Quitting refined sugar can be tough, but given how incredibly harmful sugar can be, it’s definitely worth the effort.
Fortunately, quite a few sweeteners found in nature are actually good for your health.
They’re low in calories, low in fructose, and taste very sweet.
Here are 5 natural sweeteners that are truly healthy.
Stevia is a very popular low calorie sweetener.
It’s extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana.
This plant has been grown for its sweetness and medicinal purposes for centuries in South America.
Several sweet compounds are found in stevia leaves. The main ones are stevioside and rebaudioside A. Both are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, gram for gram.
Therefore, stevia is very sweet but has virtually no calories.
Additionally, a few human-based studies suggest stevia has health benefits, including:
- Stevia can lower high blood pressure in people with hypertension by 6–14%. However, it doesn’t affect normal or only mildly elevated blood pressure levels (
- Stevia has also been shown to lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes (
More research is needed to confirm whether these effects apply to humans.
If you need to sweeten something, stevia may be your healthiest choice.
However, many people greatly dislike the taste of stevia. The flavor depends on the brand, though, so you may need to experiment to find a type of stevia you like.
Stevia is a natural, zero-calorie sweetener that can lower both your blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Erythritol is another low calorie sweetener.
It’s a sugar alcohol found naturally in certain fruits. However, powdered erythritol available for purchase is most likely made via an industrial process.
It contains 0.24 calories per gram, or about 6% of the calories in an equal amount of sugar, with 70% of the sweetness.
Erythritol tastes very much like sugar, although it can have a mild aftertaste.
It’s absorbed into your body from your intestines but eventually excreted from your kidneys unchanged (
Studies show that erythritol is very safe and may even be linked to several health benefits.
However, although it’s often better tolerated than other sugar alcohols, it could cause digestive issues, including abdominal gas and diarrhea, if you consume too much at a time — especially if it’s combined with other types of sugar like fructose (
Additionally, one study in 264 young adults showed that higher blood levels of erythritol were associated with increased belly fat, which may be due to a genetic predisposition to convert sugar into erythritol (
Erythritol is a very sweet and low calorie sugar alcohol. Studies show that it’s very safe to eat and may be associated with several health benefits, although it can cause digestive problems at high doses.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness similar to that of sugar.
It contains 2.4 calories per gram, or about two-thirds the calories of sugar.
Xylitol appears to have some benefits for dental health, including reducing the risk of cavities and dental decay (
According to some animal studies, it may also improve bone density, helping prevent osteoporosis (
Furthermore, research shows that xylitol can increase levels of several compounds in the digestive tract to help support your gut microbiome (
Xylitol also doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels. However, like other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive side effects, including abdominal gas and diarrhea, at high doses (
Keeping this in mind, it’s best to use xylitol in moderation.
If you have a dog at home, keep xylitol out of its reach since xylitol is highly toxic to dogs (
Xylitol is a very popular sweetener. It’s a sugar alcohol containing about 2.4 calories per gram and has some benefits for dental and digestive health. Research in rats suggests it may improve bone density and lower the risk of osteoporosis.
Yacon syrup is another unique sweetener.
It’s harvested from the yacon plant, which grows natively in the Andes in South America.
This sweetener has recently become popular as a weight loss supplement. One older study in women with obesity and slight dyslipidemia, or abnormal levels of blood fats, found that it caused significant weight loss (
It’s very high in fructooligosaccharides, which function as soluble fibers that feed the good bacteria in your intestine (
Don’t eat too much at a time, though, as it can cause digestive problems.
Yacon syrup is very high in fructooligosaccharides, which feed the good bacteria in your intestine. It may help prevent constipation and promote weight loss.
Monk fruit is a type of fruit native to Southeast Asia. It’s often used to make a natural sweetener called monk fruit extract.
It’s free of calories and carbohydrates, and some research suggests that it may also help support better blood sugar management (
Although there’s limited research on the effects of monk fruit in humans, it’s generally considered safe and hasn’t been associated with any negative side effects (
However, it’s important to check the ingredient label when purchasing monk fruit extract, as many products are combined with sugar or other sweeteners, which could negate its potential health benefits.
Monk fruit is free of carbs and calories and may help support better blood sugar management. It also contains compounds with anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting properties.
There are several popular sugary sweeteners that health-conscious people often eat instead of sugar, including coconut sugar, molasses, honey, and maple syrup. These really aren’t much different from sugar.
They may contain slightly smaller amounts of fructose and a tiny amount of nutrients, but your liver really won’t be able to tell the difference.
Furthermore, while these natural sugar substitutes can be a better alternative to regular sugar if used in moderation, they should not be considered a quick fix for your health concerns.
However, the harmful effects of sugar depend completely on the context. Most of the related studies were conducted in people who were already eating a diet high in carbs and processed foods.
For these people, especially those with overweight or insulin resistance, large amounts of sugar can be especially harmful (
Additionally, some groups of people may want to avoid sugar-based sweeteners completely, such as those with binge eating disorder and those who are on a very low carb ketogenic diet.
Healthy people can eat sugar in small amounts without any harm. While sugar still provides calories without much nutritional value and may cause cavities, small amounts of these natural sugars can be included in a healthy, well-rounded diet.
Still, it’s best to opt for nutrient-dense whole foods, such as dark chocolate, fruit, or yogurt, to combat sugar cravings whenever possible.
Although these foods contain a small amount of sugar, they’re also rich in a variety of other important nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.