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A few years ago, I made some dietary changes that made a huge impact on my health. I began cooking from scratch, started buying more natural, whole foods and gave up sugar.

Giving up sugar was the hardest task for me. I love sweets. But then I discovered that giving up sugar didn’t mean giving up sweets, because there are actually healthy alternatives out there that I can eat in moderation.

Maple Syrup

Pure maple syrup is an excellent natural sweetener, rich in zinc and manganese. But it has the potential to raise your blood sugar, so use it sparingly. It’s much sweeter than sugar, so fortunately, a little goes a long way.

Sucanat

Also sold as Rapadura, Sucanat is pure granulated sugar cane juice. Therefore, it contains the natural occurring vitamins (A,B) and minerals (calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium) from the sugar cane. It also still contains molasses and has a rich color and flavor.

Honey

Raw honey is a nutrient-rich natural sweetener with healing properties. Also sweeter than sugar, less honey needs to be used if you’re substituting this in a recipe. Though it is a healthy natural sweetener, use it in moderation because it will raise your blood sugar.

Soon after I started drinking coffee, I realized that all of those yummy coffee drinks were made with syrups, which were mostly sugar. Thankfully,  an awesome barista offered me a delicious alternative. Instead of adding sugar to coffee, add honey, cinnamon and milk of your choice (non-dairy or sometimes none for me). Tastes just like French toast. Mmmmm.

Molasses

Molasses, found in sugar cane, is removed during the sugar-refining process. It is rich in minerals and will also be rich in pesticides if it comes from a non-organic source. It has a strong flavor, and is better suited to gingerbread cookies than sugar cookies. Not that you’re eating those, though … 😉

Agave Nectar

Agave has grown quite popular over the last few years. It comes from several different species of agave plants, (if that sounds familiar, it’s the same plant that tequila comes from). Agave nectar is a little sweeter than sugar and is a good substitute in cooking. However, the sweetness comes from fructose, which has to be broken down by your liver, so use it sparingly.

If you’re new at using these alternatives and need some good resources, check these two out:

The first is this recipe: Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies. Amazing! We eat these a lot, with or without chocolate chips.

Treat Yourself Real Food Desserts by Kate Tietje at Modern Alternative Mama. This is an entire cookbook dedicated to using these alternative sweeteners for desserts. I’ve made quite a few of the recipes in there and my family thought they were great.

Do you use alternative sweeteners in your home?