Who among us doesn’t love sweets? The sweet flavor releases serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for our sense of well-being and contentment. The average American consumes well over 20 teaspoons of added sugar on a daily basis, which adds up to an average of 142 pounds of sugar per person per year! That’s more than two times what the USDA recommends and is proof of sugar’s addictive nature.

But when it comes to sweeteners, not all are created equal. There are side effects and health risks from refined sweeteners like white table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and from artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, saccharin and Splenda.

Since refined sweeteners have been stripped of vitamins, minerals and fiber, they can spike blood sugar, which can often lead to cravings and mood and energy fluctuations.

Instead, using naturally and minimally processed sweeteners can reduce cravings for sugary things. Natural sweeteners, all of which are gentler than the refined white stuff, are easier on the body’s blood sugar and available in most supermarkets and health food stores.

Please note that these sugar alternatives are great transition foods, but are not meant to be consumed in mass quantities. Even natural sweeteners are, for the most part, processed foods. The best way to alleviate sugar consumption is to add more sweetness to your life!

Sweetener alternatives

Raw Honey

Everyone seems to love honey, one of the oldest natural sweeteners on the market. Honey will have a different flavor depending on the plant source. Some are very dark and intensely flavored. Wherever possible, choose raw honey, as it is unrefined and contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals and vitamins.

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is a natural liquid sweetener made from the juice of the agave cactus. Agave is made through the extraction and purification of the juice of the agave cactus. It is 1.4 times sweeter than refined sugar, but does not create a sugar rush, and is much less disturbing to the body’s blood sugar levels than white sugar. It has a delightfully light and mild flavor. (However, agave is high in fructose, higher than that of high-fructose corn syrup, and some research suggests that fructose does not shut off appetite hormones, and may decrease glucose tolerance, so you may end up overeating.)

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is the concentrated extract of the sap of maple trees. It adds a rich, deep flavor to foods and drinks. Make sure to look for 100% pure maple syrup, not maple-flavored corn syrup. As with all sweeteners, organic varieties are best.

Stevia

This leafy herb has been used for centuries by native South Americans. The extract from stevia is 100 to 300 times sweeter than white sugar. It can be used in cooking, baking and beverages, does not affect blood sugar levels and has zero calories. Stevia is available in a powder or liquid form, but be sure to get the green or brown liquids or powders, because the white and clear versions are highly refined.