The safest way to consume sugar is in wholefoods that contain the nutrients to slow sugar absorption and sustain an energy boost for longer.
When we isolate sugar or sweeteners and eat them without these nutrients, they can cause serious health problems. A healthy natural sweetener retains some of these beneficial nutrients to help our bodies regulate the sugar, and is part of a balanced diet.
The healthiest natural sweetener is raw manuka honey. It tastes delicious and there is plenty of scientific evidence to support its versatile use in food, drink, beauty, and medicine. It may even be good for managing diabetes.
Do healthy natural sweeteners even exist?
It’s no secret these days that too much regular sugar is bad for us.
And although we might try to limit our intake, it’s estimated that around 60% of the food and beverages on American grocery store shelves contain added sugar¹.
It hides under many different names and causes all sorts of unpleasant health problems.
So naturally, we look for alternatives.
Are there any genuinely healthy sweeteners instead of sugar? Is it possible to get our sweet fix without compromising our health and wellness?
That’s what we’ll explore in this guide.
In this guide to healthy natural sweeteners:
Are there any healthy natural sweeteners?
Why natural sugar substitutes are better for you
Honey vs agave vs stevia vs sugar vs maple syrup
Where to buy the healthiest sugar alternative
Keen to jump straight to our comparison?
Scroll down to the “Battle of the sweeteners” section.
Are There Any Genuinely Healthy Natural Sweeteners?
Yes, there are healthy alternatives to refined sugar.
Honey is the healthiest natural sweetener because of its many health benefits like its antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.
It is a carbohydrate that contains sugars, but unlike refined and highly processed sugar (or sweeteners), it raises energy levels more slowly and helps you stay full for longer.
If you consume a moderate amount of raw, pure honey as part of a balanced diet, then you can count it as a healthy natural sweetener.
Like with many health-related things, it’s about quality and quantity.
And moderately consuming natural alternatives to sugar allows us to enjoy sweet treats without compromising our health and wellness.
Why Natural Sugar Alternatives are Better than Artificial Sweeteners
When we eat natural foods that contain sugar like fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy, the other nutrients we are consuming have a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels².
As our bodies digest these foods, the sugar supplies a steady amount of energy to our cells.
Sugar becomes a problem when we isolate it from these other nutrients, mass-process and refine it, and add it back into foods in high quantities.
Sugar is added to foods to improve flavour and shelf-life. But this has become so rife that many of us consume too much without realising and it’s making us ill³.
“Consuming too much added sugar can raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease.
Excess consumption of sugar, especially in sugary beverages, also contributes to weight gain by tricking your body into turning off its appetite-control system because liquid calories are not as satisfying as calories from solid foods.
This is why it is easier for people to add more calories to their regular diet when consuming sugary beverages.”
The sweet danger of sugar, Harvard Health.
Some so-called “natural” sugar alternatives are often highly processed and physiologically, not much better than refined sugar.
Agave syrup is one example of this.
Other natural sources of sugar are less processed, and retain a lot of their beneficial nutrients. This reduces their negative impacts on the body.
Manuka honey and maple syrup are examples of this.
Therefore it’s important to understand what’s in these various sugar substitutes before you buy because unfortunately, you can’t always trust what’s on the packaging.
Using natural sweeteners for diabetes
Managing healthy blood sugar levels is critical for people with diabetes.
Genuinely healthy natural sweeteners should raise blood sugar levels more slowly and over a more sustained period, which makes them much better in managing this condition.
This is due to the other nutrients in the sweetener, if there are any left after processing.
Raw (unprocessed) manuka honey has been linked to diabetes management and to healing the wounds that can result from severe diabetic complications.
By reducing your sugar intake and opting for certified pure, raw natural sweeteners like manuka honey, you can be sure that you’re getting a genuinely natural product and not a dangerous blend of added sugars.
NB: Always consult a doctor before adding carbohydrates or sugars to your diet, particularly if you are diabetic.
Battle of the Best Natural Sweeteners: Honey vs Agave vs Stevia vs Sugar vs Maple Syrup
Let’s dig a little deeper into some of the most popular sugar alternatives that often claim to be healthy natural sweeteners.
Is there any proof in the pudding?
Honey: the best natural sweetener of all
Honey is our favourite natural sweetener and for good reason.
Long before we had any scientific evidence for the natural powers of honey, people were using it across cultures and throughout the world.
Now, we have the facts to back up the legend.
Honey has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and humectant properties⁴. This means it can fight off infection, keep skin clean and clear, and lock in moisture.
These traits make it a versatile natural product. So versatile in fact, that we’ve listed over 170 ways you can use it.
Although many raw, pure, regular honeys contain some of these beneficial compounds, monofloral manuka honey contains the most.
That’s why it’s our favourite healthy natural sweetener.
And why we’ll be using it as a comparison for the other sweeteners next.
Honey vs agave
Agave syrup or agave nectar is a popular alternative to sugar that is touted as a more natural option.
Made famous as an ingredient in tequila, harvesting agave nectar is now a major source of revenue for Mexico.
It’s used for many different alcoholic beverages as well as a sweetener in food.
Unfortunately, most agave nectar is highly processed and heated. This means that any potentially beneficial compounds are lost⁵, and what’s left is pure liquid sugar⁶.
According to some, it’s the least healthy sweetener in the world - even worse than sugar⁷.
Manuka honey offers the sweetness but with a whole host of other health benefits, making it an easy winner over agave.
Honey vs stevia
Like honey, stevia is one of the oldest natural sweeteners used by different cultures throughout history.
Significantly sweeter than table sugar and originating from plants, stevia appears to be a healthy natural sugar alternative.
And raw stevia probably is, but that’s often not what you’re getting on store shelves.
Stevia comes from the sunflower family. The product is extracted from leaves, dried, steeped in water, filtered, purified, and crystallised⁸.
Unfortunately, many of the most popular stevia products (like Truvia and Stevia in the Raw) are highly processed blends.
This means its nutritional value is unclear, but it has been found to interrupt the gut microbiome⁹, impact the digestive system¹⁰, and promote weight gain¹¹.
If you can find pure, raw stevia then this may be a healthier sugar substitute.
But raw manuka honey offers so much more than an alternative sweetener.
Honey vs sugar
We know that sugar isn’t the problem, it’s how much refined sugar we consume that’s dangerous.
So, if you eat a moderate amount of raw, pure sugar, is it a good natural sweetener?
In a way, perhaps. As long as your diet doesn’t contain lots of hidden sugars elsewhere.
The best way to safely enjoy sugar is in unprocessed foods. If you want to add a sweetener to your diet, manuka honey offers restorative powers as well as sweetness.
You’re not risking adding more sugar without the nutrients required to regulate it.
So in the battle between manuka honey vs sugar, we think there’s still a clear winner.
Honey vs maple syrup
From bees to trees, what’s the story with honey vs maple syrup?
Maple syrup comes from the sap of maple trees, and is a staple export product from Canada.
Containing beneficial compounds like manganese and zinc, maple syrup is said to be good for our brain¹² and digestive health¹³.
With its signature maple flavour, this syrup is typically graded based on its colour and can be a delicious addition to foods and drinks.
So while pure maple syrup offers some health benefits as a food, that’s really where it ends.
Manuka honey is a versatile natural ingredient for other uses too, that packs a whole lot of wellness punch with the evidence to prove it.
How to choose the right healthy natural sweetener for you
Here’s a quick-fire way to compare these natural sweeteners so you can choose the one that’s right for you.
Get the Healthiest Natural Sweetener from New Zealand Honey Co.
UMF™ graded manuka honey will always be pure, raw, and monofloral, produced and packaged exclusively in New Zealand.
By sticking to this rigorous grading system, you know you’re only putting the very best in (and on) your body.
We only deal with real.
Unsure which grade is right for you?
¹ You’d be surprised at how many foods contain added sugar. Global Research Program.
² The sweet danger of sugar. Harvard Health.
³ Added sugar. Harvard Health.
⁴ Honey in dermatology and skincare. National Library of Medicine.
⁵ Agave nectar: even worse than sugar? Healthline.
⁶ Debunking the blue agave myth. Huffpost.
⁷ Agave nectar: even worse than sugar? Healthline.
⁸ Stevia. Coca-cola.
⁹ Metabolic effects of non-nutrative sweeteners. National Library of Medicine.
¹⁰ Gastrointestinal disturbances. National Library of Medicine.
¹¹ The gut microbiome. National Library of Medicine.
¹² Benefits of manganese. Healthline.
¹³ Maple syrup. Science Direct.
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