A Guide to Natural Sugar Substitutes for Kids
Do you worry that your kids are getting too much sugar but don’t want to deprive them of all their sweets? Check out these natural sugar substitutes that can help satisfy a sweet tooth in healthier ways:
This sweetener comes from a Central and South American herb. Although it’s about 40 times as sweet as sugar, it’s calorie-free and will not spike up blood sugar levels. Some people who’ve tried stevia when it was first introduced disliked it because of its bitter aftertaste, but its newer forms like Truvia are all sweet. However, you cannot bake with it, and it can still stimulate your sweet tooth!
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that’s naturally found in fruits and vegetables like beets, corn, and berries. Although it’s nearly as sweet as sugar, it has fewer calories and doesn’t cause a rise in blood sugar levels. Xylitol can even prevent tooth decay. You can bake with it, but be sure to use about half as much xylitol as you would sugar. On the down side, since it’s partially derived from corn, it’s likely to be genetically modified. It can also cause stomach upset if eaten in excess.
This nectar is made from the blue agave plant. It, too, does not have a negative impact on the blood sugar. Because it is sweeter than sugar, it can be used in smaller amounts. On the down side, it’s actually higher in calories than regular sugar and is also very high in fructose, leaving many worried that it might have a similar effect on the body as high fructose corn syrup. It’s best to use it sparingly.
Maple syrup is derived from the processed sap of maple trees. It’s low in fructose (but high in sucrose) and is also rich in antioxidants and important minerals like manganese and zinc, which promote strong immunity and good digestion. However, it’s a high calorie and high-carbohydrate sweetener and should be used in moderation.
Molasses is a byproduct of sugar cane processing. It’s considered a healthy sugar substitute because it’s rich in zinc, copper, calcium, potassium, and iron as well as antioxidants and vitamin B6. However, it’s still high in calories and fructose, and some kids may object to its very strong flavor. It’s best if used in small amounts.
Honey ultimately comes from the nectar of flowers, which is processed by honey bees and stored in combs. It’s considered to be one of the healthiest sugar substitutes because it’s rich in nutrients, has antibiotic properties, boosts immunity and digestion, and does not spike up blood sugars as fast as regular sugar does. Keep in mind though, it is not a low-calorie sweetener and does have a high fructose content.
Lo Han (Monk Fruit) Extract
This sweetener, as the name suggests, is derived from the Chinese fruit called lo han, or “monk fruit”. It’s considered to be diabetic-friendly because it has no calories and does not cause a rise in blood sugar levels. However, it can induce cravings for sweets.
Brown Rice Syrup
This syrup is made from cooked brown rice, which is then exposed to an enzyme that causes it to break down into sugar. While it has no fructose in it, it’s also nutrient-poor compared to many other natural sweeteners, and there is a possibility that it could contain arsenic.
Coconut Palm Sugar
This sweetener is taken from coconut palm sap and is processed in a similar way to maple syrup. It’s low in fructose but rich in important nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, iron, zinc, calcium, and antioxidants. It also contains a fiber called inulin, which breaks down slowly and prevents a spike in blood sugars. You can also bake with it. Keep in mind however, that it does have roughly the same amount of carbohydrates and calories as regular table sugar.
This sweetener is made from dried, ground dates. It’s incredibly high in vitamin K and in several antioxidants, but it’s also high in fructose and its grainy texture makes it impossible for baking. Overall, it’s perhaps better as a brown sugar substitute because of its flavor and texture.
As you can see, none of these choices are perfect. But they are all healthier than regular sugar, either because they do not raise blood sugar levels or because they are rich in minerals, vitamins or other important nutrients. Even so, because of the disadvantages in each of them, they should all be used in moderation.
Do you use sugar substitutes at home or stick to the real deal?