More than 34 million Americans suffer from diabetes, and that number continues to grow every day. When you have diabetes your blood sugar levels are too high. This happens because your body isn’t producing enough insulin, the hormone that allows cells to absorb glucose, which is the sugar you eat, and convert it into energy.
With type 1 diabetes your body doesn’t produce any insulin but with type 2 your body still produces some insulin, just not enough. In either case, as a diabetic, it is important that you are always conscious of your sugar and carbohydrate intake. So, If you are one of the millions suffering from this disease, you may be wondering what besides traditional white table sugar you can use for sweetening your desserts and drinks. We are all familiar with artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharine but what choices do we have if we are looking for a more natural option? Luckily, several natural sweeteners are considered safe for diabetics.
Coconut Palm Sugar
Coconut palm sugar comes from the sap of the coconut palm. While coconut sugar contains glucose and fructose, like traditional sugar, it has a lower glycemic index than other sugars. This makes it less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar that can cause so many problems for diabetics.
How it’s made: The sugar is made by heating the sap until all the moisture has evaporated. What remains is golden brown in color, and both looks and tastes similar to brown sugar. Coconut sugar tastes about as sweet as normal table sugar, so it is possible to use it in all the ways we would use regular sugar.
How to use it: Simply replace your sugar with coconut sugar and proceed normally. You may find you need to adjust baking times slightly but otherwise, the two sugars are pretty much interchangeable. This makes coconut sugar your most versatile option.
Monk Fruit Extract
Monk fruit is a small round fruit native to SE Asia. Also known as the Buddha fruit or luo han guo, monk fruit has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. While monk fruit is very sweet, its sweetness does not come from fructose, glucose, or sucrose like most sweeteners. Monk fruit’s sweetness comes from unique antioxidants called mogrosides.
How it’s made: Monk fruit sweetener is made by first making a juice from the seeds and skin of the fruit. Then the juices are processed and dried into a powder. What remains, is a sugar-free, zero-calorie, natural powdered sweetener. Monk fruit extract can be 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, so you will need to adjust your recipes. Unfortunately, each brand of monk fruit extract is a different concentration so you will need to do some experimenting to find the right ratios with your recipes.
How to use it: Start by trying ⅓ a cup of monk fruit extract for every cup of table sugar. For sweetening drinks like coffee and tea, it can be easier to make a monk fruit syrup by dissolving the powder into water and making syrup. This can help with measuring small quantities. While monk fruit extract can be used in baked goods and to sweeten drinks like coffee or tea, it is not appropriate for fermented drinks as it doesn’t contain any sugars.
Yacon syrup is made from a tuber of the yacon plant, Smallanthus sonchifolius, native to the Andes. Similar to a potato, this tuber has eaten traditionally to help control diabetes. It is different from other tubers in that it contains mostly fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a type of sugar that is low in calories and does not raise blood glucose levels. In fact, yacon syrup has been shown to help improve insulin resistance.
How it’s made: The syrup is made using an evaporator similar to the process for maple syrup. While yacon syrup is a great natural sweetener, there are some downsides to it. For some people, it can lead to digestive distress, so you will want to limit how much you use initially until you see how your body reacts.
How to use it: Don’t use more than two tablespoons to start. While it contains fewer calories than table sugar it is also less sweet so you will need to use more for the same level of sweetness. While it can be used in baking, I recommend starting to use it to sweeten drinks like coffee and tea until you see what you think of using it in larger quantities.
Date sugar should not be confused with date palm sugar.
How it’s made: Date sugar is made by grinding dried dates, the fruit from the date palm, until they are a fine, granulated powder resembling brown sugar in texture and flavor. Date palm sugar is made from the sap of the palm tree and is more similar to traditional sugar. Since date sugar is made from the fruit, it contains all the benefits that dates have, including their natural sweetness. As this sweetness comes from fructose, as opposed to glucose, it has a lower glycemic index, which helps prevent spikes in blood sugar.
Also, it contains fiber helping your body absorb the sugars and carbs more slowly. These factors make it a good choice for diabetics. However, there are some limitations to date sugar. It does not dissolve in liquids or when baked.
How to use it: It is not a good option for adding to drinks like coffee, tea, or ferments like kombucha. But you can add it to your baked goods, with a one to one ratio for either granulated or brown sugar. It will add a rich, complex flavor making it great for crumbles and toppings. You can use it in cookies and cakes too.
Stevia comes from the stevia plant, Stevia rebaudiana, native to Brazil and Paraguay. Like Monk Fruit, its sweetness does not come from sugars, but from certain compounds, called steviol glycosides, found in the plant. This makes it a zero-calorie sweetener that can be up 200 times sweeter than sugar.
You can add leaves from the plant directly to add sweetness but they are often associated with a bitter aftertaste. Commercial stevia has been processed to a powder and removed the bitterness, though some people can still taste it.
How to use it: Stevia can be used to sweeten drinks like coffee and tea but is not suitable for ferments like kombucha. It can also be used in baking. It is much sweeter than regular sugar. If you are using baking stevia you will want to use ⅓ cup plus 1 ½ teaspoon for each cup of regular sugar. If you are using pure powdered stevia the ratio is much smaller, just 1 teaspoon equals a cup of sugar. Make sure you check exactly what kind of stevia you are using to ensure you get the right level of sweetness.
Many natural sweeteners are healthy for diabetics to consume. You may find that you want to have a couple of different options on hand for different purposes. Some are better for drinks, others for fermenting kombucha, and still others for baking. Experiment with several and find what works best for you and your needs.
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