We believe food should give our bodies more of the good stuff, but we still like to mindfully enjoy something sweet every now and then. We partnered with Registered Dietitian, Olivia Wagner (MS, RDN, LDN) to share more about smart sweeteners and a few of her favorite ways to naturally sweeten a recipe at home.
First, what exactly do we mean when we say, smart sweeteners? Smart sweeteners are those sweeteners that are considered whole foods and contain minerals, vitamins, or other functional benefits like antioxidants, enzymes, fiber, or polyphenols. “These are more advantageous than choosing ultra-processed sweeteners completely devoid of nutrition,” shares Wagner.
The next time you have a sweet tooth, reach for one of these five smart sweeteners to swap into to your recipe.
#1 100% Pure Organic Maple Syrup
Many maple syrups you’ll find in the grocery store are full of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and artificial caramel coloring, which is why it’s important to read your labels and look for 100% pure organic maple syrup. What is ‘good’ maple syrup? What should people look for? What’s the difference between grades A, B, etc? Since maple syrup is sourced straight from tree sap, it goes through minimal processing to reach its final form. Maple syrup isn’t just to top your pancakes or waffles, it can also be used to sweeten granola, homemade ice cream, plain yogurt, salad dressings, and sauces.
#2 Coconut Sugar
We love coconut sugar because it’s a natural, unrefined sweetener. Derived from the sap of palm trees that’s been dried and milled, coconut sugar is not only a smart sweetener, but it’s also a sustainable sweetener. Coconut palm trees produce as much as 75% more sugar per acre while using less than 20% of the resources than sugarcane plants. Now that’s a sweetener you can feel good about using. We use coconut sugar to sweeten our crunchy cookies and our banana muffin mix (as well as a few others).
#3 Dried Fruit
Dried fruit could be considered Mother Nature’s candy. Wagner says sweet fruits like dried apricots, prunes, and raisins all make wonderful sweeteners. They are a great sweetener on their own or when baking or making energy bars, trail mixes, and so much more.
#4 Raw Honey
One of the best honey options is Manuka Honey from New Zealand, as it hosts a higher nutritional content than raw honey. If you prefer raw honey instead, then look for options labeled raw, unpasteurized, and unfiltered. Honey works great as a sweetener in dessert recipes, oatmeal, tea, smoothies, and yogurt.
#5 Whole Food Sweeteners
Another smart sweetener we love is any whole food sweetener. “I love fresh fruits like applesauce, bananas, and other preserves,” says Wagner. “Additionally tropical fruit like kiwi, mango, pineapple, and whole fresh fruits like apples, oranges, and pears.” These are all great options to sweeten things up next time you're in the kitchen.
When it comes to sweeteners, enjoy them in moderation, and look for sweeteners that are unrefined and include other functional benefits.