Natural Ways to Sweeten Up

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Published 11-15-08

“Dear Pharmacist,

I am a “natural freak” and couldn’t care less about calories, rather I focus on healthy unprocessed foods. I heard you say on a radio show that you didn’t like artificial sweeteners, so would you share natural sweeteners that are better for us?”

ANSWER: So many people—especially people with diabetes—think that artificial sweeteners are good for them and their waistline. I’m not happy with HFCS or “high fructose corn syrup” either, because it is highly refined and artificial. White sugar is bleached and also heavily processed, so here are some natural choices:

Coconut sugar: It’s made from coconut sap. I’m addicted to this one, but virtually impossible to buy in the United States. It’s native to the Philippines and Indonesia. Coconut sugar has gained worldwide acceptance because it tastes almost as sweet as cane sugar, looks and feels similar to brown sugar and is low on the glycemic index. It’s the best secret sweetener I can offer to diabetics.  Coconut sugar is rich in sulfur, healthy micronutrients and potassium and magnesium. The only American source I can find for you is Natural Grocers at 800-817-9415, MST ( but it may not be listed on their website yet). Some Asian food markets have it too.

Maple syrup: It’s made from the sap of the maple tree. Native American Indians used a tomahawk to carve into trees to extract the sap. I love the flavor of real maple syrup; unfortunately, most people make the mistake of buying look-alikes which are usually laden with HFCS, preservatives and artificial ingredients. Stick to pure maple syrup, which is amber in color. The darker the color, the more robust the flavor. It has fewer calories than honey and is a great source of minerals, particularly manganese which disarms free radicals and supports immune health.

Agave nectar: This comes from sap from the agave plant and it’s always in my house. It looks and tastes similar to honey, so it’s a liquid. I think it’s safe for diabetics and health food stores carry this.  Glycemic index similar to coconut sugar.

Stevia: This comes from a naturally sweet plant native to South American forests. You can cook with it, or use it in any food or beverage. Stevia has zero calories and is completely safe for people with diabetes or those who prefer low-carb diets. Stevia looks just like an artificial sweetener (even comes in packets) but it is totally natural and one of the safest sugar substitutes you can eat. I like the flavored forms of liquid stevia (like Sweet Leaf brand) that you can mix with carbonated water to make home-made flavored soda. Sold widely at health food stores.

Other natural sweeteners include Turbinado sugar, brown rice syrup, molasses and honey.

Did You Know?Ibuprofen is a drug mugger of folic acid, so supplement with 800 mcg daily.

Did You Know?
Ibuprofen is a drug mugger of folic acid, so supplement with 800 mcg daily.