One of the most used sugar alternatives, erythritol has been linked to blood clotting, stroke, heart attack, and even death. This is the result of a new study conducted by the Center for Cardiovascular Diagnostics and Prevention at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute and published in the journal Nature Medicine. Even though more studies are still needed, researchers agree that limiting erythritol in our diet could be the best way to prevent long-term diseases. In this article, we will have a look at some of the best natural sugar alternatives. These can all be easily used as a replacement for erythritol in our coffee or desserts! 🍃
But first, let’s have a quick look at what erythritol is, and why it could be bad for us! ❌
What is erythritol and why it might be bad for us?
Erythritol is, together with sorbitol and xylitol, part of the so-called sugar alcohols. These are carbohydrates found naturally in many fruits and vegetables. However, unlike the sugars found in natural products, erythritol is generally manufactured artificially and has zero calories.
This is one of the main reasons why erythritol is one of the most loved sugar replacements, especially by healthy-conscious consumers, people who are trying to lose weight, and even diabetics. Indeed, it doesn’t spike or affect our blood sugar levels. In addition, unlike stevia, it has no lingering aftertaste and can be used in baked preparations. Additionally, it does not cause particular digestive or intestinal issues. (This is why it is often suggested to people with IBS or SIBO).
Last but not least, erythritol is a particularly inexpensive sugar replacement. This makes it an extremely popular additive to keto and other low-carb products, but also to foods marketed to people with diabetes. Similarly, it is often used also to bulk up the volume of natural sugar blends. This is why it is not uncommon to find “natural” stevia and monk fruit products, that contain a very high dose of erythritol. (In most cases the percentage of this artificial sweetener is even higher than that of the other natural sugar alternatives).
However, not all that is gold glitter! Indeed, according to a new study conducted by the Center for Cardiovascular Diagnostics and Prevention at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute and published in the journal Nature Medicine, erythritol might be linked to stroke and cardiovascular diseases.
In particular, researchers found that people with higher blood erythritol levels were at elevated risk of experiencing a major adverse cardiac event. In addition, the above-mentioned study revealed also that erythritol made it easier for platelets (i.e. fragments that clump together to stop bleeding) to activate and form a blood clot. As we all know, blood clots could be very dangerous. They can move through the body and reach our lungs or brain. There they can cause serious issues and, in the most extreme cases, even death.
Another interesting point highlighted in the study is that people with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes or high LDL cholesterol, were twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke if they had a high level of erythritol in their blood. And, as we have seen above, erythritol is commonly found in the very products for diabetics!
Although we need additional lab and human research, the results of this study cannot go unnoticed. Maybe it might be too soon to throw away all of our erythritol supplies. However, we could start to substitute as much as possible this artificial sweetener with other natural sugar alternatives. After all, it is always better to be safe than sorry! 🙌
Why Natural Sugar Alternatives are Better than Artificial Ones?
If refined sugars are highly damaging to our long-term well-being, the same is true also for many artificial ones, such as Aspartame, Sucralose, and Xilytol, especially if consumed in great amounts.
Studies have found that chemically manufactured sugars can lead to digestive issues, and can even disrupt the body’s ability to properly metabolize glucose. This can be a risk factor for diabetes and cardiovascular health issues.
This is why we should always opt for natural sugar alternatives, which, unlike artificial ones, can actually provide precious nutrients and therefore boost our health. For example, one study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that using healthy sweeteners, including blackstrap molasses, maple syrup, and honey, can increase our antioxidant intake, thus reducing oxidative stress in our bodies.
In addition, these are often rich in vitamins, and minerals. Plus, especially if found in whole foods (as is the case, for example, for mashed banana or Medjioul dates), also contains fiber. In turn, fiber can slow down the breakdown of food and therefore reduce blood sugar spikes. This is really helpful also for people suffering from diabetes and other chronic conditions.
Even though these natural sugar replacements are not always zero-calories as many artificial sweeteners, the benefits for our long-term health are certainly greater nonetheless!
Let’s discover some of the best natural sweeteners!
The 10 Best Natural Sugar Alternatives 🍯🍃
These are 10 of my favorite natural sweeteners (and some product recommendations)!
- Maple syrup.
Maple syrup is a natural sugar rich in minerals, including manganese, iron, calcium, and zinc, as well as antioxidants. One tablespoon contains around 12 grams of natural sugars and is generally sweeter than white sugar. This means that you typically need to use less (about 2/3 cup of maple syrup for every cup of sugar). You may also need to adjust the liquid content and cooking temperature. I love to use it in baked goods and as a topping to oatmeal and waffles; but also, to add a sweet touch to dressings and marinades. This dark maple syrup from Maple Grove Farms is the best for me! Make sure your maple syrup is all-natural, and not a high fructose alternative.
- Brown rice syrup.
Brown rice syrup comes from the fermentation of brown rice. The enzymes then break down the starch contained in it. The result is a smooth, thick, and pourable syrup. Brown rice syrup is very easy to digest as the fermentation process helps break down the sugars into ones that are easily absorbable by our gut. To replace regularly processed white sugar, use one cup for each cup of sugar called for and decrease the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup. Try this brown rice syrup from Lundberg!
- Date syrup (or dates).
Similarly to agave and brown rice syrup, date syrup is rich in minerals and vitamins. Among them are potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B6, carotenoid, and polyphenols. Alternatively, you can use whole dates (mashed) as a great natural sugar replacement. In addition to all the micronutrients listed above, these are also rich in fiber. These can help slow down the absorption of sugar in the blood. I love this organic date syrup from D’Vash.
- Agave nectar.
Agave nectar is an excellent natural sweetener. It is rich in vitamins C and B, as well as precious antioxidants, which can help fight oxidative stress. In addition, unlike honey, it is naturally plant-based and allergy-friendly. Lastly, it’s much sweeter than sugar, so you can use less of it for the same effect! I love this organic agave nectar from Agave in the Raw.
- Monk fruit sweetener.
Monk fruit sweetener comes from the homonymous fruit, native to Southeastern Asia. Conversely to the other natural sugar alternatives listed above, monk fruit sweetener is totally free of calories and carbs, which makes it ideal for people suffering from diabetes. In addition, it also contains antioxidant compounds known as mogrosides, which can lower inflammation levels in the body. However, as mentioned above, we should always check the ingredient label when purchasing monk fruit extract. Indeed, many products contain also sugar or other sweeteners, such as erythritol, which could negate its potential health benefits. Try this pure monk fruit powder from NOW Foods.
Stevia is another zero-carbs and zero-sugar natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of the South American shrub Stevia rebaudiana. This makes it ideal also for people suffering from diabetes or wanting to manage their weight. As with monk fruit sweeteners, make sure to choose a product that contains 100% stevia leaves, such as this one from BSweetBNatural.
- Blackstrap molasses.
Blackstrap molasses are a byproduct of raw sugar cane production but, unlike this, they contain the highest amounts of antioxidants among sweeteners, including maple syrup and honey. Moreover, they are a great source of calcium (about 10% of our RDA), and iron (around 20% of our RDA). I love to use them in both salty and sweet recipes, such as cookies, banana bread, and sauces. However, always keep in mind that, with 60 calories and 14g carbohydrates per 1 tablespoon serving, molasses is neither low-calorie nor low-carb. Try these blackstrap molasses from Golden Barrel.
- Mashed bananas (or other pureed fruits).
Mashed bananas. or other pureed fruits, such as apples and pears, are great for naturally sweetening foods such as cakes, smoothies, or oatmeal. They are not only rich in minerals, and vitamins, but they also contain a good amount of fiber. As we have seen, this can help stabilize our blood sugar levels. For reasons of convenience, I love to always keep some unsweetened apple sauce in my cupboard (this one is from Whole Market).
- Raw honey.
Raw honey is a true superfood and is rich in enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, vitamin B6, riboflavin, and niacin. Together, these essential nutrients help counteract the negative effects of free radicals while promoting the growth of our gut microbiome. In addition, the glycemic load of one tablespoon of raw honey is very low (lower than that of an equal amount in sweetness of mashed bananas). I love this raw, organic, and unfiltered honey from Nature Nate’s.
- Raw coconut sugar.
Coconut sugar is a natural sweetener that comes from the blossoms of coconut. You can use it as traditional white sugar, but it is way richer in polyphenols, iron, zinc, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, phosphorous and other phytonutrients. In addition, it has a very low glycemic index, which makes it ideal also for people with diabetes. My suggestion here is to always opt for organic, raw coconut sugar, as this one from Big Tree Farms.
As you can see, there are a lot of great natural sugar alternatives out there! All you have to do is choose those that are better for your dietary requirements and the types of dishes you are wanting to use them for. In addition, you should always make sure to avoid blends made with a small amount of natural sweetener, mixed in with a higher dosage of erythritol.
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Note: While I am a certified nutrition coach, I am not a medical doctor. Information here is not intended to be a replacement for the advice you should seek from your doctor.
10+ Delicious Naturally-Sweetened Treats 🍰
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