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Go Natural! Healthy Alternatives to Artificial Sweeteners

Sandra Ketcham

The average adult will consume foods and drinks containing more than 40 pounds of sweeteners every year. Typically, the bulk of these sweeteners will be conventional sugar and high fructose corn syrup, both of which are highly processed sweeteners and provide consumers with no health benefits. The use of artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, has been linked by some to the development of a number of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

A number of natural sweeteners are available that are just as tasty as the artificial ones currently available on the market. Natural sweeteners are healthier overall, cause fewer long-term health problems, enable consumers to better limit calorie consumption, and can assist in the reduction or control of weight.

There is a large variety of healthy, natural sweeteners to choose from, all of which vary in nutritional benefits and level of processing. Raw sweeteners generally offer greater health benefits and are more nutritious than highly processed alternatives. Additionally, organic sweeteners are grown and processed using methods that provide additional benefits to both the human body and the environment.

Natural sweeteners, such as honey, xylitol, stevia, and molasses are more potent than most artificial sweeteners, provide numerous health and medicinal benefits, and are rich in vitamins and minerals. Blackstrap molasses, the end product of the sugar-making process, contains more vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium, than other sweeteners.

Rice syrup, date sugar, and barley malt are three additional natural sweeteners that can be substituted for unhealthy, artificial sweeteners. Brown rice syrup consists of 50% soluble complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, resulting in a healthy, steady supply of energy. Barley malt is also high in complex carbohydrates, and date sugar is an excellent source of fiber and other nutrients.

Many people falsely believe that using concentrated fruit juices or fructose to sweeten their food is as beneficial as using other natural sweeteners. Concentrated fruit juices are highly refined and contain only minute amounts of the nutrients available in fresh fruits. Fructose, although naturally found in many fruits, is typically available in sweetener form as a highly refined additive made from cornstarch. Fructose contains very little nutritional value, and can increase LDL cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and uric-acid levels in the blood.

Substituting natural sweeteners for artificial or highly refined sweeteners is much easier than most people believe. Learning to read and understand nutritional labels, and making healthy food choices will contribute greatly to reducing your intake of artificial sweeteners. Plus, many natural sweeteners can actually improve the taste and texture of your favourite foods.

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