Natural sweeteners can help you satisfy sweet cravings and control your diabetes. Here’s how to choose one that’s right for you.
From agave to xylitol, all the choices in natural sweeteners are touted as healthy alternatives to table sugar. Fact is, they’re all still sugars. The key difference? Variations in calorie count, sweetness and taste—stevia even has a hint of licorice. And used wisely and in moderation, they can be a great way to satisfy those occasional sweet cravings. So what to use when, and how much to pour or sprinkle? Check this guide…and be sure to double-check with your healthcare provider or diabetes educator about what natural sweeteners may be best for you! And always remember to read the labels.
What it is: Popular since the days of the Aztecs, this nectar is collected from the agave plant. Its texture is similar to honey and it’s about as sweet.
How to use: Try using agave to sweeten tea or in a smoothie—use about 1 teaspoon per cup of other liquid. If you’re baking, use three-quarters of a cup agave for each cup of sugar in a recipe and reduce all other liquids in the recipe by one-third; also reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees and bake for about 10 minutes longer.
How it affects blood sugar: The jury’s still out on agave’s effect on blood sugar; plus, it has about the same amount of calories and carbohydrates as table sugar. Your best bet: Consider it the equivalent of table sugar and test your individual response to it.
Health bonus! The fiber found in agave helps boost the immune system, plus it enhances calcium absorption for better bone health.
What is is: Dried dates that are pulverized into a fine powder.
How to use: Date sugar doesn’t dissolve well, so it’s not the best way to sweeten your coffee or tea. Use it, instead, for sprinkling on oatmeal or for baking. Since it’s sweeter than white or brown sugars, use only half the sugar called for in a recipe.
How it affects blood sugar: Use sparingly until you can gauge your response; some people with diabetes find that too much date sugar can trigger a quick spike in blood sugar.
Health bonus! Date sugar is packed with nutrients including iron, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins.
What it is: This sweetener comes from the leaves of a South American plant; its leaves look similar to mint, and it has a slight licorice flavor.
How to use it: Stevia is popular for baking and for sprinkling in coffee, or on oatmeal or berries. One teaspoon of liquid stevia equals about one cup of sugar. (It’s also available in powder, granules, even sprays.)
How it affects blood sugar: Stevia is up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, yet it’s virtually calorie-free and just a little goes a long way. Plus, a recent study in the journal Appetite found it results in lower blood sugar levels and less insulin usage than table sugar.
Health bonus! Stevia leaves contain minerals including magnesium potassium, zinc and niacin. Stevia also appears to help tame unwanted growth of yeast in the body.
What it is: Like sorbitol, xylitol is a form of sugar alcohol; it’s found in the fiber of fruits like strawberries and plums, and vegetables, such as mushrooms, cauliflower and corn. The purest forms come from birch trees.
How to use: Xylitol can be used one-to-one in substituting for sugar in recipes. It’s also available in crystalline form. It has 2.4 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram for sugar.
How it affects blood sugar: Since xylitol is slowly absorbed, it helps you dodge blood sugar spikes.
Health bonus! It helps boost absorption of calcium and B vitamins and may help fight tooth decay.