Natural sweetness

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01.   Yacon syrup.     02.   Stevia.

WE’VE all been browbeaten at one time or another by the “kindness” of health freaks who tell us to reduce our sugar intake because it causes all kinds of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.

However, new research has shown that synthetic sugar — including some of the most popular ones such as aspartame and saccharin — some of which have been in the market for half a century, may be even more detrimental to health.

These recent studies published in the Nature journal ( have shown that artificial sweeteners alter the beneficial gut bacteria colonies that reside in our digestive systems, thus causing glucose intolerance, which leads to obesity.

With this in mind, instead of picking up another can of Coke Zero, Diet Pepsi or opening that packet of Splenda to sweeten your tea or coffee, try one of these alternatives. They taste similar to regular sugar, are 100% natural, and don’t use synthetic molecules to trick your taste buds into thinking that they’re something they’re not.

This is a no-brainer. Honey has been collected by tribal hunter-gatherers for longer than recorded history. Aside from the risk that honey poses to infants in the form of botulism, it can be consumed raw, used for baking cakes and cooking, and best of all, it tastes amazing.

A recent addition to the collection of natural sweeteners, stevia is extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana, and does not increase blood glucose levels. In addition, it can be used for baking, cooking, and is hundred times sweeter than sugar, which means you’d need less of it to sweeten your food. For those who are on a diet and hoping to lose weight, stevia is the perfect choice owing to the fact that it has zero calories.

03. Maple Syrup

Maple syrup
Not you, Aunt Jemima! We are referring to pure maple syrup (80% of which comes from Canada, the country that even sports a maple leaf on its national flag), not the fake high fructose corn syrup that masquerades as maple syrup in the pancake and waffle aisle. Although real maple syrup costs a lot more, it’s also lower in calories than honey, and consists of useful minerals such as calcium, zinc and manganese.

Yacon syrup
This lesser-known natural sweetener hails from Peru, where it was discovered and used for hundreds of years by the Incas. Made from the tuberous roots of the yacon plant that is indigenous to the Andes in South America, yacon syrup contains very few calories but is high in fructooligosaccharides, which is purported to be beneficial to the “good” bacteria in our intestines.

Monk fruit extract
More popularly known on this side of the globe as luo han guo, monk fruit has been cultivated in China for hundreds of years. The sugar extracted from this fruit is nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar, very low in calories and contains no carbohydrates. Although monk fruit extract has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for decades, its popularity is only now starting to rise in the Western world.

04.   Honey.     05.   Monk fruit.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on October 14, 2014.