use yacon syrup with caution if you have diabetes. In general, use Yacon syrup in small quantities occasionally. Dr. Steven Gundry states that he has observed a rise in triglyceride levels in some people consuming yacon syrup.

I used to be a big fan of Yacon syrup at the beginning of my journey, but now I enjoy it only occasionally, with some pancakes.

BochaSweet

BochaSweet is a zero-calorie, low-glycemic sweetener made from the kabocha pumpkin. It is a natural alternative to sugar that can be used in baking and cooking, as well as in beverages.

BochaSweet is known for its ability to mimic the taste and texture of sugar without the negative effects on blood sugar levels or dental health. It is also considered a safe option for those with diabetes and those following a ketogenic or low-carb diet.

The structure of the kabocha pumpkin extract is 100% pentose (5-carbon) derived from kabocha in the molecular structure of xylitol. While some BochaSweet products are pure kabocha extract, some are mixed with erythritol. Read the label to understand what kind of sweetener you are buying.

Conclusion on natural sweeteners

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a way to add some sweetness to your diet without consuming too many calories or sugar, there are plenty of natural options available. From stevia to monk fruit to allulose, there are several low-calorie, sugar-free sweeteners that can be used as a substitute for traditional sugar in a variety of recipes.

When incorporating these natural sweeteners into your diet, it’s important to be mindful of portion sizes and not rely on them too heavily. As with anything, moderation is key. By using these natural sweeteners in moderation and in combination with other healthy eating habits, you can enjoy a sweet treat without compromising your health goals.

Overall, by opting for natural sweeteners instead of processed sugar, you can improve your health and well-being in a delicious and satisfying way. So, go ahead and experiment with different natural sweeteners to find your perfect fit and enjoy the benefits of a healthier, low-calorie, sugar-free lifestyle.

Start cooking

There are hundreds of sugar-free recipes on this website, as well as in my two cookbooks mentioned at the beginning of this article.

You can start by browsing the HEALTHY SWEET TREATS category or use the search bar to look for a healthier version of your favorite sweet treat.

*This page contains affiliated links, which means I get a small commission if you choose to purchase something via one of my links, at no extra cost to you.

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