When it comes to sweetening our foods and beverages, many options, including natural and artificial sweeteners, are available on the market.
As the name suggests, natural sweeteners are derived from natural sources such as plants or fruits. They often undergo minimal processing, are in some cases organic, and retain some of their original nutritional value. However, many are still high in calories.
On the other hand, artificial sweeteners are synthetic substances created in a lab and designed to provide sweetness without those unwanted calories. But they are not organic and, well, unnatural.
In this blog we will explore the pros and cons of 8 natural types of sweeteners, so you can decide which option is best for you.
8 Types Of Natural Sweeteners
Agave nectar, also known as agave syrup, is a sweetener derived from the sap of the agave plant with a consistency similar to honey, but it has a milder flavor.
- Vegan-Friendly: Agave nectar is plant-based and suitable for individuals following a vegan diet.
- Low Glycemic Index: It has a lower glycemic index than some other sweeteners, meaning it has a slower impact on blood sugar levels.
- Sweeter than Sugar: Agave nectar is sweeter than sugar, so less quantity is needed to achieve the desired level of sweetness.
- Versatility: It can be used as a substitute for sugar in various recipes, including beverages, baking, and dressings.
- High Fructose Content: Agave nectar is high in fructose, which, in excessive amounts, may contribute to health issues such as insulin resistance, fatty liver, and increased triglyceride levels.
- Caloric Content: While it is perceived as a healthier alternative, agave nectar is still calorie-dense, and excessive consumption can contribute to caloric intake.
- Processing Methods: Some commercially available agave nectar products may undergo extensive processing, which can reduce the content of beneficial compounds found in the raw sap.
- Not Suitable for People with Fructose Intolerance: Individuals with fructose malabsorption may experience digestive discomfort when consuming agave nectar due to its high fructose content.
Unsweetened applesauce is made from fresh apples that are peeled, cored, and cooked down to a smooth consistency without the addition of sugars or sweeteners. It retains the natural sweetness of the apples.
- Natural Sweetness: Unsweetened applesauce contains the natural sugars present in apples, providing sweetness without added sugars.
- Nutrient Content: Some of the apples' nutrients, like fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, are maintained.
- Versatility: It can be used as a substitute for sugar or sweeteners in baking recipes, providing moisture and sweetness.
- Texture Enhancement: In recipes, applesauce can add moisture and help create a softer texture, making it useful in reducing the need for fats in some recipes.
- Caloric Content: While it is lower in calories than other sweeteners, unsweetened applesauce still contains natural sugars and calories.
- Impact on Flavor: The flavor of unsweetened applesauce may not be suitable for all recipes, and it might not provide the same level of sweetness as some concentrated sweeteners.
- Storage Limitations: It has a limited shelf life, especially when homemade.
- Texture Differences: In certain recipes, the use of applesauce might alter the texture compared to using traditional sweeteners.
Opting for raw, unprocessed honey ensures that it retains more natural beneficial compounds. Always choose high-quality, reputable sources, and be cautious when using honey in recipes that involve heat, as excessive heat can destroy some of its beneficial properties.
- Antioxidant Properties: Contains antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols, which may help protect cells against free radicals.
- Potential Health Benefits: Raw honey has traditionally been used for its potential antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Contains small amounts of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins B and C, and iron and potassium.
- Local Honey Benefits: Some believe that consuming local raw honey may help alleviate seasonal allergies by exposing the body to small amounts of local pollen.
- Caloric Content: Honey is calorie-dense and high in natural sugars.
- Not Suitable for Some Diets: People with diabetes or those on low-carb diets may need to monitor their honey intake.
- Potential Contaminants: Raw honey may contain trace amounts of pollen, propolis, and wax, which can be allergenic for some individuals. There's also a risk of contamination with spores that cause botulism, although this is extremely rare in healthy adults.
A natural sweetener extracted from monk fruit, a small melon-like fruit. Monk fruit sweeteners are high-intensity sweeteners with zero calories and are generally considered a safe and natural sugar substitute.
- Zero Calories: Monk fruit sweetener is typically calorie-free, making it a suitable option for reducing calorie intake.
- Zero Glycemic Impact: It does not raise blood sugar levels, making it safe for individuals with diabetes or those following low-carb diets.
- Intense Sweetness: It is much sweeter than sugar, so only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired sweetness.
- No Bitter Aftertaste: Unlike some other sweeteners, monk fruit sweetener is known for not leaving a bitter aftertaste.
- Stable at High Temperatures: Monk fruit sweetener is heat-stable, making it suitable for use in cooking and baking.
- Cost: Pure monk fruit sweeteners can be more expensive than other sweeteners.
- Limited Availability: While its popularity increases, monk fruit sweeteners may not be as readily available.
- May Have a Fruity Aftertaste: Some people may detect a slight fruity aftertaste, which might impact the flavor profile in recipes.
- Limited Research: While it is generally regarded as safe, there are limited long-term studies on monk fruit sweetener.
- Not Suitable for Everyone: While rare, some individuals may be allergic to monk fruit, so it's important to be aware of any reactions.
A sweet syrup made from the sap of sugar maple trees. It has a unique, rich flavor and is commonly used as a topping for pancakes and waffles. Opt for pure, grade A or B maple syrup without added sugars or artificial ingredients.
- Rich Flavor Profile: It has a distinctive, rich flavor that adds depth to both sweet and savory dishes.
- Source of Nutrients: Contains small amounts of minerals such as manganese and zinc, along with antioxidants.
- Lower Glycemic Index: Compared to refined sugar, maple syrup has a lower glycemic index, so it has a slower impact on blood sugar levels.
- Versatility: It can be used in a variety of culinary applications, from pancakes and waffles to glazes and dressings.
- Caloric Content: Maple syrup is calorie-dense and contains sugars, so it should be used in moderation.
- Expense: Pure, high-quality maple syrup can be relatively expensive compared to other sweeteners.
- Limited Nutrient Content: While it does contain some minerals and antioxidants, the amounts are relatively small.
- Not Suitable for Some Diets: People with diabetes or those on low-carb diets may need to monitor their intake of maple syrup due to its sugar content.
- Sustainability Concerns: There are environmental considerations regarding the sustainability of maple syrup production, as climate change and other factors can impact maple tree health.
Malt syrup is a thick, sweet syrup made from malted grains, commonly barley, but it can also be produced from other grains like wheat or sorghum.
- Distinct Flavor: Malt syrup has a distinctive, rich, and slightly nutty flavor, making it a unique recipe addition.
- Source of Nutrients: Malt syrup contains some vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, and potassium.
- Browning Properties: Malt syrup contributes to browning in baked goods and enhances the texture, making it desirable for certain recipes like bread and bagels.
- Lower Glycemic Index: Malt syrup may have a lower glycemic index than some other sweeteners, providing a slower release of energy.
- Caloric Content: Malt syrup is calorie-dense and contains sugars, so it should be used in moderation, especially for those watching calorie intake or managing blood sugar levels.
- Limited Availability: Malt syrup might not be as readily available as some other sweeteners in all regions.
- Not Suitable for Some Diets: Malt syrup made from barley contains gluten, so not suitable for those with gluten sensitivities.
- Potential to Overpower: Due to its distinctive flavor, it might not be suitable for all recipes, and excessive use may overpower other tastes.
- May Cause Allergies: Some individuals may be allergic to barley or wheat, which are common sources for malt syrup.
Molasses is a thick, dark, viscous syrup that is a byproduct of sugar-making. It is produced during the extraction of sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets. Molasses have a distinct dark color and a robust, rich flavor with a hint of bitterness.
- Iron Content: Blackstrap molasses, in particular, is a good source of iron, making it a potential dietary supplement for individuals with iron-deficiency anemia.
- Antioxidant Properties: Molasses contains antioxidants, which may help combat oxidative stress in the body.
- Flavor Enhancement: Molasses is often used to add depth and richness to baked goods, sauces, marinades, and other recipes.
- Caloric Density: Molasses is calorie-dense and contains natural sugars, so it should be used in moderation, especially for those watching calorie intake or managing blood sugar levels.
- Sugar Content: While molasses contains some nutrients, it is also high in sugar, contributing to health issues when consumed in excess.
- Not Suitable for Diabetics: People with diabetes may need to moderate their intake of molasses due to its sugar content.
- Strong Flavor: The strong, distinctive flavor of molasses may not be suitable for all recipes and may overpower more delicate flavors.
A natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. It is known for being intensely sweet but without the calories of sugar, making it a popular choice for those looking to reduce calorie intake. Stevia is generally regarded as safe when consumed in moderate amounts.
- Zero Calories: Stevia is a non-nutritive sweetener, providing sweetness without adding calories to the diet.
- No Effect on Blood Sugar: It has a low glycemic index, so does not raise blood sugar levels, making it a suitable option for people with diabetes or those aiming to manage blood glucose levels.
- High Sweetness Intensity: Stevia is much sweeter than sugar, so only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired sweetness.
- Bitter Aftertaste: Some people may perceive a bitter aftertaste with stevia, especially in higher concentrations or in certain formulations.
- Different Taste Profile: The taste of stevia differs from sugar, which may not be suitable for all palates.
- Gastrointestinal Discomfort: In some individuals, when consumed in large amounts, stevia may cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
- Processing Methods: Some commercially available stevia products may undergo processing that includes added ingredients, so choosing pure forms without additives is important.
- Not Suitable for All Recipes: The taste of stevia may not work well in all recipes, and adjustments may be needed to achieve the desired flavor and texture.