Sweet Deal: Natural Sweeteners

By: Co+op

Most of us know that limiting sweets is a healthy move, but making healthier choices doesn’t have to mean neglecting your sweet tooth. It’s worth noting that some sweeteners are better than others—and thanks to the increasing availability of healthier alternatives to refined white sugar, you can get your sweet fix without feeling guilty about it.

Healthier natural sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, date sugar, and fruit juice. Others are made from natural foods like barley malt, rice syrup, and sorghum. Natural sweeteners are unrefined or only lightly refined, so they retain valuable nutrients, are digested more slowly, and don’t cause the “sugar blues.”

A few natural sweeteners to look for 


For many, honey is a pantry staple. Types of honey vary by geographic location and the flowers from which bees extract nectar to make it.


Made from a perennial plant native to Brazil, stevia has gained recent attention as a popular beverage sweetener. It’s 30 times sweeter than sugar, so only a few drops or grains are necessary.

Brown rice syrup

It may sound strange, but brown rice cooked for a long time yields a mildly flavored sweetener perfect for baking (which packs a punch of protein, too).


A by-product of sugar manufacturing, molasses is used often for baking and comes in three varieties: light (the sweetest), medium, and blackstrap (which is also a great source of calcium and iron).

A few sweeteners to avoid

High-fructose corn syrup

So what is the big deal about HFCS? Fructose is the natural sugar found in fruits and honey, but chemically processed HFCS is a different story. When consumed in excess, HFCS raises triglyceride levels and increases the risk of heart disease. And with the sheer volume of supermarket products today that contain HFCS (soda, breads, yogurts, ketchup, crackers, salad dressings, packaged dinners—the list goes on and on), that’s not difficult to do.

White or brown sugar

Made from sugar cane or sugar beets that have been chemically processed or refined to contain 99.9% sucrose, white sugar contains very little of the nutrients and fiber that were part of the natural plant. Brown sugar is just white sugar with a bit of molasses added for color.

What do you use to sweeten your morning coffee, oatmeal, or baked items? Join the conversation by commenting below.