4 Natural Sweeteners That Are Good For Your Health

Female BakerQuitting refined sugar can be tough.

But given how incredibly harmful sugar can be, it is definitely worth the effort.

Luckily, there are quite a few sweeteners found in nature that are actually good for your health.

They are low in calories, low in fructose and taste very sweet.

Here are 4 natural sweeteners that are truly healthy.

1. Stevia

Stevia is a very popular low-calorie sweetener.

It is extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana.

This plant has been grown for sweetness and medicinal purposes for centuries in South America.

There are several sweet compounds found in Stevia leaves, the main ones are Stevioside and Rebaudioside A. Both are many hundred times sweeter than sugar, gram for gram.

Stevia is very sweet, but has virtually no calories.

There are some studies in humans showing Stevia to have health benefits:

  • When blood pressure is high, Stevia can lower it by 6-14%. However, it has no effect on blood pressure that is normal or only mildly elevated (1, 2, 3).
  • Stevia has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics (4).

There are also studies in rats showing that Stevia can improve insulin sensitivity, reduce oxidized LDL cholesterol and reduce plaque build up in the arteries (5, 6).

If you need to sweeten something, Stevia may be the healthiest choice.

However… many people really hate the taste of Stevia. It does depend on the brand though, you may need to experiment to find one that you like.

Bottom Line: Stevia is a natural, zero calorie sweetener that can lower both blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

2. Erythritol

Young Girl Looking at Doughnut

Erythritol is another low-calorie sweetener.

It is a sugar alcohol that is found naturally in certain fruits, but if you’re buying powdered erythritol then it will most likely be made via an industrial process.

It contains 0.24 calories per gram, or about 6% of the calories as sugar, with 70% of the sweetness.

Erythritol doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels and has no effect on biomarkers like cholesterol or triglycerides (7, 8).

It is absorbed into the body from the intestine, but eventually excreted from the kidneys unchanged (9).

Studies show that erythritol is very safe. However, same as with other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive issues if you consume too much at a time (10, 11).

Erythritol tastes very much like sugar, although it can have a mild aftertaste.

I wouldn’t say that erythritol is “healthy” – but it certainly doesn’t appear to be harmful in any way and seems to be better tolerated than most other sugar alcohols.

Bottom Line: Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is very sweet, but low in calories. Studies show that it is very safe to eat, although it can cause digestive problems at high doses.

3. Xylitol

Young Woman Smiling

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness similar to sugar.

It contains 2.4 calories per gram, or about 2/3rds of the caloric value of sugar.

Xylitol appears to have some benefits for dental health, reducing the risk of cavities and dental decay (12, 13).

It may also improve bone density, helping to prevent osteoporosis (14). Xylitol doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels (15).

However, as with other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive side effects at high doses.

If you have a dog in your home, then you might want to keep xylitol out of the house because it is highly toxic to dogs (16).

Bottom Line: Xylitol is a very popular sweetener. It is a sugar alcohol, with about 2.4 calories per gram. It has some dental benefits and may improve bone density and lower the risk of osteoporosis.

4. Yacon Syrup

Dark Syrup Leaking From a Spoon

Recently I reviewed a rather unique sweetener called Yacon syrup.

It is 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, because one study found that it caused significant weight loss in overweight women (17).

It is very high in fructooligosaccharides, which function as soluble fibers that feed the good bacteria in the intestine (18, 19).

Yacon syrup can help against constipation and it has various benefits due to the high amount of soluble fiber (20).

Don’t eat too much at a time though, as it can cause digestive problems.

Bottom Line: Yacon syrup is very high in fructooligosaccharides, which feed the good bacteria in the intestine. It may be helpful against constipation and may help you lose weight.

What About “Less Bad” Sugars Like Honey?

Honey

There are several popular sweeteners that health conscious people often eat instead of sugar.

This includes coconut sugar, molasses, honey and maple syrup.

I recently wrote an article making the case that they really aren’t much different from sugar.

They may contain slightly smaller amounts of fructose and some tiny amount of nutrients, but your liver really won’t be able to tell the difference.

However… I should definitely clarify something here.

The harmful effects of sugar depend completely on the context. Most of the studies are done on people who are already eating a high-carb, Western junk food diet.

For those people, especially those who are overweight and/or insulin resistant, large amounts of sugar are downright toxic (21, 22).

There are a few people who might want to avoid sugar-based sweeteners completely. This includes food addicts, binge eaters and people who are on a very low-carb, ketogenic diet.

Other people can eat sugar in small amounts without any harm. It is still empty calories and will still be bad for your teeth, but it won’t harm your metabolism, give you fatty liver or end up destroying your health.

If you’re one of those people who eat healthy but like to to bake stuff with healthy ingredients, then I don’t see a problem with using natural sugar-based sweeteners like honey as long as the majority of your diet is based on real food.

In the context of a healthy, real food based diet, small amounts of these natural sugars won’t cause harm.

41 Comments

  1. Thank you for this article Kris! What do you think of monk fruit sweetener, tagatose and chicory root inulin (it’s in product called “Just like Sugar”)? Thanks

    • Inulin is healthy, functions kind of like fiber. I haven’t done any research on monk fruit sweetener or tagatose.

      • Kami Holler Burgan says:

        I can tell you from my personal experience that monk fruit did raise my blood sugar pretty high actually. 20 points on one teaspoon. That is pretty substantial. Every diabetic is different of course and the effect may be different for them, but it doesn’t taste that great either. Just my opinion.

  2. Kris do you know what exactly sucralose is? I have no need of the sweet taste, but my wife uses it in her tea. Do you know if it is? Splenda! There’s a lot of it about, the ones you mentioned I wouldn’t have clue where to get them.

    • Sucralose is one of the artificial sweeteners. There is some controversy in the natural health community about it being harmful, but I haven’t seen any evidence so far.

    • Doug, you can buy Xylitol, Erythritol and Stevia at health food stores as well as online at many places, such as amazon.com, drvita.com, and vitacost.com.

    • Pamela Vermilyea says:

      Doug, I just bought a product at Walmart… not sure of the name, but it contains erythritol, stevia and inulin.

  3. Hi Kris, is it ok to put Rice Malt Syrup at 5th place for the healthy natural sweeteners? I use it instead of fructose containing sugars and like the taste better than pure dextrose or stevia.

    • Yeah, that’s fine. I would still keep it in moderation, it is a high glycemic sweetener that will lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin.

      But I think it is most definitely better than regular sugar. I would avoid it on a low-carb diet though.

      • Emmanuel says:

        Have you heard about the book “I quite sugar”, by Sarah Wilson? Interestingly, she places rice malt syrup among her top two sweeteners… I was wondering what you thought about that, since you seem to think it causes blood sugar spikes.

        Also, what do you think about mirin and raw cane sugar?

  4. The Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health published recently a critical review of Sucralose and quite honestly it is not something I would make a habit of eating.

    Judge for yourself.

    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/10937404.2013.842523

  5. Regarding sucralose, I remember reading somewhere that they took glucose and added a chlorine molecule. I know that Wikipedia is not a reliable academic source, but I’m fairly sure that’s where I read about its discovery.

  6. Can you tell us about the the carb count on all these sweeteners?

    P.S. I enjoy reading your posts and have forwarded them to several friends.

    • I use Stevia (pure product) and Erythritol (pure or in Swerve) as sweeteners for my diabetic son and don’t count any carbs. So they have zero net carbs. But baking with this stuff is quite specific. Erythritol has a “cooling” effect on taste and stevia is bitter… I usually mix them in most recipes.

  7. Matthew Schorfheide says:

    I have read that truvia is from the stevia plant. Would this be included as stevia? I like it. I have only read good things about it. Thanks for the info.

    • No, it is not the same thing. Truvia contains Erythritol and one of the isolated compounds from the Stevia plant. It also contains “natural flavors” – which could mean lots of things.

      I don’t know… there are mixed opinions about it that you can find with a google search. I haven’t made up my mind about Truvia yet.

      • Matthew Schorfheide says:

        Well I like it and the taste is neutral with a sweetening affect. I used to use Splenda. That made me too gassy. I only use at most 3 packets a day of truvia. Only really for coffee. Thanks for the info.

  8. I have been using xylitol in some recipes. Whilst it is obviously better than table sugar, there was apparently a test carried out that debunked the “good for your teeth” claim. I heard it on a podcast but can’t remember which but apparently they had 2 groups of people, 1 chewing xylitol gum & another unsweetened gum and there was no difference in the bacteria levels in the mouth.

  9. What about sugar cane juice? I would love an article about Greek yogurt! I definitely see great value in the protein and probiotics. I find it so confusing as to it is so good for you, too high sugar, chobani uses cane juice which I’m not sure about, etc. My latest is Liberte which appears to be all natural, but it’s high sugar! Thanks for all of your great articles!! :)

    • Try the plain Liberté Greek yogurt, as it only has 5g of carbs (it’s the only one I eat on a regular basis). I add berries to give it some taste. :)

      • Thanks Ashlene! I’ll have to try that again. I choked it down once and thought I was going to die! :) I tried the one with honey though, so I’ll try berries instead next.

  10. Another interesting article, thanks for the information Kris. I wonder, though, how you feel about the many other health benefits of raw honey, not least of all its anti bacterial qualities?

  11. Have you found any evidence on agave syrup? I’ve seen some studies where it didn’t raise blood sugar levels as much as regular sugar and it does contain fiber. I’ve swapped it in place of sugar for my husbands coffee thinking it was healthier.

  12. Nevermind Kris! I found your older articles that include agave syrup. Evidently the study I found was correct on the GI being lower but overlooked the other not-great properties. Looks like I will be switching him to my stevia stash :)

  13. Shu Arvilla says:

    I use stevia for my sweetener. I carry it with me everywhere. I think it is the best. Thankfully some coffee shop now have truvia.

  14. And how about people who need a high calorie diet (let me say, about 4000-5000 kcal) because they have a very high metabolism and work out a lot (let me say, someone who runs, cycles, swims and pole dances)?

  15. Do you know that Yacon syrup can not be digested once it reaches the gut? The main chemical components of yacon are the inulin and the fructooligosaccharides (FOS); when they are in the digestive tract they release a carbohydrate that is not sugar but fructose.

    This fructose cannot be metabolized by the human digestive system… (Yacon Article).

  16. Powdered stevia should be approached with extreme caution. At least one manufacturer of organic stevia includes “erythritol” which they claim is a “natural free flowing agent”. Erythritol is what is called a sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols include things like mannitol, xylitol, and sorbitol which are used in a lot of commercial “sugar-free” stuff.

    They’re allowed to get away with that because normally, our guts can’t digest those sugar alcohols. But the bad bugs in our guts can, and will have a field day on them.

  17. I have high triglycerides for some reason. I am in good shape, and follow a gluten free diet and do not eat junk food. I also limit fruits, have only 2 slices of gluten free bread per day and the only other carbs I eat are brown rice and sweet potatoes. I don’t exercise regularly, but do usually 2 hours a week of volleyball.

    When I dropped honey, my triglycerides went down somewhat. I bought xylitol, but since I have Crohn’s it has high fiber which results in many trips to the bathroom as a result. I do like powdered stevia from Trader Joe’s, but perhaps I should change to the liquid form. Thoughts?

  18. Sucralose is different from most others because it isn’t absorbed and doesn’t have the same gastrointestinal side effects as other non-absorbed sweeteners. It’s not exactly paleo-friendly, but seems safe.

  19. I am typing verbatim from a Drugs.com article on luo han guo fruit. Here it is:

    “In southern China, luo han guo is popularly considered a longevity aid and is used to balance heat buildup caused by internal conditions, life-forces, or external heat. It is used as an expectorant and antitussive to treat lung congestion, cough, other respiratory ailments, and sore throat. It also is used for constipation and chronic enteritis. Luo han guo is a low-caloric, low-glycemic food used as a sweetener in beverages and cooked food.”

    From: http://www.drugs.com/npp/luo-han-guo.html

    I found it in a health food store near where I live in Medford Oregon. This particular product is called Sue Sweet. I was looking for something other than Splenda to sprinkle on berries and cream or to make flourless almond butter cookies. It tastes good and I have had success with baking with it. Maybe you could add this to your list and make it 5 Natural Sweeteners!

  20. Stevia causes migraines for me, and Splenda causes bloating and gas. I personally think natural is the best way, I use Organic Maple or Local Honey, not heated. We have too many health issues with foods.

    I think the FDA is in bed with Monsanto and their likes, that we do not get honest answers to what is really in the food we eat. I try to stay with organic and local and steer clear of boxes and cans. I might even lose some of this weight one day.

  21. More info about Truvia:

    Lawsuit Leads to Settlement: Stevia May Be Natural, But Truvia is Not

    http://blog.fooducate.com/2013/09/24/lawsuit-leads-to-settlement-stevia-may-be-natural-but-truvia-is-not/

    First, it’s a Cargill/Coca-Cola product so right from the start you got a reason to avoid it.

    Second, the erythritol that they mix with the stevia comes from GMO corn which might be problematic if you intend to take a lot of truvia.

    My guess is that they probably decided to take some corn residue that they used to throw away in the garbage and make a product with it and since Stevia has a good reputation as a natural sweetener and that the word itself sounds better than erythritol they decided to add a little stevia extract to their corn erythritol and call it Truvia. Voila. Another healthy product from the Gigantic Corporation that cares about you.

    And the little packets have the same size as the other big brand sweeteners so you can simply trade one for the other. A lot of people like to pour their sweet powder in their cups of coffee/tea/etc. as if it was a sugar packet.

    If there was only stevia in Truvia packets they wouldn’t have been able to put a brand name on the box and they would have had to make the packets/boxes smaller because stevia is a strong sweetener, you only need a small quantity.

    Just buy stevia from your local clean food store. I like the liquid stevia. Sometimes even just 1 drop is enough.

  22. Granny2Shoes says:

    Beware of alcohol sugars if you are a binge eater, sugar addict, or diabetic. I have found that for me, they work on my body the same as sugar. I am finding that as a person who has all three eating and metabolic disorders that once I take the first piece of food with sugar alcohols, I cannot stop eating them, thus raising my blood sugars.

    Sometimes you have to make compromises in the sweetening to make a healthier body. Honey does not cause me to crave more sugar, but it does spike my BG. I have found that sometimes it is necessary to make choices by priorities, which in my case is to lower my BG and stop the craving for sugars. I use Splenda because of this. However, I don’t use it for baking because the baking blend is mixed with sugar.

  23. Could you please advise which stevia brand to buy?

    They all seem to have additional ingredients, even the ones which say “organic” in the title.

  24. Is “Stevia in the Raw” ok?

  25. Suzy Paxton says:

    I recently read an article about Truvia, a brand of Stevia. It claims that goes through 40 steps to process the product relying on chemicals like acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile and isopropanol. It also states that some of these are carcinogens. If this is even remotely true how can a chemically derived extract be deemed safe?

    • Truvia is nothing like stevia. It is a highly refined product that contains one of the isolated sweet compounds from the Stevia plant (Rebaudioside A), then it contains a number of other ingredients as well.

  26. Suzy Paxton says:

    Thank you and I apologize for not doing a good job on my research.

  27. Destiny says:

    I have heard so many things about stevia such as that it may cause cancer and weight gain? True or false?

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