Alternative Sweeteners....which ones?

Alternative sweeteners are not a free pass.  The goal is to get to a place in your diet, that you simply don’t need to add any sweetener.  This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy a healthy dessert or savor that ripe piece of mango, but if you are looking for a healthy way to carry on with your sweet tooth?   Hm…there isn’t one. So I write the following post with some reservations, because again, we need to stop our sugar cravings, not simply satisfy them in an only slightly healthier way.

 The Nitty Gritty about Alternative Sweeteners.

 Not Recommended:

Brown Sugar, Sugar in the Raw (turbinado):  These are all very similar to white table sugar and although slightly less refined, really aren’t any better to use.

Artificial Sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, anything in a colored packet):  STOP! NEVER USE THESE.  Most people think that when they use artificial sweeteners they are saving themselves the calories.  But there are studies out that show that just the sweet taste alone is enough to cause insulin secretions…which will cause us to store fat.  Not to mention that artificial sweeteners have been linked to cause headaches, sleep problems, fatigue, and a whole host of other problems.  There are many people who have written about this subject at length, Joseph Mercola being on them.  Read more.  Just the word artificial is an accost to my whole foods, nature loving sensibility.  Are you with me?

Agave:  There was a huge fad to use agave for a time, and because it is low glycemic (it doesn't raise our blood sugar immediately) people thought it was the greatest thing in the world.  It is made almost entirely of fructose, and again to cite Dr. Robert Lustig, a majority of the calories from fructose will end up being stored as fat!


Raw Honey:  Honey is one of those traditional sweeteners that should be held as a treasure.  One bee, during its lifetime, will only make 1/12 a teaspoon of honey!  So our use of it should reflect that hard work.  Quality is extremely important when it comes to honey.  Buy local and raw, and don't buy the cheapest.  A study by Food Safety News found that 3/4 of the honey bought at local grocery stores had zero pollan traces and were contaminated with cheap sweeteners such as high fructose corn syrup.  Beware of honey that says it's "ultrafiltered."  This is a high heat processing that makes it difficult to trace the source of the honey, and high heat will destroy all the beneficial enzymes present.  According to Ayurvedic medicine, the medicinal properties of honey are lost in heating.

Maple Syrup (organic/grade B):  Maple Syrup is another sweetener that takes an immense amount of work.    It takes roughly 46 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup!  I use maple syrup as a sometimes sweetener because it contains more minerals and I love the flavor.  It is a bit on the expensive side, and again, you should always choose quality over quantity, but this is a reminder to use it sparingly.

The other day I was in a "natural" cafe in Berkeley, and the maple syrup they brought out wasn't real!  You have to ask for "real maple syrup."  So, don't let appearances fool you and ask your server if the syrup is pure or not.

 Brown Rice Syrup:  Brown rice syrup is made from fermented brown rice.  Enzymes (usually from barley) are added to the rice to break down starches into sugars, and then it is boiled until it thickens.  Mineral and vitamin rich, brown rice syrup, sourced correctly, can be a good alternative to use.  It tends to make things crunchy, so think cookies and granola.   Early in 2012 there were reports that brown rice and products made from brown rice syrup were heavily contaminated with arsenic.  Arsenic is naturally occurring in the soil, and for land that once used a lot of pesticides, there is still a lot of arsenic left in the soil.  Sourcing is important; the southeastern states with its heavy cotton production left a lot of arsenic in the soil.  California has much lower amounts of arsenic.   All of this is another reminder that brown rice syrup, as with any sweetener, should be used sparingly.

 Date Sugar:  Date sugar is made simply by grinding up dried dates.  I like how natural this is, but it does not dissolve in liquids and can clump, so it's ideal for sprinkling on top of foods.  Dates themselves are a great way to add sweetness, and can be used in oatmeal and ground up in desserts.  Dates are alkalizing and are great way to add minerals and vitamins to your diet.

 Sucanat:  Sucanat is sugar cane juice that is heated and dried.  Therefore, it retains many of the nutrients that sugar refining takes out.   It has a distinct flavor, so be aware when trying to use it in baked goods.  I personally like it, and this is one of the sugars that I keep in my kitchen to use when I need to make something sweet.   (Sucanat is similar to the rapadura you see in Latin stores.)

 Palm Sugar and Coconut Sugar: This is another sweetener that I keep in the kitchen to make desserts.  Palm sugar comes from the sap of certain palm trees, and is boiled down to make a thick syrup. Coconut sugar is collected from the flowers of the coconut palm.   I find that the taste is very similar to table sugar, and it often comes sold in little packed cakes often found in asian food stores.   Now, it is becoming available at natural food stores, but in a loose form.

Stevia:  Beware of white powdered Stevia, as it is a highly refined product.  Packets such as Truvia or Sun Crystals are highly processed and usually have another sugar added in, such as dextrose.  The Stevia plant itself is a wonderful, natural sweetener.  You can dry the leaves and grind them up for a natural sweetener.  Oooh…I just did a web search and found a cool source of the natural herb on Etsy.  Click Here. 

So.  indulge a tiny bit and try some of the more natural sweeteners.   The more pure and less processed something is the better.  But remember, that sweeteners are in general something to be used extremely sparingly, as ALL of them can lead to excess weight gain, or prevent you from losing anything.  There are many more whole delicious foods out there waiting for you.  Give them a try instead!  After you start taking sweeteners out, you'll find that foods like squash and sweet potatoes are all the sweetness you need :)


Murray, M. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: ATRIA Books.

Wood, Rebecca. (2010)  The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.  New York.  Penguin Books.



What You Need to Know About Sugar

It's time for another   10 Day Sugar Challenge back by popular demand!!   I love to do a challenge right before the holidays because it really does help us come back to a state of balance BEFORE we get to indulge a bit. This will give us a a great foundation to head into the holidays. Join me and a group of others for 10 days of taking the sugar out starting November 8th!   Register here!

I'm reposting an old blog about's an oldie but goodie.  Take a look!

Sugar.  It seems that it's a problem for everyone, and that's because it is! Many clients come to me with sugar being a large part of their diet, and oftentimes even people who think they don't eat a lot of sugar, realize that they do.

Personally, I have made huge strides in lessening the amount of refined sugar in my diet. I used to hold the sugar canister over my cup of coffee for 5 whole seconds. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Really.  This happened.  But I decided one day to try it without and now, I can't stand the taste of sweetened coffee. The great thing about a sweet tooth is that once you put a little bit of effort into taking sugar out of your diet, the cravings start to disappear. Things will start tasting disgustingly sweet to you.  I promise you.

The problem with sugar isn't just the empty calories and the tooth decay. It's a whole host of other things. Read on.

1) Sugar makes you fat! More research is coming out on the idea that different calories are metabolized differently in the body, and the way sugar is metabolized will cause more of those calories to be stored as fat. (If you happen to have an extra 90 minutes lying around, watch Robert Lustig's youtube video, The Bitter Truth. Or if just an extra 10, watch Sean Croxton's summary of that video. Enlightening)

2) Sugar could give you wrinkles. Boo, right? An article in Discover Magazine reported that sugar in the blood can bind to collagen in a process called glycation.

3) Sugar suppresses your immune system. Can't quite beat that cold? Are you eating a ton of cough drops? Ann Louis Gittleman in her book, Get the Sugar Out, writes that the ability of cells to kill off foreign invaders can be reduced up to 5 hours after we ingest sugar. Also, it reduces the production of antibodies, interferes with the transport of vitamin C, and makes cell walls more permeable to outside invaders. Ooof.

4) Sugar disrupts your body's mineral balance. In sugar refining, nutrients such as chromium, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc and magnesium are all stripped away. Not only are many of these the same minerals that help to control our blood sugar in the first place, but without them our bodies then have to use our own nutrients to absorb and metabolize sugar.

5) Sugar is an ANTI NUTRIENT. It's not just empty calories. It pulls nutrients, that I would rather keep, away from the body. Gittleman also writes that it interferes with absorption of minerals and can increase the secretion of B vitamins and almost ALL minerals, but especially calcium and magnesium. Double oof!

6) Sugar can feed cancer cells. Cancer cells feed on sugar. Also, with a continuous influx of sugar into the blood stream, our insulin levels are chronically elevated and insulin can trigger the growth of cancer cells.

7) Overuse of sugar can lead to insulin resistance, which can lead to type II diabetes. The more you eat foods that directly send sugar straight to the blood stream (think foods that are almost pure refined sugar, like soda), the more your body has to work to bring your blood sugar back down to a safe level. (Too high or too low blood sugar is dangerous.) If the body becomes overworked by what you are consistently eating, pretty much it will just stop working properly.

8) Unfriendly yeast in your body feeds directly on sugar. Ladies, have you ever had a yeast infection? Unfortunately, they are really common, and for you, it is imperative that you take sugar out! Men, you are equally at risk?  Jock itch? Athlete's foot...  You almost certainly have an overgrowth of Candida, which is the yeast that naturally occurs in our body, but can run rampant if the conditions are right. However, an overgrowth of candida can have all sorts of symptoms (jock itch, headaches, brain fog, fatigue), so even if you never experience yeast infections, candida can still run rampant. Men are also affected!

9)  Sugar is addictive.  According to Nicole Avena, and her great youtube video, eating sugar releases dopamine and affects our pleasure centers every time we eat it.  No wonder we crave it, we want to feel good!

There are many more things I could include, but these are some of the important ones. If you think these facts are meant to scare you....they are! It is important for us to realize the far reaching consequences of over indulging in refined sugar; it is not a harmless food. My personal experience is that once I start eating it, I start craving it all the time. It is extremely addicting.

But the good news again, is that as we start to cut it out of our diet, we will lose our taste for it. I work with many of my clients to cut sugar out for a week, and invariably they report craving it significantly less. It is possible! And those that dramatically reduce consumption lose weight.  It's really as simple as that.

So join me in the intention of cutting out the sugar. It is something that requires a little effort for sure, but it is one of the most health promoting habits you can have.