Sugar is addictive, and most sugars consumed today come from genetically modified crops or from sugar beets and corn and are consumed in their refined form. This over- processing and over- consumption contribute to weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, and numerous other modern chronic diseases.
The Paleo diet promotes following a diet that is as similar as possible to that of ancient man. This means that the majority of a well-formulated Paleo diet is focused on unprocessed, unrefined, non-packaged foods. This can include meats, vegetables, eggs, and some fruit and nuts. This eliminates dairy products, grains, and sugars.
Many theorize that Paleolithic man indulged in fruits in season and went out of their ways, climbing tall trees and battling bees, to enjoy a good dose of honey whenever they could find it
Humans clearly have a sweet tooth, and sweet treats have been part of human history. Indulging sweets on occasion for most people that have a healthy metabolism and weight is not problematic, and there are a few Paleo-approved sweeteners for you to choose from when making your favorite recipes. Each natural sugar substitutes provides a unique flavor and texture and has a distinct nutritional profile.
The nutrient profiles of raw honey and regular/pasteurized honey are very different. Raw honey is the pure honey extracted from beehives, complete with beneficial nutrients and enzymes. The honey is strained particles, but is neither heated nor pasteurized. Pasteurized honey is processed under high heat, which destroys the honey’s beneficial nutrients and enzymes and is thus best avoided.
Ancient healers considered honey a medicinal food, and modern science has proven this. Honey has been shown to:
- Inhibit inflammation.
- Help fight cancer.
- Have powerful antibacterial properties.
- Be a rich source of antioxidants.
- Help heal your gut.
A few cautions:
- Although the healthful enzymes found in raw honey can withstand heating for short periods of time, heating honey above 150 degrees damages its delicate flora.
- When purchasing raw honey, look for words on the label such as unheated, unfiltered, unpasteurized, and organic raw honey. Whenever possible, buy local
- Infants and the elderly should avoid consuming raw honey
Maple syrup is purported to contain 54 different beneficial compounds, five of which apparently are exclusive to maple syrup and do not exist in any other foods. As with most Paleo sweeteners, it is extremely important to be sure that you are purchasing 100% pure maple syrup that hasn’t gone through an extensive pasteurization process. When sourcing your maple syrup, buy directly from the farmer or look for organic pure maple syrup. Choose the darker, less processed, more flavorful B-Grade or No. 2.
There is something truly magical about the satisfyingly sticky, sweet and salty combo of bacon and maple syrup, especially when it’s the best Paleo bacon you’ve ever tasted. Start experimenting in sweet and savory dishes
Use this coconut-based sugar when other sweeteners are not ideal replacements or substitutes. Coconut palm sugar is known for being low glycemic, and having a lower, slower effect on your blood sugar than other sweeteners. It’s high in B vitamins and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron and vitamin C.
Don’t confuse it with palm sugar, which is a different type of sugar extracted from Palmyra palm trees (or sugar palms).
Molasses is the by-product left over from the sugar cane refining process. Eating the dregs is far better than eating the sugar!
Molasses contain the nutrients stripped out of the sugar cane. It is rich in copper, iron, calcium, vitamin B6, and magnesium. In addition, molasses has a significantly lesser effect on blood glucose levels than sugar.
When buying molasses, look for blackstrap molasses which contains more nutrients than the other forms.
Also known as luo han guo, this plant native to Southeast Asia is zero-carb and calorie, and many times sweeter than sugar. There is research showing that monk fruit has antioxidant properties, although it is not yet known if the sweetener possesses the same benefits as the whole fruit. You can purchase monk fruit powder or sweetener from a variety of health food stores or purchase a whole dried fruit and grind it yourself.
Be aware of brands that contain added ingredients and fillers.
Prunes, dates, bananas, pumpkin, and unsweetened applesauce are all fabulous sweeteners. Along with a burst of natural sugar, they give you a big dose of fiber and nutrients.
They can replace some or all of the refined sugars in most recipes with a little adjusting and add flavour profiles to cooking rather than just the taste of sweet.
Stevia is a double-edged sword. Some studies have linked stevia consumption to increased insulin sensitivity. This is a good thing. It has also been shown that non-caloric sweeteners confuse your body, which is a bad thing. If you find yourself using large amounts of stevia because it’s calorie-free, you are still encouraging and habituating your body to expect too much sweetness, and you will struggle to free yourself from your reliance on sweet tasting foods. Choose stevia only when other healthful sweeteners are unable to do the job. If you do choose to consume it, buy pure stevia rather than brands that contain other additives.
There is a supposedly healthy sweetener that you may have noticed did not make the list and is best avoided at all costs.
Agave syrup has a higher fructose content than high-fructose corn syrup. It is very heavily processed and one of the furthest things from ‘natural’. This ‘natural’ sweetener should be avoided when following a Paleo diet. If you are choosing to eat fructose, eat it in forms that provide powerful nutrition, vitamins, nutrients and fiber. Get your fructose in the form of fruits, berries, and the healthier alternatives laid out previously.
Choosing Your Sweetener
When you follow the Paleo diet and lifestyle, your taste buds change and become more sensitive to sweet foods. A little sweetener added to recipes goes a long way, and you will not need much to satisfy your natural sugar cravings.
When choosing a sweetener, it is still important to reflect on some of the foundational principles of the Paleo diet. While all caloric sweeteners have the same number of calories (16 per teaspoon), evaluating their place in your diet may be done by considering a few factors.
The more highly refined a sweetener is, the worse it is for your body. For example, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and artificial sweeteners are all very modern, factory made products. Honey, maple syrup, green leaf stevia and molasses are all much less processed and have been made and used for centuries. In the case of honey, almost no processing is necessary.
When looking at packaged foods, even those labeled as ‘Paleo’ the ingredient list is often a harsh reality check. It becomes obvious how many manufacturers use highly-refined, low-quality sweeteners. Many foods that have been made low or non-fat have added sweeteners or artificial sweeteners—avoid these products!
Your body actually does not metabolize all sugar the same way. Interestingly enough, sweeteners like HFCS and agave nectar were viewed as better options for diabetics for quite some time since the high fructose content of both requires processing by the liver rather than the sugar immediately flowing into the blood stream. This yielded a seemingly favorable result on blood sugar levels after consumption. However, it’s now understood that isolated fructose metabolism is a complicated issue and that taxing the liver excessively with such sweeteners can be quite harmful to your health. Fructose is the primary sugar in all fruit. When eating whole fruit, the micronutrients and fiber content of the fruit actually support proper metabolism and assimilation of the fruit sugar.
When purchasing natural sweeteners, quality is important. It’s best to buy sweeteners in organic form from a reliable distributor that can ensure they are very minimally processed and that they still contain their trace mineral benefits. Any time a raw variety is available, for example raw honey or pure unprocessed maple syrup, opt for that.
The key here, of course, is using sweeteners in moderation. Adding a small amount (one to two teaspoons once per day for example) of pure maple syrup, honey, or another form of natural sweetener to your meals is a great way to naturally appease your sweet tooth without causing too much damage. Avoiding the more refined and processed forms of sugar, found in many modern packaged foods ensures you can still indulge in a little added sweetness whilst still maintaining your Paleo principles.
Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com